Thursday, March 20, 2014

Let's have a farmers market expansion moratorium, at least until we get a good look at the Speck Report.

I haven't the time to fully document this morning's meeting at The Exchange, which was intended as the much belated follow-up to a similar gathering 10 months ago. Like the one last year, it was offered as a way to bring representatives of various organizations into a room, and in some as yet to be determined fashion, plot ways for information to be better distributed and rowing directions better coordinated.

It was a very long meeting. Items discussed included downtown parking, Jeff Speck's forthcoming study of the traffic grid, an untolled Sherman Minton, Boomtown Ball, and of course, the farmers market.

Much to my surprise, DNA did not come to the meeting prepared to defend the current farmers location to the death, and in fact, members present displayed surprising contrition over the botched poll question.

Pretty much all the sides of this issue, including those presented here over the past few days, were aired. The collective attitude among those present: The farmers market is good; its placement is negotiable in the context of other factors (i.e., potential value of the current location); and there needs to be further open, give and take with public input.

More than anything, there seemed to be shared confusion as to why the farmers market issue had come back when it did, the way it did. Even among the DNA members, the vibe was: Why must it happen now, and why so quickly ... even we don't see it as a black and white issue.

Very good questions. Well, someone's doing the pushing.

Wonder who?

The curious aspect to me remains City Hall's strange, passive detachment. I'll summarize it by paraphrasing: "It's something city council appropriated, and the council has been friendly to our agenda, and so our job is to implement it." Mind you, implement it on the the city's property, which nary a soul at this late date would seem to have researched in any way as to value or future usage.

It's just plain weird. Furthermore, I was told that the farmers market has generated far more phone calls ("many", evidently a scientific barometer of opinion, given that the city's own web site and Fb page cannot really be said to be interactive) than the $19 million parks buildout ("none").

All of which would seem to suggest a more activist role on the part of City Hall, not merely a "we'll come and listen and answer questions if asked" part.

My major point is this: For the sake of the argument, I'll accept at face value the city's sincerity in engaging Speck's services, and believe the city when it says it expects to implement these suggestions. As such, how can the city rationalize standing passively by while a massive expenditure ties the farmers market to its current location, when Speck's study and the street grid rethink it inspires will make obsolete numerous present assumptions -- and perhaps this one about the farmers market, too?

If it does not render various assumptions obsolete, then why undertake it?

Speck's study will be complete by the end of July. Why not wait until then, at the earliest, to pour cement into a spot that may appear very different in a few short months?

There'll be a farmers market discussion of some sort tonight, and unless the council changes its rules for the occasion, speakers referencing the farmers market will have to wait until non-agenda time at the end of the session.

What really needs to happen here is for everyone involved to take a step back, refamiliarize the background of this ancient appropriation, consider the Speck study's ramifications -- even speculate on how the Speck study and the farmers market itself might fit into an overall downtown economic development plan to emerge alongside the street grid's renovation -- and CHILL.

There is no reason why the farmers market cannot operate as it does now, for at least another season, while allowing us (all of us) time to get it right.

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