Sunday, June 7, 2015

It's Alright. Right?

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him

--Bob Dylan, It's alright Ma

Although it seems a long time ago it was just last Monday, June 1, that the City Council chamber erupted in a surreal display of short-circuitry. Epithets were pitched, and caught by the electronic glove of WAVE TV's news cameras. Seemingly settled expressions of tolerance were recanted, then tossed onto the chamber's floor to be beaten into unrecognizability, as though an errant snake had slithered under the door. 

Since then, a trip to the hardware store yielded this observation, "the City Council in Jeffersonville is pathetic too". (emphasis added)

At a public event for a Historic Society, "if a Republican had uttered the same kind of intolerant, homophobic remarks, (as were heard at the City Council last Monday) the Democrats would have crucified him, and the entire party. Looks kind of like a double standard."

A chance encounter with a fellow Councilman opens with, "how's it going, you lyin' piece of shit?"  Je suis L.P.O.S.?

As a result of the purposefully obtuse characterization of my attempt to reach a bit of compromise on the issue of spoken prayer at a Council meeting, I've been called a racist, anti-prayer, in cahoots with un-named forces outside the Council, and beholden to a society-destroying agenda promoting human rights. I've also been reminded that thousands of voters will remember that I was out to strip prayer from the City 
Council.  I realize this controversy is not about me. But, as one maligned in such a ridiculous campaign to hoist the flag so the Christian Soldiers could March to War (by way of vote centers), I'll simply say, I'm sick of it.

I would add that many other bodies meet to conduct public business, without a ceremonial prayer or invocation at the start of the proceedings. (Board of Works, Redevelopment Commission, Sewer Board, County Council, County Commissioners, and other bodies no doubt, which I haven't named)

While the entire sordid evening was rife with the kind of bilious empty-headed rhetoric that has kept Jon Stewart on the air for many years now, I am simply addressing here the anti-prayer elements of the sideshow.  What follows in italics is authored by me. I report. You decide.

WHEREAS: It is recognized that New Albany's Common Council meetings have opened with a Christian prayer,
WHEREAS: It is also recognized that some members do not believe sanctioned prayer is an appropriate form of expression in civic or government meetings,
NOW THEREFORE: The following outline of a compromise between these two diametrically opposed views is offered as a way of honoring both views through the individual preference of  each Council member:
1. The Council will allow each member to open a meeting on a rotational basis.
2. The rotation shall be established by District number, just as the Council desks are arranged, until each member has been given the opportunity for opening remarks, whereupon the rotation will begin again.
3. The Council member who is responsible for the opening remarks following the rotation described, will be allotted one minute. The member can use none, any, or all of the time allotted.
4.The opening remarks shall be respectful and limited by the normal decorum expected in a public meeting, subject to the gavel of the chair.
5. The Council member's opening remarks may be a prayer, a reading, an historical note, or any other expression as limited by number 4 above.
6.The opening remarks are to be limited to expressions of an inspirational, centering, or focusing nature. The remarks shall not be used for campaigning or promotion of members' proposal or activities.
7. The Common Council shall address deviations from the prescribed format outlined here, and it shall revise with additional stipulations as need.

That was the basic idea which was then distilled into an amendment, as follows:

A Council member at every Common Council meeting, in rotation, may open the meeting with his or her choice of a prayer, a reading of an inspirational, commemorative or historical nature, or a moment of silent reflection.

What follows here is part of a note to Council members relating to the amendment above:

It is clear the U.S. Supreme Court rulings allow prayer at public meetings. It is equally clear that some citizens are so fully opposed to prayer in a governmental setting that they would resort to theatrical tactics to prove their point.

I believe a good way we can protect the dignity of the City Council  (yes, I actually wrote those words)  while respecting religious expression, and non-religious expression, as the Constitution and Court demands, is to take personal responsibility for the opening remarks at the Council meetings into our own hands. The proposal I've drawn up does that, I think. It allows prayers in the Council chamber, but makes any such prayers the responsibility of the members who choose to offer them. It likewise allows members who don't believe in the mixing of  government and religion to express a sentiment in keeping with their beliefs. I believe it respects both sides of the issue while keeping the responsibility for the Council within the Council where, I believe, it belongs.

Objectively, can anyone playing with a full, non-demagogic, deck read that as an anti-prayer proposal?

