South Peoria was developed as a streetcar neighborhood, building out along the Lincoln and Garden lines. We'll take a look at the general characteristics of Midwestern streetcar suburbs (or neighborhoods), and we'll compare a typical Peoria streetcar neighborhood (South Peoria) to a typical postwar neighborhood in central Peoria and a typical suburban-style subdivision in far north Peoria.
Streetcars work exceedingly well in the flat topography of the Midwest (significant hills require cable cars, like San Francisco's), and in many Midwestern cities became the primary mode of transportation for people of all classes.
One of the most characteristic features of streetcar neighborhoods is small commercial establishments on corners where cross streets cross the streetcar's street. These are typically flush or nearly flush with the sidewalk, and if there is any parking, it's behind the building. These commercial buildings were often originally built with the idea that the proprietor would live above or behind the shop. The most typical uses were small mom & pop groceries, where you could pick up a few items on the way home, and neighborhood taverns. Let's look at a couple of characteristic Peoria neighborhoods. This is part of the South Peoria neighborhood that I've been documenting. Grey buildings are housing; yellow are outbuildings (mostly garages); red buildings are commercial; and blue are non-profit (mostly schools and churches). You can see the mix of red commercial buildings in the primarily residential neighborhoods, as well as a smattering of small churches and larger school buildings.
|South Peoria: Residential with "corner stores" and many churches.|
|Red corner businesses along the green Garden Street former streetcar line.|
By comparison, here's a neighborhood in Central Peoria, just south of War Memorial Drive (the neighborhood is called “North Florence” and sits just southeast of War Memorial and Sheridan). This is a post-war suburb, and you can see that there's barely any commercial activity – on the northwest is a tiny, hard-to-access strip mall with a cellular store and a dry cleaner; on the southeast is a former drive-through bank that's now a State Farm Insurance (Randy Begole, good dude), that's also inaccessible from the neighborhood. There are a handful of religious buildings, all surrounded by seas of parking. (Top left: Disused synagogue that has had several failed redevelopment attempts. Below that, Apostolic Christian Church. Top center: St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral. Top right, First Covenant, a small evangelical church.) It's a very pleasant neighborhood for walking – you see lots of people out walking dogs or walking for fitness -- but there's not anywhere to walk to. This is typical of neighborhoods developed after zoning codes were introduced, separating commercial uses from residential and removing small-scale neighborhood commerce like ice cream shops and corner groceries.
|Postwar neighborhood of North Florence, zoned residential. There are no commercial establishments to walk to.|
|North Peoria neighborhood: no grid, not safe on foot, nowhere to go.|
National Park Service, An Overview of Suburbanization in the United States, 1830 to 1960
In Praise of Streetcar Suburbs (they're adaptable, efficient, and multi-modal)
Why Streetcar Neighborhoods Work Well (archive.org link; report for Salisbury NC with recommendations for future development as part of 2020 planning)
Summary: Streetcar suburbs feature development density, multimodal transit capabilities, and gridiron blocks that make for liveable, adaptable neighborhoods. They also feature pleasant pedestrian streetscapes with sidewalks everywhere and many mature trees. Setbacks are modest and porches ubiquitous; garages are deprioritized to alleys, along with trash pickup and (sometimes) utility services. Modern, low-density, car-centric suburbs are considerably more expensive to supply with roads, utility services, police and fire coverage, mail delivery, and public transit. (Greater property taxes levied on more expensive homes in diffuse, suburban-type developments does not cover the greater cost those homes extract from city services, which I'll talk about in future posts dealing with utilities.)