Places to sit

A few days ago, the Reno Gazette-Journal ran the headline “No spitting, sitting, climbing in downtown Reno under proposed anti-vagrancy laws.”

It was sitting that caught our eyes, but the only reference to sitting in the article dealt with sitting on the decks over the railroad trench. Nevertheless, we’re going to take the opportunity to address the issue of sitting in the downtown.

There are very few places to sit downtown, and there should be many, many more.

Long before the United States developed its large homeless class in the 1980s, the casinos had worked their will on downtown Reno. With city officials inclined to go along with anything the casinos wanted, anything that made the downtown attractive was done away with—trees, landscaping, and anyplace to sit were at the top of the list. Anything that gave people a reason to step outside the casinos went away, so we ended up with that cozy, institutional look.

Powning Park, which took up half a city block, had tall trees, walking paths, benches and old folks playing chess or checkers. Sometimes there were Reno Municipal Band concerts there. A couple of presidents spoke there. Over the objections of a Reno women’s group, both the park and the State Building that occupied the other half of the block were destroyed. The park is now the big, wide concrete slab in front of the Pioneer Theatre. (The property, by the way, was donated to the city on the condition it always remain a park.)

For 20 years, we have argued on this page that city planning should be done to please locals, not tourists, and that if locals have a good quality of life it will attract tourists.

The stark, ugly downtown needs tall trees, not tiny trees like those in grocery parking lots. It needs more landscaping. It needs parks in front of the Pioneer and on the Mapes lot and at First and West, not more concrete slabs. It needs places to sit. It needs to attract locals.

Will homeless people use such amenities? Sure. But the casinos have their own little tax district downtown to pay for additional police protection. Use those police for more than just protecting the casinos. Use them to aid the homeless, too.

Who goes to downtown Portland or Sacramento or Denver to relax? Lots of residents. How many residents go to downtown Reno to relax? Forget it, though the Sierra Street region is showing signs of bringing the locals back downtown. There’s a nice big tree in front of the city parking garage on Sierra. Grow them in front of the casinos on Virginia, too.

Change the look of downtown. Start prying the concrete out of Brick Park and the Mapes lot, and start making it attractive instead of industrial. Put in grass, trees, picnic tables, and strolling, friendly police officers.

And some places to sit. Senior citizens are a big part of our tourist base. Instead of banning sitting, accommodate it. Encourage it.