A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
Memories light the corners of my mind …
In early September of 2012, I met with the then-general manager of Wick’s Pizza. We were to discuss preparations for the venue’s temporary beer garden and music show, planned to coincide with booth days at Harvest Homecoming.
As some readers will recall, this meeting proved an exercise in futility, because ultimately Wick’s was denied permission to proceed. Seems the ruling Harvest Homecoming politburo felt itself threatened by encroaching modernity, and the police chief at the time was content to sing their song.
A year later, the Wick’s party plan finally was approved by the city, only to be subjected to a series of dirty tricks by the offended Orange Shirts, who complained that their week-long annual downtown monopoly needed further protection against competition.
Surely if the unctuous Sepp Blatter ever relinquishes his iron grip on FIFA, he can land a new gig with the Harvest Homecoming mafiosa, propped upright atop the red-brick Scribner Mausoleum to review the elephant ear fueled caissons, horse-drawn rednecks and gaily weaving Shriners.
But I digress.
It was a beautiful afternoon that day at Wick’s back in 2012, and accordingly, we decided to sit outside and chat about the event. For those just tuning in, the patio at Wick’s is located in front of the entrance, facing State Street. I proceeded to spend the bulk of the conference gripping the metal table for fear of being rattled to the ground, and cupping ears in a desperate effort to hear what was being said.
That’s because for a solid hour, one after the other, heavy trucks – 18-wheelers, dump trucks, concrete mixers, garbage scows and scrap recyclers – kept to a steady rumble as they passed the patio, belching smoke and kicking dust (and sometimes worse) into the air in the general direction of my drink. Virtually all of the southbound trucks went right on Main Street toward QRS and points west, and the vast majority traveling north on State turned left onto Spring, in route to the interstate interchange and back to the Commonwealth.
It’s gotten a lot worse since then.
Yesterday we read what Café 27 had to say about the current business climate downtown.
We have been struggling to find a way in this tough economy to provide you with the quality and service that you have come to love. However, with recent street closures, Main Street improvements and fluctuating costs ... we have determined that we must restructure in order to stay afloat and continue to provide our guests with the highest quality dining and entertainment experience possible.
I feel for them. Like all of us, they expected better. It’s another way of pointing out that the vicinity – the immediate area, the neighborhood – needs to be conducive to a high quality dining and entertainment experience. In this context, we’ve already spent years trying to reverse the sort of institutional neglect that manifests itself in a downtown core openly used as a warehousing facility and industrial racetrack.
So far, 2014 has been a painfully dramatic step backward, and to me, the regression might as well be purposeful in the gaping leadership breach. To me, the decline is symbolized by the untrammeled escalation of heavy truck traffic downtown, as the city’s eyes remain stubbornly averted.
Granted, it may or may not be legally possible for the city of New Albany to remove heavy trucks from streets even if they were not built with these monstrous vehicles in mind.
It may not be practical or even advisable to move whole extractive, old-school industries, although I’d argue that continuing to coddle the pallet-nailers and garbage sifters isn’t exactly inspiring continued confidence in enhanced economic development as defined by those living-wage “good” jobs we piously claim to seek while artfully fluffing the occupants of the industrial park.
But this needs to be said: The way this city continues to allow its streets to be used, whether by heavy trucks, or one-way arterial traffic, or with erratic crosswalks, or without coherent bike lanes … with all these factors rolled together into one ugly whole … is not merely a case of FAILING to support the prodigious investments of indie business entrepreneurs, like Wick’s, Café 27 and all the others who’ve struggled to reclaim downtown for human beings apart from their cars.
In fact, our unregulated, non-complete, auto-centric and half-assed street grid’s perennial and ongoing dysfunction actively PUSHES BACK AGAINST revitalization efforts downtown. It is destructive, and it negates constructive measures. By countenancing this situation with timidity, absence and wagon-circling, City Hall plainly contradicts its own largely toothless claims that it cares about the core.
By failing to act to improve the “quality of life” downtown, which might be largely achieved in one fell swoop by two-way “complete” streets and traffic calming measures, the city makes success so much harder for the very entrepreneurs it purports to support -- albeit in vacuous word, not in deed, or with money, or via an economic development program in any identifiable form apart from taking credit for what others already spent.
First Vectren spent the cold weather months merrily demolishing sidewalks, and the Main Street Deforestation Project soon followed, laying waste to a prime attraction. Jeffersonville got a pedestrian bridge as New Albany debated ways of creating more vacant lots. Now the city of Jeff commissions public art and installs bike racks, and New Albany responds by excitedly announcing the auto-centric REMOVAL of bike lanes on Charlestown Road, which only recently had been touted as proof of John Rosenbarger’s unparalleled brilliance as civic wrecker-in chief.
Through it all, the siege by truck continues. Has a single heavy industrial vehicle been ticketed on Spring or Market or Elm Streets since the police department belatedly announced it being given permission to undertake abatement of speeding, which the previous chief denied existed? The cops are pulling over plenty of cars, but not trucks.
Did someone in upper management advise them to do it that way?
As we await the results of the Jeff Speck street study, which Rosenbarger (among others, including our mirror-minded cadre of Democratic Party grandees) naturally will seek to render null and void from his plush, permanent seat on the Gail Wynand Look Out for Number One on the Down Low Council of Geniuses, there is little more genuine walkability in downtown New Albany than in war-torn Damascus or chaotic Juba.
And with little interest in walkability now, before the Speck study’s release, when at present everything he’s about to recommend already is patently obvious to anyone taking the time to read the book and stop, look and listen, from whence does the city muster the political chutzpah necessary for necessary implementation?
Currently, this city isn’t doing anything except showcasing Rosenbarger’s lies about its Main Street improvement promises, which are a house of cards divided against itself. The city isn’t communicating much of anything, about much of anything. These are the most non-transparent governmental times in this city in living memory, with the incumbents making Dick Nixon look like Oprah Winfrey.
We’re expected to roll over and pump more money into businesses located in a downtown area that the city has no plans to assist? Seemingly City Hall regards as a grave insult any suggestion that it could do better by thinking outside the box in which it, like non-book reading administrations before, has entombed itself. Instead, we are asked to be grateful for an expanded public park presence, which was not mentioned once during the last mayoral campaign, and in particular, we’re advised to wax orgasmic about an aquatics center on the periphery that will be outmoded before the last pipe is mislaid – or Vectren arrives to dig through it.
It’s all quite sad to me, because City Hall’s delusion is profoundly mistaken. Revolutions of rising expectations simply don’t work that way – and I intend to write the history of this one.
And encourage more of them.