Looking back to Wilmington’s hey day could get us moving toward sustainable development in Delaware

A few weeks ago in an email chain I was copied on, retired planner and longtime Delaware resident, Mike McGrath, offered some thoughts on what will help Delaware to effectively preserve its invaluable farmland and open space and create communities that will truly sustain us. Here is his illustrative solution:

The real key, in my opinion, is to recognize and reuse the wonderful urban areas Delaware already has.  The interesting thing is that these very urban areas, long neglected, were designed for, and utilized by, many more people than live there now.  To extend [an] agricultural analogy, these urban areas are like long abused farms just waiting to be brought back into productive use.  

I remember, as do many Delawareans, when Wilmington supported nearly twice as many people as live there now.  As a country boy in the City four times a week at the Farmers’ Market I remember marveling at the crowds of people on the sidewalks, the busy trolleys plying the streets, buses going everywhere – it was a city humming with vibrant life – a farmers’ market with over 100 farmers on some good days; King Street had eight meat markets that I recall.  I remember pedestrian traffic so thick that foot patrolmen used whistles to direct the walkers so they could move from one street to the next!  Many of these folk lived adjacent to center city (now mostly parking garages!) and walked everywhere, catching a trolley to get to work or some outlying areas, but all vital services within walking distance.

image courtesy of OldWilmington.net

 I have often raised eyebrows when I would say, “The best thing we could do for farmland preservation is to bring 50,000 new residents back to Wilmington!”  Indeed, the key to so many of our vexing land use problems is to work harder at making our existing urban areas more livable, transit-friendly and exciting places to live.  All over America we are rediscovering urban gems.  Young people and old gents like me are all finding revitalized urban centers as vibrant centers for work, relaxation, and true neighborly interaction.  Can’t we make this one of our aims in Delaware?  Let’s use what we’ve got rather than endless bickering about what we really don’t need!

Thank you Mike for allowing us to share your insight!