|Description of Rivertown and Its Downtown
The fictional city of Rivertown was created for the purpose of teaching planning principles. It includes a rich environment with distinctive features of interest to a local planner.
Rivertown is our home community for purposes of the following planning exercises. The exercises are based on a course on downtown revitalization, with each week of class time representing a year in the life of the community, allowing 12 to 15 “years” to pass over the course of a semester. Students become active members of the Rivertown community, adopting roles of mayor, city council members, merchants, residents, and a young city planner. Students can see the long-term impacts of their decisions over the span of the course.
Rivertown was an important stop for settlers heading across the Appalachian Mountains into the "western territories." Many historic farmsteads surround the city and merchants provided goods for the farmers, resulting in considerable wealth for both farmers and businessmen in the mid-nineteenth century. Some of the older houses were elaborately decorated with ornate woodworking throughout their interiors. Outstanding is the Biltmore mansion, built by the family of the town's founder, Amos Biltmore. Located on the north side of Biltmore Avenue, it sits on a parcel in the center of the city. Rivertown also was home to Benjamin Cartwright, a local merchant who served for a short time as the state's governor. A historic plaque on a vacant site along Biltmore Avenue marks his birthplace. Rivertown was incorporated as a city in 1896. Over the years, it evolved into a diverse community with a mixture of housing and employment while retaining its “small-town” character.
Layout of the City
Rivertown has a variety of neighborhoods and districts. Areas with significant character include the city's nineteenth century downtown district along the river, a twentieth century commercial district along east Biltmore Avenue, an industrial park along the river on the east side bisected by railroad tracks. A middle/upper-class residential area west and northwest of downtown with larger lots has primarily owner-occupied housing. The section of the city east of the Old Biltmore Farm has smaller houses and numerous multi-family and rental units. Apartment buildings on the eastern edge include many small efficiency and one-bedroom living units with affordable rents. Elly's Mobile Home Park, located on Station Street just inside the city's southern boundary, provides housing largely for low-income families. Many of its residents were formerly transient farm workers, but now have located permanently in Rivertown.Reliance College, a small liberal arts college established in 1956 that includes resident and commuter students, is in the northwest corner of the city. Upper income residential neighborhoods are in the River Heights area northeast of town and just outside the city boundary along the northern shore of Bitterroot Lake.
Rivertown's major road is Biltmore Avenue, a four-lane state route running east/west through the center of the city. Both local and through traffic contribute to the avenue's significant traffic congestion. The downtown has two one-way streets, Elm Street and a portion of River Street; all other streets are two-way. Most residents coming downtown drive so traffic is congested on the narrow streets. Public parking is only on-street, and the older downtown district has no public parking lot.
Buildings in the Downtown District
Rivertown's older downtown district was first built from the 1840s to the 1890s. The first buildings were constructed of wood, and in 1868 a fire destroyed many of the buildings on the west side of River Street except for the Dawson Law Building and the structure adjacent to it. After the fire, the damaged structures were rebuilt in brick. The downtown has a mix of healthy retail, struggling businesses, and vacancies. The district shows signs of long-term deterioration and is in need of revitalization. A detailed description of the buildings in this district follows.
The First National Bank, at the corner of Station and River Streets, in the center of the downtown, has been a stabilizing influence in this district. Originally built by the bank as its headquarters, the building has been faithfully maintained inside and out since opening in 1912. Its interior marble detailing and elaborate bronze teller windows are in immaculate condition. The bank's board of directors board is concerned about the condition of adjacent properties, which are bad for their image, especially the Rivertown Hotel.
The Rivertown Railway station is a focal point for the downtown district. Its durable masonry construction and slate roof are in good condition, though its exterior has received little regular maintenance. The building is no longer used as a station; the lower floor currently houses an antiques store; the rest of the structure is vacant.
The Rivertown Hotel was once a well-known building where many important visitors in the region stayed. Now sparsely tenanted, its inexpensive rooms on the second floor are rented by the night or week. There is a small coffee shop on the ground floor. The condition of the structure is marginally safe. Many of the upper floor windows are boarded up and there is obvious structural damage. The extent of work necessary to rehabilitate the structure for rooms or apartments on the upper floors and commercial space on the ground floor is not known.
