Friday, July 5, 2013

Some Things I Would Like to Bring Home: People Milling Around Downtown

In this, the fourth installment of my series, "some things I would like to bring home," I should mention that I have been away from the blog because I have something very wonderful to bring home: a new baby.  Our littlest one was born here in Hungary, and we are very excited to bring her back to Oshkosh at the end of this month.  
     For this installment, though, I would like to describe one more thing that I wish I could bring from Pécs to Oshkosh: a busy downtown.  Both cities have beautiful downtowns.  Pécs, a city old enough to be part of the Roman Empire, and somewhat bigger in population (165,000), has a bigger and more historic downtown.  Many of its most eye-catching buildings date from the 18th century.  Some, such as the castle walls and the mosques, date from the 16th century.  Oshkosh, incorporated in 1853 and with a current population of 66,000, nevertheless has a downtown pretty to look at as well.  Most of its eye-catching buildings date from the turn of the 20th century.  There is one quite noticeable difference though: Pécs's downtown is usually full of people, especially when the weather is good.  Oshkosh's downtown is often quiet, too quiet.
     When downtown Oshkosh is full, it is wonderful.  During the weekly farmer's market from June to October, or the monthly Art Walk, it is a thrill to go downtown, see it full of people, and bump into those you know.  The problem is that these are exceptional days.  For the most part, people shop at strip malls near the highway.  They do their people-watching at... well, I still haven't figured out where the good people-watching is in my town.  
     By contrast, Pécs is usually full of people downtown. 
Szechenyi Tér, Pécs <>
This photo shows what the main square looks like on any sunny day.  Young, old, rich, poor, in-between, lots of people are there: meeting friends, going for a walk, getting an ice cream or a coffee, on the way to shopping.  It's great for people-watching.  It's something to do when you want to get out of the house.  I will miss it a lot.       I am told by those in the know that Pécs's downtown culture has improved a lot since it was a European cultural capital in 2010.  It was then that the main square was pedestrianized, and the fountains were pumped full of water again.  It was then, too, that people started filling the square more and more.  I find that to be a very good thing.  A downtown full of people feels very good to me.  Here is a picture of the main shopping street, Kiraly utca.
Kiraly utca, Pécs <>

     Can Oshkosh do this?  Does Oshkosh want to do this?  I don't know the answer to either of these questions.  As I've discussed in a previous post, Americans just drive a lot more than Hungarians do.  We Americans are quite used to car ownership, relatively cheap gasoline, and huge stores with huge parking lots on the outskirts of town.  I've noticed a few towns in Wisconsin that still have a department store downtown, such as Sheboygan.  This seems really rare nowadays.  There is a strong public relations effort on behalf of downtown Oshkosh, and it seems to be making some progress.  And the downtown is rather handsome, I think.  
Main Street and Algoma/Washington, in Oshkosh.  <>
 The streets are not full as yet, though.  As the above picture shows, Oshkosh spends months under snow, but certainly not all year.  Downtown Oshkosh has, I think, the best hardware store I've ever seen, and an awesome library, along with great cafes, a couple nice restaurants, two bookstores each with different strengths, and a variety of other stores.  It could have a bit more, of course.  Here is my personal wishlist for downtown Oshkosh:
1)  A bakery that bakes fresh, nutritious bread.
2)  A grocery store, in addition to the fine health food store.
3)  A movie theatre that plays the occasional recent movie.
4)  Red Robin's Gourmet Burgers (I really like this chain, but do I have to drive to the highway to eat there?)
5)  A Department Store, with clothes for good prices.
6)  An international news-stand/florist (one can dream, can't one?). 
7)  A "made-in-the-USA" variety store (in Hungary there is a strong movement to buy Hungarian products, but the only stores dedicated to a nation's products are "made-in-Italy" stores).
8)  More restaurants.

     To reiterate, my "things I would like to bring home" series is not intended to pooh-pooh Oshkosh.  It has many wonderful features, which I will elaborate on when I get home.  Still, I often wish on errands downtown or in the cafes that I would see more people.  What do you think?

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