I don't know if there's anything else to be done about this aberrant behavior. That's up to others to decide. I'm just one Councilman who probably has been/is being targeted for defeat because of these antics. But it is worth remembering that the State of Indiana has now coughed up two million dollars to help Gov. Mike Pence get his foot out of his mouth over the tainting of Indiana's image caused by the intolerance of the RFRA law he supported, which is the genesis of this local conflict. Beyond that cost, about a million and a half dollars were wasted in a vain attempt by the state's Attorney General to hold back the tide of history regarding same-sex marriage. So, to date, the fight which sparked the local tempest has cost the state about three and a half million dollars, and little evidence exists to show success burnishing the state's image.

The flow of history moves endlessly. It will leave some of us behind, but it won't be stopped.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Infrastructure of Sustainability

This article from earlier in the month appeared in the Courier-Journal. The article on the drought in California is relevant to us, here in New Albany, for a number of reasons: 1. evidence of climate change 2. noteworthy during the week of earth Day 3. validates the logic and exigencies of localism, independent businesses and sustainable communities.

Governor Jerry Brown has imposed sanctions to curtail the use of water in California. The arid state has long been on a knife's edge balanced between verdancy and drought. The great movie, Chinatown, showed through believable fiction, how desperately business interests coveted abundant water. In our part of the country, we worry through bothersome dry spells, but the rains usually come in sufficient volume to bail out farmers and we seldom need to resort to heavy conservation measures to help us through those spells.

For me this particular passage from the article is the money shot:

Retail price spikes are unlikely because of the drought, however. Only a small portion of what shoppers pay is based on what farmers get for their crops -- shipping, handling, packaging and marketing expenses are collectively bigger. Plus, food prices are often set on a global scale of supply and demand, so in a vast world marketplace, California's drought may not be a big factor, Sumner says.

People in California are scrambling to adjust to what seems like the new reality. They are taking steps to dial back water usage through more use of native plants rather than trying to have emerald green lawns. Farm workers are being bounced out by the reduced crop yields. People are beginning to envision a future where a less hospitable climate will erase discrete ecosystems, and place stress on wildlife in general.

Around here, locally, in our own backyards, in our daily routines in our small Midwest city, we can begin, and many have begun, to envision a future where, ' Only a small portion of what shoppers pay is based on what farmers get for their crops' may become a relic of a wasteful, unsustainable past. A friend of mine owns and operates a market that sells a wide range of locally grown produce. His store is open year round, but is naturally more well-stocked during spring, summer and early fall. All the items he sells comes from within a radius of 150 miles. The very nature of his business helps local growers become stronger. Those growers help stand against the collapse of local economies undermined by lost manufacturing jobs, and the devastation that trend has wrought on our economy. The concentration of food production in meteorologically vulnerable parts of the nation makes no sense when we see the ravages of drought in California. Where next will the comfortable past be 180ed into a new reality?

My friend's store doesn't appear to be a ticket to Easy Street. On the contrary, it is a tough, uphill battle trying to push people out of a rut of buying long-distance, insecticide-laden, produce from mega-farms. His produce isn't cheap, but as the article points out, under what passes for conventional agriculture today, only a small portion of the cost of produce goes to the farmer who produced it. Under the model my friend's producers follow, they earn more for their work, and so can more likely be a sustainable player in building a sustainable system, less vulnerable to capricious weather patterns, which  obviously, is better for all of us. In a real sense, these producers are fighting for our futures as much as their own.  They are helping to build a new infrastructure of sustainability.

Locally grown, or locally produced agricultural products are perhaps more easily perceived as part of a strong, healthy locality. But, in countless other commercial transactions we have the chance to, step by step, build a more vibrant, sustainable locality. These strong, varied, vibrant, prosperous localities are the infrastructure of sustainability. We can take steps here and now to make our own region more responsible, sustainable, and prosperous, by looking at how our daily commercial activities relate to, and affect our planet, which is truly our locality; New Albany's just a Zip Code.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jeopardy--New Albany Style

Contestant number 1 (Lysistrata):  I'll take "Big Yellow Taxi" for $800, Alex.

Alex Trebek:  It's two photo clues... Johnny?

Lysistrata: The old Street Department Headquarters, demolished in 1999.

Alex Trebek: In the form of a question, please.

Lysistrata: What is the old Street Department headquarters demolished in 1999?

Alex Trebek: Sorry...(contestant number 2) Sylvan?

Sylvan:  What is the northern-most historical structure in downtown New Albany facing demolition by neglect?