Miller Manor, situated behind the hotel, is a large Victorian-era home that has been converted to a single-room occupancy rooming house. It needs exterior and interior repairs.
The Dawson Law Building is a well-maintained office building considered an architectural gem of the downtown. It has been used for law offices since it was built in the early nineteenth century. There have been few alterations so it is one of the best preserved old buildings in the downtown area. The attorneys who currently lease the building plan to stay as long as the structure is properly maintained, but are concerned about the deteriorated condition of the adjacent Discount Shoes building, which had a recent fire and is now vacant. The structure is in very poor condition, with significant water damage around the roof and pigeons roosting in the attic. The second floor is unstable, a condition that should have been addressed by the city's building inspector, and the building is considered unsafe. The building's owner, Nipsy More, has indicated he will accept offers for its purchase.
The Smith Hardware Building has had a longstanding hardware business on the ground floor. The current tenant would like to remain in the space. The second floor has rented apartments. The third floor is vacant and needs roof repairs to protect the interior.
The small shoe repair building, located north of Smith Hardware on River Street, is a one-room shop of brick construction with no distinguishing characteristics built in the 1940s by an immigrant shoe repairman. Next door is the Webber Building. Rogers Auto Supply, a long-standing downtown business, occupies the ground floor; the building's upper levels are vacant. The second floor is a large open space used for storage; the third floor was used until the 1950s as a fraternal organization's meeting hall.
The Eagle Sports World building on Station Street has had many tenants over its history and is currently owned by businessman Nipsy More. The vacant second floor has been used for storage. Both the mansard-style front and first floor display windows were added in the 1970s. Next to it is Feldt's Toys and Games, owned by Mr. Feldt, who enjoys sharing his passion for games with neighborhood kids. Built with plywood siding, the building is kept in good condition with normal maintenance.
Other businesses downtown on River Street include Wenkel's Pharmacy, Clifford's hair salon, Rivertown Music Company, Video World, Vi's Deli, and Friends Pet Shop.
A second commercial district on east Biltmore Avenue includes most of Rivertown's remaining commercial establishments. Its mostly nondescript structures date from the 1930s and '40s. The vacant Bijou Theater is the only structure to be considered historically significant. The current city hall is in an undistinguished 1940s concrete block building in the center of the commercial district along east Biltmore Avenue. Also located in this district are the Public Safety Building, with the police and fire departments; and the downtown post office.
An industrial park along the railroad tracks and river on the east side of the city includes older brick and concrete block structures, most of them in use by various small businesses. They contain warehousing, small manufacturing, contractors businesses, and similar enterprises. The largest building, now vacant, was constructed in 1852 as the Eagle Stove Works.
Reliance College is a small liberal arts college located in the northwest corner of the city. It is best known for programs in computer science, urban and regional planning, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and the campus has a surprising number of high-tech facilities. Its intermural football and conference basketball teams draw small crowds. The college's other public activities, such as its theater, bookstore, and library, attract primarily students; few local residents utilize the college facilities. Students live either in campus dormitories or medium- to high-density apartments on or near campus. They travel to Falls Mall in Erie Falls, a larger town 15 miles to the east, to shop and for entertainment rather than going to Rivertown's downtown.
Rivertown's middle school and high school students attend classes at a new educational complex one mile west of the city, arriving either by school bus or by private automobile. Two elementary schools are located within the city. Eastside Elementary, the oldest school in the city, and Welles Elementary, located on the west side, are over capacity.
Rivertown's public facilities are located throughout the city. A large city park and recreation center is located on Park Street at Biltmore Avenue. It is used by Welles Elementary School for regular outdoor activities on school days and by many local residents on weekends and summer days. A number of small parks are located throughout the city, including a downtown park at the corner of Biltmore Avenue and Elm Street. One block west of the downtown is Green Gables Apartments, built with federal funding as senior citizen housing in the 1980s. It has a long waiting list.
