bloomington development

August 25th, 2006  |  Published in VideoLog

The Von Lee Theater on Kirkwood Ave. in Bloomington is getting turned into an upscale bar/restaurant, maybe some offices. With a lot of development, I think there’s always this horrified idle speculation that feels like an urban legend when it comes to understanding what it is that’s being developed. For a long time, there was this black plastic tarp covering the fence, and this was the first time that I noticed the tarp gone and could see how little of the structure was still intact. It literally stopped me in my tracks as I was riding my bike down Kirkwood.

Here is a photo of the Von Lee in earlier days:

Von Lee Theater

And more recently when it stood closed for years:

Vacant Von Lee Theater

I guess, at some level, I’m not anti-development. I understand that people want places where they can meet and share and interact and this is why people go to the mall even though the mall sucks and this is why people in my rural hometown really do hang out at Wal-Mart. What is sad, is that you have something like a movie theater which is a space that is pretty universally interesting, I mean, everyone likes movies right? And then its turned into a space, like an upscale restaurant that is relevent and accessible and interesting to much fewer people.

Last night, Ryan made the argument that at least downtown development is better than sprawl, but what I see is that downtowns in towns like Bloomington are ceasing to be the focal point, the shared physical space, for the entire community, and starting to be this theme park for only one part of population, be it yuppies or students. The spaces that are shared by everyone end up being the malls and the strip malls and the sprawl and the big boxes and the sad thing is that the way they’re constructed, or entirely mediated by commerce means that the potential for people’s interactions when they’re sharing that space are so much more limited.

Ladyman's Cafe

As I was riding to my job, I ran into Jeremy Hogan outside of Ladyman’s Cafe. He was waiting to take some photos of Baron Hill who was having a pre-election community meet and greet at the diner this afternoon. And it was so disheartening because it all seemed so fake. The downtown diner is still appealing to politicians as this icon of street-level democracy, and there is some reality to that, to the convergence of college students and retirees each having their own debates over cups of coffee. But in the case of Ladymans, that space is being destroyed, disappeared. So I find it hard to believe that democracy can exist when we don’t even allow the spaces that we exploit as the image of democracy to exist.

On a similar stream of consciousness, I got an e-mail from Mylo Roze that included a bunch of articles about anti-homeless policies and crackdowns around the country, and he predicted the rise of similar sentiments and actions in Bton:

These articles (below) are relevant to Bloomington in that there are Food not Bombs food dispensing operations in town & also cook-out services by churches in People’s Park & other parks, surely to become more of an issue as Bloomington is gentrified & urbanized.
Also, once the new building is finished where the Von Lee theater stood (next to People’s Park) issues may arise.
Maybe it should be addressed pre-emptively, to be allowed by statute, as a preventative measure.
There has already been a purging of homeless people from the I.U. campus & the new bldg. replacing the Von Lee will house I.U. offices. There is a general tendency among the well-off to segregate the poor, remove the homeless from public view (& therefore tourists) & assume that existing agencies are adequately addressing such issues & that all homeless people are addicts or mentally ill. Note the authorities quotes about determining who is homeless & charging charities with misdemeanors.

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