10 Streets that Changed America Host Geoffrey Baer says there were dozens of suggestions for the program which debuts Tuesday night. The final list includes the Kalamazoo Mall.
10 Streets that Changed America is the latest in the series produced by WTTW in Chicago. It airs Tuesday night on PBS stations, including WGVU. Baer says they want diversity both geographic and time, along with good pictures. Baer says the streets also need a good story and good characters. He says Victor Guren is a great character for the story of the Kalamazoo Mall.
Gruen was founder of the indoor shopping mall. He was hired as Kalamazoo struggled to keep businesses and shoppers downtown. Western Michigan University Regional History Curator Lynn Houghton was interviewed by Baer for 10 Streets that Changed America. She says Gruen thought that what could serve suburbs could also serve downtown.
Closing off several blocks to car traffic in downtown Kalamazoo was successful in the short term, and other cities developed their own versions of the downtown mall. But the pull of the suburbs and indoor shopping malls continued. Houghton says when two blocks of the mall was reopened to cars in 1998, it represented a compromise. Part of the pedestrian mall was left in place, and the one-way street was surrounded with wide sidewalks.
Baer says there is movement back toward making streets friendlier to people walking, riding bikes or even sitting at a table for coffee and conversation. He says that follows the trend of people wanting to move back into cities. One of the other 10 Streets that Changed America – Broadway in New York City – now has sections closed to traffic. Baer says “Victor Gruen would be thrilled.”