Friday, July 31, 2015
ON THE AVENUES: Homegrown New Albany, but not in a good way.
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Last week I was walking the alley between Spring and Elm, headed east. True, the garbage can be smelly in high summer, but the stretch between St. Mary’s and the old Reisz school isn’t so bad.
Approaching the eternal aesthetic and drainage nightmare otherwise known as 15th Street, an expanse that summarizes the daily streetscape squalor that we as a community apparently have decided to accept as irrevocable, I cursed yet again at being unable to see to my left owing to a huge expanse of foliage.
It wasn’t a tree, but one of those nasty, fibrous weeds masquerading as trees, or perhaps steroidal bushes. I call them “garbage trees,” and usually sprinkle epithets around references to them. They’re invasive and seemingly impossible to kill.
Speaking of murderous, be aware that walkers in auto-centric New Albany understand quite well their obligation to be the vigilant “seers” in our dysfunctional transport equation. I couldn’t begin to enumerate the times I’ve seen drivers not paying attention, this being another factor that we as a community apparently have decided to accept as irrevocable, such is the need to shave seconds off the next visit to the drive-through.
Peering around the greenery for perhaps the 20th time this summer, I looked across 15th and saw the Yield sign and RR Crossing marker, both erected atop a heavy wooden pole for the benefit of westbound alley drivers. I’d seen it oft times before, but why wasn’t there one where I was standing?
I looked up and abruptly realized the matching sign pole indeed was there, albeit enveloped and completely hidden by the giant amok garbage tree, which I couldn’t see past when walking the alley – and if it was an issue for a walker, just imagine the issue for a driver, who wouldn’t be able to see cars, bicycles or walkers, the latter barely having sidewalks to use in the first place.
I’d recently been chided for making viral photo sport of a poke weed plant leisurely growing from a storm water drain in a city that just spent $9 million for a water park where you can’t swim, but where neighborhoods experience pop-up splash blocks each time there’s a big rainfall.
One thing led to another, and the following day I took a saw and pair of lopper shears, walked down the alley to 15th Street, and did to that garbage tree what needs to happen to the political career of the recumbent incumbent come November, which is to say it was systematically deconstructed.
I’m neither implying street department slacking, nor suggesting that every blade of grass or weed can or even should be cut. What I will say is this: If the Board of Public Works and Safety intends to spend its time dithering over street pianos and pretending to be the arbiter of public art, then it might consider being truthful and dropping “Safety” from its title.
If Warren has to buy new business cards, tough.
Clearing brush, removing trip hazards, keeping the sidewalks clear of automobiles parked there by the terminally ignorant (and periodically spiteful) are not sexy tasks – except they’re fundamental needs, and constitute what local government is supposed to do, as opposed to posing as concert promoter, amusement park operator and aquatic center carnival barker.
They're precisely that. It’s why the best athletes in the world continue to practice. The fundamentals have to be done, and they have to keep being done. The city’s infrastructure needs to be managed, and its physical assets tended.
The mayor’s favored Wizard of Oz costume should be reserved for the annual Halloween party, not weekly duty high atop the 3rd floor.
I’ll close today’s column with Jeff Gillenwater’s succinct introduction to a cogent quote, as provided by an unnamed correspondent, who is referring to a photograph of overgrown grass in and near city streets.
If you want to know how New Albany works, understand two things: 1. the following comment and 2. that there are any number of "first families" who still consider themselves pillars, a bunch of political party stalwarts, and any number who qualify as both who won't respond to this kind of truth at all as we dump tens of millions into the sort of frivolous projects for the already wealthy where they like to cut ribbons and pat each other's derrières.
"That's been the view from our front porch for decades. My husband mows the sidewalk every time he mows the lawn.....the parts of the sidewalk that don't have huge chunks of broken concrete bending up. (You could break your mower blade if you try to mow there. So, parts of the sidewalk get the weed wacker treatment).
“Wait....there's something missing in this photo....oh, yes.....the healthy stand of Johnson grass that grows from the busted asphalt on our entire street. That grass is super-healthy this year from the many episodes of standing water that sets on the asphalt because the sewer drains don't take care of the problem when it rains. We don't use rain gauges. I just measure the number of inches away from our front step that the lapping flood water has crept.
“In our front yard, my husband and I have one of the few remaining working vintage gas lights in New Albany. Did you ever see a gas light with flood water lapping at its base in the middle of the night with the moonbeams shining down? If you use your imagine, you can imagine yourself standing on a riverbank with a beautiful lighthouse in front of you. And, we don't need the waterpark. After a good rain, we could water-ski down (our street) in the standing water out front.
“It's never really mattered who the mayor was. It never mattered what political party was in office. This is the first impression that many people get when they come to New Albany. This is the reflection of a city that doesn't care. So, let me be the first to say....this is not a new problem. Some of us taxpayers have been watching this ongoing deterioration with every mayor who has ever been in office.
“We have lovely old homes, and we do our part by making our property look good. But, the views from our porches are infuriating. This is the reflection of a city that has its priorities askew, and has for decades. I hold little hope of ever seeing improvement in the infrastructure. The deterioration has simply been too great. It's gone on for way too long.
“Regular basic city maintenance is a thing of the past. No mayor will ever be able to overcome the mess that's evolved around us. The city can't afford to fix everything now. Fixing all of New Albany's infrastructure now would be like trying to pull a junker car out of a junk yard and trying to restore it to a show-quality vehicle. It would cost a fortune."
This might well be true. Hell, it probably is true.
But someone has to try.
July 23: ON THE AVENUES: A citizen's eloquent complaint about the parking debacle at River Run reminds us that planners and brooms go hand in hand.
July 16: ON THE AVENUES: Louisville Beer, then and now ... and cheers to Rotary.
July 9: ON THE AVENUES: A mayoral petition as prologue to history.
July 2: ON THE AVENUES: "Water on the brains: Much less for far more will keep us swimming in it."
June 25: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Red scarf, white shirt and San Miguel beer (2012).
June 18: ON THE AVENUES: These 10 definitions will help you speak local politics like a native.