Alex Trebek: Sorry...(contestant number 3)Damian?

Damian: What is an abject failure in the pursuit of preservation of historic structures in New Albany?

Alex Trebek:  No, sorry players, the correct answer is, 'What is the next most likely historic structure in New Albany to fall victim to the Culbertson Avenue jinx?'
Just a note for future reference, we would have accepted either jinx, or curse, in that question.

Stay tuned. We'll be right back with Double Jeopardy. All I can say is, watch out.


If another game, instead of Jeopardy, say, What If,  were played, the possible scenarios are limited only by imagination and vision.

I'll throw out a few what ifs:

What if it were converted to a public art space under the auspices of the Parks Department, sort of like the Studio 2000 program tried here, successfully, I might add, in 2005 and 2006?

What if it were used as a transitional shelter for disrupted families; those needing temporary shelter, refuge from abusive relationships, day services such as credit counseling, drug rehabilitation, or any of the myriad programs which help the disaffected get back on their feet?

What if, as community artist David Thrasher suggested, Fairview Cemetery were to be complemented by a sculpture garden; and this building were the locus of an accompanying exhibit, or repository of information about the magnificent reliquary art in the graveyard?

What if this property were swapped with the current headquarters of the Harvest Homecoming? The current HH HQ, being closer to the heart of downtown, could possibly be better incorporated into the commerce of the downtown district, thus helping to boost the revival of the downtown.

What if...?

The list is much longer than I've written, and as I said, limited only by imagination and vision.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Food for Thought

The city of New Albany has a poor public transit system. Most less-than-major cities in the United States have poor transit systems. All scientists, save disreputable shills, believe we must do something about the degradation of the atmosphere in order to pull back from the brink.

A viable public transit system allows people to move about their communities for work, commerce, involvement in those communities.

The Indiana Supreme Court has shown, perhaps inadvertently, how smallish cities can have viable public transit systems.

The New Albany Floyd County School System spends over $5 million annually to bus students to school. Urban schools are closed, while distantly located schools make walking to school a near impossibility. Such an arrangement undermines dense, sustainable neighborhoods; neighborhoods which would benefit from a viable public transit system, and which are the hallmark of a walkable, livable city.

Why not have an arrangement between the school system and TARC which uses TARC buses rather than school buses to transport students to and from school? The children would be transported to their schools, and back home; the cost of unitary-use buses, drivers and equipment, could be deducted from the school budget; the costs could be shifted to subsidized transit fare tickets. In place of the unitary-use, yellow buses, the community would have a viable, well-patronized system the whole community could use to become less auto-centric. The students riding the buses would gain a familiarity with the bus system, giving them greater mobility within the community, as the community builds a more sustainable future.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Sooner the Better

Last Saturday, February 21, I attended a presentation on the Jeff Speck study the City commissioned early last year. This study will ultimately lead to, among other things, two-way streets where now we have one-ways. The long process tries the patience of those anxious to get on with the conversion.

While I believe we should proceed with the conversion, I don't believe two-way streets are a panacea for New Albany. Indeed, some of the more significant recommendations from the Speck analysis directly address other aspects of walkability. But the primary identifier of the Speck study is as the two-way street study.

To address that aspect of the study then, I want to come down four square on the side of converting our one-way streets to two-way traffic.

I can't pinpoint a specific year or event to mark the beginning of New Albany's decline. (That slide, by the way, is a fate we share with countless cities across America.) Perhaps it was Henry Ford's birthday, or the housing shortage after WW II heralding the first push toward the suburbs. It could have been the day the misbegotten decision was made to abandon street cars as a component of our transportation system, the rise of the interstate highway system, or malls.

In short, cities have taken a lot of hits from any number of larger causes than the direction of traffic flow. So the reversion to two-way traffic may not bring back much of New Albany's thriving past.

The Speck study, however, represents a rare opportunity to make a calculated, comprehensive move toward reversing the decline we've faced for years. Speck notes cities  that have converted one-ways to two-ways. The positive changes in those cities may elude us here in New Albany, but in light of the significant changes we face from increased traffic funneled through New Albany as a result of the Bridges Project, it seems a sensible prescription. And, again two-way traffic is not the only remedy he suggests. In his study, Speck quotes economist Chris Leinberger, "all the fancy economic development strategies, such as developing a biomedical cluster, an aerospace cluster, or whatever the economic development 'flavor of the month' might be, do not hold a candle to the power of a great walkable urban place." New Albany has neither of the economic engines the economist cites, but we do have within our reach the power to control one element, the most potent element, of a successful city--walkability.  

