Tuesday, December 31, 2013

ON THE AVENUES: Mr. Gahan -- plug in this clock.

ON THE AVENUES: Mr. Gahan -- plug in this clock.

A special New Year's Eve column by Roger A. Baylor.

Perception.

Reality.

They’re how I’ll remember the year 2013, and so appropriately, two New Year’s Eve tweets tell the whole story, and nothing but the story.

From City of New Albany Government: It's New Year's Eve and the City of New Albany wishes everyone a happy and safe night. It was a great year here in New Albany and the future of 2014 looks bright for our city!

From Jeff Speck: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." -- Upton Sinclair

(By the way, the city’s utterance today might be the last authored by ProMedia, which cannot be blamed for municipal government’s notoriously non-responsive social media effort. The Green Mouse is told that these communications are to be taken back in-house. Shall we speculate how this decision will impact exclamation mark futures?)

Meanwhile, aside from musical memories coming on Thursday in this space, there’ll be no year in review.

That’s because it was another in a series of mediocre, underachieving years, in which New Albany largely reaffirmed its half-century commitment to repeating the same reactive actions over and over, while hoping the outcome might be different this time.

The Bicentennial was utterly wasted with same-old-suspect buffoonery. There was no plan for economic development downtown, and there are no plans to have a plan. Selected property owners were fluffed, while others were relegated to the iron rule of the slumlord. We’ll have a wonderfully expensive parks system, and use our cars to drive back and forth between them on streets designed for high-speed, reckless driving, while ignoring success stories in other cities, where the city itself has become a recreational area simply by taking back its street grid. The Democratic Party substitutes words for action, and the Republican Party is so moribund and devoid of an intellectual pulse that it doesn’t even have its own Tea Party insurgency.

Even the tea partiers understand the meaning of wasted effort, and concentrate their attention elsewhere.

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I’m always exhausted at year’s end. This year, as my business approached the end of what amounted to a five-year plan, it has taken much more effort than usual to plan for the next phase. Curiously, as both the city of New Albany and America’s craft beer segment have declared victory, there’s a nasty bubble waiting to pop, although willfully blinded eyes are averted.

Craft beer’s headed for an adjustment, borne of over-capacity among breweries dependent on production-level distribution. There will be casualties. In like fashion, downtown revitalization in New Albany faces the very real likelihood of a slowdown. We’ve gone as far as we can go with smoke and mirrors. Now more than ever, we need the city to put some skin into the game.

Louisville, Jeffersonville and even Clarksville have development plans and strategies to garner entrepreneurs and their dollars. In New Albany, we have enough eateries and bars, and we may well have too many. There needs to be a next phase; and yet current indie business operators are hard-placed to find the time to cooperate. Non-profits are inconsequential. There are no downtown housing initiatives. Ideas that can help right now – a street grid that supports, not defeats, the sort of indie ethos we’ve painstakingly built with our own money – are marginalized by city leaders bizarrely ignorant of urbanism and forever afraid of their own political shadows.

And the newspaper’s top stories of 2013?

Two murder trials, River Ridge, the Floyd County auditor’s incompetence, the city’s new unconnected parks department … and the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Shall I state the obvious?

The ORBP is the undisputed 800-lb gorilla casting a shadow over every single thing mentioned here. We might be doing something about it now; for instance, a commission composed (please God, just for once) of more than just the same tired old usual suspects, to brainstorm coping strategies now, and to engage the public, rather than await the results of useless studies conducted by even more tired old usual consulting suspects, and try yet again to bluff our way through at the very last moment, lest we offend a Democratic Party grandee or dispute Bob Caesar’s self-interested conviction that toll bridges connected to one-way streets will bring an unprecedented number of diamond shoppers downtown.

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More urbanism, not less. More transparency, not less. More localism, not less. More public information and participation, not less. More thinking and doing outside the stunted, Democratic Party-smothered obstruction zone, not less.

Watch them read the preceding paragraph. See their body language. Realize how futile such efforts are doomed to be.

Quite frankly, I’d dearly love to say “fuck it” and disengage; cash out, punt, pack Uncle Jed’s jalopy and finally spend some quality time in places that are not perpetual fixer-uppers, but turnkey habitations: Like Bamberg -- not Birdseye on the Ohio.

But see, the thing is this: Reduced options have a remarkable way of narrowing one’s focus. At home or at work, we’ve bet the whole pile on this recalcitrant, woebegone, thick-headed old and dirty river town, and I was a stubborn bastard even before it became clear that it was a dubious wager I must have placed in a state of intoxication much more elevated than my normal level of degradation.

I may be tired, but I am not defeated.

I so wish there could be togetherness. There isn’t, so I will push. They will push back. Maybe, for once, we’ll get lucky. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Wouldn’t it be nice if just once, we could hack our way through the oblivious mire, push the plug into the wall socket, and see what happens when the clock actually runs?

After all, we haven't tried it before.

3 comments:

The Bookseller said...

This is hall-of-fame writing, sir. Unless you object, I'm going to cross post this, not necessarily for new eyeballs, but to boost its web ranking.

I appreciate you showing up every day to play and while every post can't be a home run, this is a grand slam and is a definitive post.

Happy new year to you and yours. Great job ringing out the old. Can we start working on New Albany's 200th anniversary now?

The New Albanian said...

Yes, thanks and of course.

The New Albanian said...

Funny. I think and think and think, and then see a Twitter feed, sit down, and do something like this, start to finish, one draft with a few touch-ups. Hour or less, all total. Why can't it be this way all the time?