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Dan Mooney: Downtown connections

Dan Mooney
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When I moved to Reno in 1965, my vision was to eventually settle in Carson City, a town much like my hometown, Sheridan, Wyo., situated in the foothills of the Big Horn mountains. After having lived in Reno and Elko, I moved to Carson City in 1970 with 15,000 residents, nestled against the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was very much like my home place.

During the 2010s I was involved in Carson City’s redevelopment activity as a volunteer consultant to the Redevelopment Authority Citizens Advisory Committee. I wrote a strategic plan and conducted a scientific values and beliefs study to determine what Carson City residents valued most about downtown Carson City.

Throughout that time, I often heard a city has a soul that resides in that city’s “downtown” and Carson’s “soul” was either dead or dying. I questioned the soul idea because of the difficulty finding a reasonable, mutually understood definition of a city’s “soul.” Also somewhat questionable was the idea the redevelopment program would rescue Carson’s soul to make it a viable city again. The connection between redevelopment and soul, and increased taxes for that matter, was quite a stretch but strongly held at that time, and perhaps has remained inspiring today.

Over the past 10 years, I have rethought this idea and, after conversations with my daughter who is urban design supervisor and historic preservation officer for the city of Las Vegas, I may have found a loose explanation. It appears to me a more appropriate description of what they mean by the soul of a city is really the city’s “spirit.” It’s more reasonable to characterize a place as having spirit due to its active external nature as compared to the calm internal nature of a soul which, to some, is the intrinsic identity of a city and cannot be created or redeveloped.

This observation further suggested for a place to have spirit, there must be opportunities for recurrent and active human connections within that place to generate emotion, thoughts and memories. I further realized that emotion, thoughts and memories have a strong opportunity to create a sense of place, which, in turn, can create a feeling of belonging and security.

Watching the downtown struggle over the years, I came to understand, indeed, creative space arrangements and specifically planned structures can facilitate human connections. We go to a mall to buy goods, not to connect with people. With the possible exception of a downtown shopping center, malls are disparate, impersonal and mechanical, not leisurely intimate and friendly like a downtown can be.

This arouses my thought people may not connect amiably with quality and repetition unless a “sense of place,” somewhat akin to shared ownership, is in common with ambient arrangements and physical structures that stimulate a stronger sense of place through the opportunity and attraction of people connections.

Perhaps the proponent’s vision is evolving to recreate (redevelop) a fundamental sense of place that optimizes people connections by renewing a spirit that simulates Carson’s colorful characteristics of yesteryear

Does the current downtown plan represent a drive to redevelop this sense of place by creating spacial rearrangements, such as a two-lane street as part of a pedestrian friendly and more secure design? Should we have a “place” arranged so as to engender opportunity for more intimate people connections, a downtown within which residents and visitors may have the opportunity to submerge themselves in the spirit of “Nevada Day,” “Taste of downtown,” “Wine Walk,” shops, restaurants, museums, music venues etc.?

Downtown Carson City is undergoing significant modifications taxpayers and residents didn’t support, possibly because proponents didn’t clearly and convincingly explain and justify their vision or residents didn’t participate in the informational meetings and publications? If so, are Carson City residents uninformed about the nature of the aggressive futuristic plan they don’t understand and thus resent the despised tax hike and the overruling of their plebiscite by the Board of Supervisors?

Dan Mooney, a 40-year Carson City resident, may be reached at Nevada4@aol.com.