One speaker at Saturday's presentation challenged New Albany's manners and neighborliness as he said that, in paraphrase, it's not nice to raise barriers to pass-through traffic resulting from the Sherman Minton's toll-free status. Aside from disagreeing with the gentleman's contention, I would ask, did the Bridge's Project show good manners to New Albany when it placed the "free-flow zone" sign on our doorstep?

The feckless action of the Bridge's Project has placed concern with our street grid, pedestrian safety, and likely disadvantageous economic ripples on the front burner.
But, New Albany's backdrop of malaise, decline, and deterioration, with renewal always just over the horizon, is a long-standing impetus to answer Speck's challenge with action. The sooner the better.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Glad You Asked

Earlier today I read the NA Confidential blog by Roger Baylor, in which he questions my comments in a News and Tribune article by Daniel Suddeath on the current state of downtown New Albany. Roger felt I had betrayed an unspoken allegiance to a walkable New Albany by not seizing on the opportunity Suddeath offered to bring out the incantation of street conversion in my remarks.

First off, my belief in the efficacy of two-way streets is not unspoken.This blog is not often read, which is completely understandable, since it is not often written. When I do write something here, I do so because, however much below the radar it may be, it is a public airing of my thoughts, and as such is part of a public record to any who may care to read it. I mention this only to point out that on several occasions here, I have spoken about my belief that two-way streets are better than one- way streets. I believe they create a better commercial environment for our, or any other, downtown area. I believe a walkable city is a better place for people to live, and is ultimately a better place for businesses to thrive.

When Daniel interviewed me, he referred back to some conversations he'd had earlier in the day, or week, with Dave Duggins, and some others. Because I do feel that a walkable New Albany would be  a better environment for small and independent businesses, I thought of mentioning the conversion of one-way to two-way streets, since, as I said, I believe such a conversion brings us closer to that goal. Somehow or another, Daniel and I got on to another aspect of his question about what government can do to help stem the loss of businesses downtown, or to create a more fertile field in which to grow new businesses downtown.

I had been tuned to CNBC for much of the day, as the hosts of the shows on that network waxed orgasmic about the infusion of energy into the juggernaut of the marketplace brought on by Black Friday. Against the backdrop of that drumbeat of corporate/retail giantism,  Daniel's questions about what can be done to breathe life into small town America, specifically our town, went to a less hopeful part of my brain than I usually inhabit.

I'm not one who cares about getting a deal on things; I continuously pay  higher prices to buy from local vendors. Sometimes when I do, I can make myself believe that if we all do that, we can build a vibrant local economy in which independent businesses are able to swim against the rip tide of, WalMart, and the other mega gleaners in our economy. 

And then, I think about how the middle class in New Albany, or, in Anytown U.S.A., has been hollowed out, sold out to foreign, near-slave labor producers, and how many of those former middle classers are now forced to live a low-wage existence where the only places they can buy things for their families is at WalMart, or other such stores. As they step down the rungs, the once-strong, independent businesses are deprived of customers and a means to stay in business.

Since Roger mentioned two-way streets as a life saver for small town businesses, I thought of a local book store, Destinations Booksellers.  I think Destinations is a store of which any town, small or large, can be proud. Its proprietors, Ann and Randy Smith have done everything that can be done to make the store a bustling, successful addition to New Albany's commercial scene. I don't know their personal finances, but I think it's safe to say they would be happy with more customers. Destinations is located on one-way Spring Street.

When Daniel asked me if there's more government can do to promote local businesses, I answered "yes". I didn't say, "make the streets two-way." While I firmly believe one-way streets are obsolete auto-enablers, which make central cities less attractive places to live, I don't think they are the most significant thing standing in the way of a small-town urban renaissance. I don't think Randy Smith's customers will suddenly have to take a number so they can be waited on in a timely fashion after Spring Street becomes two-way. On the heels of Black Friday, which belongs now to the big box stores, comes Cyber Monday, which allows consumers, those who live for deals and convenience, the chance to shop in their bathrobes, or their birthday suits, all while getting a six or seven percent subsidy from the ether gods who charge no sales tax and offer free delivery.

As Cassius said, "the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves." That's what I was trying to say when Daniel asked me his questions.