Rivertown has no regular public transportation system, but has two small buses available on-call for residents. The bus depot still services an inter-city bus line; three buses a day provide connections throughout the region. The railroad no longer has any passenger service, but a few freight trains travel through the city each day. The Eagle River Railroad owns the train station and intends to retain the main line and its right-of-way for the foreseeable future.
The slow-flowing Eagle River is a prime amenity deep enough for small watercraft and excellent for fishing. A large portion of the older downtown district is in the 100-year floodplain area. Bitterroot Lake feeds into Eagle River; the southern portion of the lake has thick clusters of freshwater algae during the summer and a muddy shoreline; the northern shore has a pleasing shoreline with sandy beaches.
There are some areas of environmental concern in the Rivertown community. The railroad right-of-way may be contaminated from its many decades of use by dirty steam engines. Tooster's Swamp, located within the south bend of the river, is a small wetland area with abundant native flora and fauna, but its standing water is a breeding place for mosquitoes, bringing complaints from residents. Blinky's Salvage Yard, just west of the Old Biltmore Farm and adjacent to city-owned spring-fed Walden Pond, is suspected of having contaminated soils. It is owned by Herman “Blinky” Bunkmeister, who is no longer adding new materials but has not removed existing salvage.
The People of Rivertown
A number of influential people living or working in Rivertown are described below. They are presented to give a perspective on Rivertown's society, specifically as it relates to the downtown district.
Burnham Daniel, recently retired from a position with the Chicago Planning Department, is the city's planning director. He lives near downtown Rivertown and works part-time for the city. He delegates daily planning responsibilities to an associate in an entry-level “Planner 1” position.
Delores Lemma, known as Aunt Dee, has been an active member of the Rivertown City Council for four terms. She has been reelected every two years because she is popular with residents in her ward, which encompasses the downtown district and a portion of the west side residential area. She is a strong proponent of social programs, and fought the proposed construction of a paved parking lot on a vacant parcel on the south side of Biltmore Avenue, instead supporting a shelter for the homeless. Both projects died for lack of funding.
Clara Story is descended from one of the early families in Rivertown, the Biltmores, and lives in a Gothic Revival house next door to the Biltmore Mansion. Ms. Story has long been involved with the Rivertown Historical Society, a non-profit educational organization that collects artifacts for a planned local museum. Its primary goal is to encourage historic districts in selected areas of the city, especially in the older downtown area.
Nipsy More, a local businessman and property owner, lives out of town but owns the Eagle Sports World store on Station Street and has operated this marginally profitable business for a number of years. He also owns the Discount Shoes building, vacant since a fire. He also owns an unimproved residential property on the south side of the Eagle River.
Ima Peeples lives with her 25 year-old daughter, Erma, in a Second Empire style house behind the Eagle Sports World store. She leads the Concerned Citizens of Rivertown, a loosely structured advocacy group that is irregularly active. Issues she is concerned about include parking on the street in front of the Peeples' house; trucks servicing nearby downtown businesses, especially the Sports World store; and expansion of downtown businesses. The group lobbied for the construction of a small park at the corner of Biltmore Avenue and Elm Street, which was built across the street from the Peeples' house.
Norman Tyler, manager of the First National Bank of Rivertown, the oldest and largest bank in the area, has lived in town all his life and is knowledgeable about the city's history and its current events. (In his non-fictional role, Mr. Tyler is coordinator of the online Rivertown simulation.)
Local organizations are active in community affairs. The Rivertown Merchants Association has actively promoted businesses throughout the city. Its activities include sales promotions, festivals, and other attempts to attract new business. The Rivertown Community Foundation is a non-profit agency that administers funds to local organizations and activities on an annual basis. In the past it has funded projects such as the construction of Elm Street Park, the Eagle River Fishing Competition, the 4th of July Parade, etc. The Eagle River Arts Alliance sponsors a successful arts and crafts festival each August on the island in the Eagle River, featuring a raft ride to the island. The First Methodist Church, three blocks west of the downtown, has run a breakfast program for needy residents and the homeless, staffed by community volunteers, since 1967.