Recently on WNTA radio, the producer, Lindsey, came up with the suggestion of putting a college campus in downtown Rockford. The guest at the time was Rockford Mayor Doug Scott. Timely, I thought, and it was such a great idea I called in to voice my support. Mayor Scott said that he was completely in favor of a college downtown. He said he had conversations with key legislators about the idea. I hope he follows through and gets creative about pursuing the result rather than stopping at every roadblock to examine the problems. Below is a portion of an unpublished article that I wrote a while back, I think is very relevent.
Madison, Wis., has had the foresight to put a college campus downtown. The constant ebb and flow of youth and their families downtown spends mega bucks year after year in the infinite variety of shops and restaurants. Madison does not have to do all of the hand wringing that Rockford does over drawing customers downtown. Students and their families are already downtown everyday, thereby creating a demand for business. The businesses came to meet the demand, and stayed because of the yearly guarantee of customers.
Downtown Madison businesses dont have to beg their city for tax handouts out of citizens pockets. They just enjoy a steady, yearly cycle of clientele. Young folks keep an area vibrant with an influx of new ideas and money. You could not ask for a better base of Citizens than those who come to get a college education and drop cash in the process.
The ones that come and spend money downtown are good. The ones that stay and raise families are also very, very good. Think youth, especially college-age youth, and you will be on the right track for insuring a basis upon which to build long-term, future business success.
Also with youth comes bicycles. Downtown Madison streets and businesses are bicycle friendly. There are bicycle racks, bicycle lanes on all roads, and bike cops everywhere. Rockfords streets, drivers and businesses are not bicycle friendly. In Rockford, we have allowed our leaders to convince us that bikes should be banished to asphalt paths that scar nature and lead nowhere.
In Madison people use bikes to go everywhere downtown. I now use my bike to go everywhere in downtown Rockford. Its a lot of fun and good for me, too. Bikes dont stink up the air, contain expensive, explosive liquids or tear up the streets, and they are good for your heart and your mind. They are also relatively inexpensive, and to satisfy my revolutionary soul, they dont require me to go begging to government for permission to use them. Requirements like drivers licenses, license plates, plate stickers, mandatory insurance, or city stickers are foreign to bicycles. I hope Im not giving any politicians any ideas.
The good people of Rockford have long been numbed to the point of creative coma by leadership that consistently shoots low on downtown and lacks long-range cohesive vision. I hope that what I have written here in some small way helps to add to the on going, creative process for downtown. I like the phrase if you want something you have never had, you must do something you have never done.
Rick Jones is a Rockford resident and activist.