Monday, September 28, 2015

Campaign Diary, Chapter 7: Economic development, quality of life and New Albanian inner rings.

In New Albany geographical context, we're speaking broadly of the post-WWII inner ring suburbs between the historic city center and I-265. It applies to commercial strips like the Colonial Manor center on Charlestown Road. Previously we referenced Sanphillippo's essay here: Impure thoughts about suburbia" and New Albanian corridors.

More recently, we looked at an argument for adaptability for these areas: Securing inner ring suburbs by "moving away from the traditional suburban standards and making them adaptable."

All these ideas address two common misperceptions: That (a) the city of New Albany devotes disproportionate attention to downtown, and (b) that a downtowner like me cares only for my immediate vicinity.

In fact, sprawl (of which inner ring suburbs were the earliest example) always has cost more, dollar for dollar, than efforts to utilize denser urban centers. Moreover, looking back over the past decade, it can be seen that city spending on downtown has indeed been disproportionate -- but only in the sense that time and money has not gone to further private investment during the same time.

Furthermore, when the city has spent money downtown, it invariably has been justified on errant premises, as with the Main Street beautification project. If anything, reigning city decision-makers continue to think and spend downtown according to suburban precepts, which is senseless on multiple levels, though useful when explaining $9 million water parks.

Besides that, for 25 years I've owned a business off Grant Line Road and University Woods Drive, and for ten years I lived a block away from it.

What's true is this: We need development and maintenance strategies for the inner ring as well as downtown. These have been more slow to evolve, but suggestions are emerging in American experiences elsewhere.


I’m a longtime advocate of walkable, mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-served neighborhoods. But lately I’ve been having impure thoughts about suburbia. Let me explain.

What often passes for a neighborhood in America is a low grade assemblage of chain convenience stores, big box outlets, franchise muffler shops, multi-lane highways, and isolated cul-de-sacs. Even when it’s physically possible to walk or bike from Point A to Point B it’s not pleasant, safe, or convenient.

Or, those landscapes along our roadway corridors between downtown and I-265. Among them, State Street, Grant Line Road and Charlestown Road are the primary commercial zones.

I always assumed that these neighborhoods would all devolve into the new slums – and many certainly are doing that. Ferguson, Missouri anyone? But it doesn’t have to go that way. These forgotten suburban neighborhoods can just as easily be the new sweet spots for small enterprise and a renewed middle class.

The author proceeds to explain, and later in the article, he makes a handy point about bicycle aptitude.

The primary factor in their favor is that highway expansion and car-oriented improvements are fantastically expensive, while bike infrastructure is ridiculously cheap.

Indeed, the distances are short. With proper bicycle infrastructure, a person living near Silver Street Park could bike to IU Southeast or downtown in a very short time -- a far more "millennial" response than the mayor's luxury apartments. Because ...

What about all those tragic little post war ranch homes? Well, it turns out that they’re radically less expensive than either a condo downtown or a McMansion in the newer suburbs.

The conclusion isn't unexpected.

So far what I’m seeing is that a dead downtown contributes to even deader close in neighborhoods. A thriving downtown attracts more people to the city and creates an economic incentive for people to get creative with the reinvention of not-so-fabulous nearby areas. So if you want your struggling suburb to succeed, support your downtown.

There is one inescapable element to this conversation. Whether living in the inner ring or operating a business there, stakeholders simply must communicate and work together. New Albany's traditional tolerance of political fixing and one-party dominance has tended to mute grassroots organizing.

If there is to be a renewal of quality of life in the inner ring and prospects for business, as described in the article linked here, cooperation of this sort is absolutely necessary.

No comments: