Fresno Pedestrian Mall Is No More
One of the oldest pedestrian malls in the U.S., the Fulton Street Mall in Fresno, is no more.
The modernist mall was built in the 1960s in an attempt to prevent Fresno’s downtown economy from being sucked dry by suburban development sprawling on the outskirts of town. It failed, as many such malls did, because investment was all happening away from the center, and the downtown mall has since become a quiet refuge for people of color.
There is no other way to put it. Take a walk down Fulton Street any day of the week and look who’s there, sitting under its trees, shopping in the few remaining stores, gathering with their friends.
Or who used to be there. As seen in a series of photos taken by James Sinclair for his blog Stop and Move, the mall is disappearing behind construction fences, trees are being chopped, and much of the remarkable artwork—including a Rodin sculpture—is being removed and stored, to be replaced later somewhere along the reconfigured street.
From Sinclair’s update:
The speed of this project has surprised me. Kickoff was a year delayed (original completion date was next month) but they’ve since moved quickly after a March groundbreaking. That’s certainly good for the businesses which are in a bad shape right now. However, I was surprised to see how superficial the construction was. It appears that they scraped off the mall and are laying the new road straight on the dirt. That is, I didn’t see any digging. I assume the area has very old sewer and electrical systems, and now would have been the very best time to replace those. Maybe lay some fiber cable as well? Seems short-sighted to ignore that. If the area “booms” as the project component claims, will the existing underground infrastructure support it?
When it’s complete, the downtown mall will no longer be a place for pedestrians and bicyclists. That’s because the city decided that to fix its problems, the mall needed to be opened up—to cars. And parking.
Never mind that the rest of Fresno’s downtown has the burned-out look of any area that used to be an economic center but has been decimated by years of commercial development elsewhere. Fulton Street is surrounded by parking lots, empty storefronts, empty industrial areas, and thrift stores. It’s a familiar sight in many California areas that saw their downtowns emptied out.
Fresno has decided that the culprit is this one street where cars aren’t allowed because it’s filled with (long-empty) fountains, trees, sculptures, benches, and other things that get in the way of driving and parking.
“Downtown should be the financial, historical, and cultural place of the city,” says local developer Sevak Katchadourian in this video, a heavy-handed bit of PR that fails to explain how opening the mall to cars will create the “great city center” it says Fresno desperately needs.
The mall needs “visibility, accessibility, and connectedness,” says another developer—meaning for cars, because of course the pedestrian mall is utterly invisible, inaccessible, and unconnected. Except to the people who currently use it.
“If we could just park right in front,” moans one would-be mall user, who can’t convince her friends to join her because they drive cars.
And only people who drive cars matter.
Here are some more Fresno links:
- History of the mall (That Fresno Blog)
- The city’s overview of the Fulton Mall project (City of Fresno)
- Fulton Mall construction is hard on businesses (Fresno Bee)
- The process and the hoped-for result (Business Journal)
- Fresno is the future (Boom California)
- James Fallows really likes Fresno (The Atlantic)