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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 05:15 pm

Saving personal energy by living downtown

Put away the car. Sell the lawnmower. And walk.


Joan Walters (left) and Larry Quenette show off the outdoor patio and garden area at Quenette’s downtown apartment and office building, where Walters has lived for about a year and a half.

Joan Walters has been around the world, and it shows in her spacious downtown apartment. Nearly every square foot of wall, door or floor features a different artifact – perhaps a tribal mask, a statue or a book – from her travels to Peru, Ecuador, Japan, Italy and other far-flung places.

“I’m an art lover; I collect art wherever I go,” Walters said. “I love the idea of a global society, and I love being reminded of it when I look around my place.”

Walters’ worldly outlook is also reflected in her decision to live downtown about a year and a half ago. While she maintains a condominium in Seattle to visit her daughter, Walters says she loves living in downtown Springfield because of the convenience and ease. She says those factors will only grow as more people move downtown.

Atop the brown brick building at 201 E. Adams St. that houses Walters’ apartment and building owner Larry Quenette’s Renaissance Architects business sits a small garden in a planter box. Walters grows herbs like rosemary and basil in the garden, while a neighbor has planted several tomato plants. Quenette says the rooftop will soon feature a large deck for residents of his building, which he has rehabilitated from a former hobby and home furnishings store into office space and 12 apartments. In the stairway leading to the roof is a pair of wooden boxes used for the popular “bags” game, revealing that residents already enjoy the roof’s open space overlooking the Illinois State Armory, State Capitol and more.

Walters says she moved downtown for a change of pace after a family in her previous neighborhood asked to buy her old home.

Walters’ spacious apartment is decorated with an eclectic mix of souvenirs from around the world.

“I had a five-bedroom house on the west side with 1.3 acres, and I woke up one day and said, ‘Why am I spending a week raking leaves?’ ” Walters said. “The minute that family expressed interest in my place and we worked out a deal, I knew I wanted to live downtown.”

Walters says she moved downtown to skip home maintenance, be closer to her volunteer engagements and use her car less. In essence, she says she wanted a change of lifestyle. She says she especially enjoys the idea of a “walkable city.”

“I’m really trying to get my car out of my life as much as I can,” she said. “For most things, I can walk, which is great for people my age who need to find ways to exercise. If you’re not a jogger or a FitClub person, you have to create functional reasons to exercise.”

Walters says living right next to the Third Street rail corridor doesn’t bother her; she says the train sounds have become “white noise.” Assuming the rail is consolidated on the 10th Street corridor, Walters looks forward to redevelopment efforts that she believes will bring even more people and businesses downtown. Among the businesses she thinks could thrive downtown are a retailer like Target, a women’s clothing boutique, a Chinese takeout restaurant, a dry cleaner and a movie theater.

Her condominium in Seattle is in a formerly “stodgy old Norwegian” neighborhood, Walters says with a laugh, but the area has become more hip in recent years.

Walters shows off her garden on the roof of her apartment building, which has views of the Illinois State Armory, the Illinois Statehouse and downtown Springfield.

“It has just evolved into this vibrant place, and it makes me think about what downtown Springfield could be when we get more population,” she said. “We really need more population to attract the kind of businesses that I think we could use as downtown people. Hopefully this effort to make more living spaces available will attract a nice cross-generational demographic. Young people just make a place so vibrant. You really need a healthy dose of young people to liven up a community. They don’t drive as much, so downtown is good for them.”

Walters also says she feels safe downtown.

“I think there’s a fear factor that needs to be overcome,” she said. “I don’t know what those fears are, but I’ve never encountered anything troubling. I walk everywhere; I walk to the grocery store, I walk at night, I walk in the daytime, and I’ve never really encountered anything that made me feel fearful. This is a safe environment.”

Walters’ enthusiasm for living downtown is so strong it seems like she’s proselytizing. She says she’s earned the right to relax.

“I haven’t ever had a moment that I regretted it,” she said. “It’s really fantastic, and it’s just a whole new care-free way of living for me. I spent my entire life raising children and working and taking care of a house – most of that time as a single parent – and this is a whole new world for me.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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