I long for a day when local prosperity stands a chance against the market giants we've elevated to Midashood. I'm all for changing New Albany's streets to two-ways if it helps our businesses, or even if it just makes the city a little better place to live. But, I'm afraid we have much, much, harder work to do. That hard work involves re-creating an economy, and a society, which existed once, but has been displaced now by what corporations see as a standard business model, advertisers see as fish in a barrel, and what most Americans see as a way of life, almost a birthright.    

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm Thankful I Wasn't in Ferguson, Missouri

The year was 2002. It was the last day of the year. I had a stray day of vacation left to burn, to either use or lose. My plan was to sleep in a bit late, get ready and head over to our building in Louisville to putter about unhurriedly before treating myself to a leisurely lunch. No particular project was in need of completion. We had plans for the evening, so what time I spent at the building promised to be relatively brief. The last thing my wife said as I left was to make certain I made the deposit at the bank, so it would be caught in the final accounting for the year.

I arrived at the building around 10:00 AM, checked a few things and headed down to the basement. Today, the basement is mostly populated by artists and tradesmen. At that time, it was occupied by some guys making concrete countertops. They were dirty, undependable, careless, and prone to accidents. The perfect tenant, you might say. But, I was sure, their chronic irritation would be less so on this day since they had recently given notice of moving in a couple months, and since I had the leisurely day planned out already. I wasn't going to let it bother me anyhow. While chatting with the concrete company's owner, one of yutziest of his yutzes dislodged a sprinkler head. Glad that I was there for that near catastrophe, I calmly walked over to the main shutoff valve for the sprinkler system to avoid the inevitable watery chaos.

Apparently, as I moved the huge valve to shut off the water, I must have also disengaged a key component of my logic or cognitive system. Had I not just discussed with the maintenance man where I worked how to drain the system and reset it? A piece of cake, and a minor delay, nothing else. I was still intent on having a couple brews with my long-anticipated lunchtime leisure, but I also didn't want to pay an exorbitant bill to the sprinkler company if I didn't have to. So I set about on a series of Rube Goldberg innovations designed to avoid calling the sprinkler company. Each segment of the plan was daft, and doomed in its own way. Each failure placed my leisurely lunch a bit farther out of reach. As the water continued to flow out the drain I accepted that I was having to reschedule, now for a late-leisurely lunch. (I think I might even have had a special cigar in reserve to enhance the relaxing mood I knew was just around the corner)

Inevitably, I called the sprinkler company to shut the water off and reset the system. Hours ticked away. A check was written. A leisurely lunch eluded me. A woman's voice gently chided me to do just one thing before I headed home--MAKE THAT BANK DEPOSIT BEFORE THE YEAR MELTS AWAY. That gentle reminder seeped into my brain at about twelve minutes before the bank was to close, and the bank was about ten minutes away.

I ran out the door, jumped in the car and was making great time until some annoying red and blue flashing lights invaded my rear view mirror. I stopped the car, threw the door open and stormed back to the guy in the offensively illuminated car. He scolded me, and told me to go get back in my car and await his return, as he checked my license plate to verify the car's rightful owner. (I always travel with a blood pressure gauge and as I awaited his return to my car door I amused myself by seeing how high I could get the numbers to climb.)

When the cop returned to my car door, he said, "let's start this over." It turned out he didn't like the sight of a man in a black coat, with anger in his eyes, charging toward his car. He said he felt threatened and wondered if he was going to see his little three year old girl that night. I know I'm a gentle soul. I don't own a gun. I meant the cop no harm. But I was truly and fully pissed off, and he was not helping matters by going on about running stop signs and not wearing seat belts. I allowed as how I might have been a bit overwrought, and the tension somewhat abated. He chuckled and said, "You know, you almost got a taste of my Mag Light." I contemplated how the loss of my front teeth in such an incident might further jaundice my perception of the police.

As this article highlights, the Louisville police force around that very time was not doing its utmost to promote good community relations.

And now these dozen years later, incident piles on incident of police shooting, beating, singling out black men. The ones who make the news, maybe didn't get a chance, or at least not the same chance I got, to chill, and "start this over." I still have my teeth, but many of the black men who run up against the law taste the Mag Light, or feel the sting of a billy club. Some police forces are like mini-armies. Local police forces have armed up with surplus gear shed by our foreign military adventures.

I don't have any answers on how to reduce police over-reaction. Being a cop is a job I know I couldn't and wouldn't do. But, I have a pretty good idea that the day I had planned on having a leisurely year-end lunch might have worked out much differently if I were black.