Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Picking Up the Pieces

Linden Meadows will be something different than what it was intended to be. Recent developments in the ongoing saga of a plan gone bad place the troubled project in a precarious position which has few good outcomes. I believe, however, it has some chance of coming to fruition.

One possible rescue plan would be for the City to acquire the property using Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) funds. Based on news reports, the mortgage-holding bank wants a minimum of $500,000. A recent visit there shows a bleak landscape of about 18 forlorn houses in various stages of disrepair and decomposition.

Should the City, in fact, acquire the property, the houses could be sold at a price that simply recovers the City's expenditure. That figure is approximately $28,000, depending on how many of the houses can actually be offered for sale. Optimists would say the full number, pessimists would say approximately none. My position is posited from the optimistic perspective.

These cheap houses could be sold to willing buyers who would be able to take advantage of the fact that they are buying at a low price. The projected sale cost of the Linden Meadows houses was in the $80,000-$100,000 range. The difference between the purchase price and the project price would provide a significant amount of rehabilitation money which the purchaser could commit from their own funds, sweat equity, or mortgage money. In fairly short order, the houses would be in the hands of people committed to the property and able, because of the low purchase price, to dedicate significant outlays to the houses' improvement.

Buyers of these houses would need to sign a deed restriction which stipulates that the houses can only be owner occupied. If, for instance, a 15 year deed restriction were written, the original owner could live there for two or three years. If that owner decided to sell, the new owner would be subject to the deed restriction for 13 or 14 years. Whatever the time of the restriction, it should be sufficient to allow the neighborhood to become established as an enclave of owned houses. Failure to comply with the deed restriction must carry a severe penalty which must be enforced.

A further enhancement of the project would be to establish connectivity to Captain Frank Road rather than the current roundabout entrance off Linden Street.

Linden Meadows carries some additional baggage which increases its deficiency of desirability. It sits less than 100 yards off I-64. As one drives around the area in Louisville, Jeffersonville, and other locations around the country, newly installed noise barriers are becoming relatively commonplace. Mitigation of the nuisance that is the sound of interstate truck traffic would certainly increase the acceptance of the current Linden Meadows. By way of disclosure, I should mention that I would also benefit from the erection of noise barriers. As a resident of Captain Frank Road abutting the noisy interstate, I have sometimes fantasized about a scene from the movie "Steppenwolf" in which Harry Haller takes position on a precipice along a road, bazooka in hand, and proceeds to lob shells at passing cars. For Haller, the cars represented encroaching modernism or industrialism. For me, the passing trucks represent thieves of peace and quiet. The noise barriers would greatly enhance the area. They should be extended to the Sherman Minton bridge to bring quiet to residents of the West-end as well.

While the original goal of the CHDO was laudable, circumstances have intervened to place that goal out of reach. The city needs good affordable housing. It needs housing that is owner occupied. It needs to increase its tax base. It needs to help the neighbors who are burdened by the current blighted condition of Linden Meadows. Those needs should now become the City's goals.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


350 is the number for the day. Don't necessarily play it on the mid-day or evening Pick Three, but pay attention to it.

Author and activist Bill McKibben has been focusing on that number because it represents the parts-per-million of carbon dioxide at which our climate is considered in the safe zone. Actually it represents the upper limit of the safe zone.

Currently the Earth's atmosphere is around 420 parts per million.

Here's a link to the site.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spinning Plates

The accompanying video offers the startling statistic that the upper one per cent of our nation owns 90% of the wealth of the nation.

In light of that figure, one should ask how much of the nation's upper one per cent has chosen to live in New Albany, and what are the consequences of this disparity when assessing our seeming inability to keep the plates of our community spinning?

Undoubtedly the fiscal problems New Albany faces are not unique. The manufacturing base of this country has been off-shored, and the replacement jobs have often been out of reach to those displaced due to their prior, now irrelevant training. I don't believe we can create meaningful prosperity by shuffling an increasing number of cheap imported goods among ourselves.

We can only build a prosperous future by building a sustainable economy which offers needed goods and services to a populace that understands the need for this cooperative equation. People who are stretched to the limit by layoffs, downsizing, rising health care costs, and a throttled civic compact which sees good only in lower taxes, won't participate in a vibrant local economy. They understandably see salvation in Wal-Mart's low prices, and value meals at fast food joints.

New Albany's up swinging commercial district is testament to the vision some have shown. It is also a testament to the pump-priming value of the Caesar/Horseshoe foundation's benevolence in regard to the YMCA. We need to heed that lesson and support the second phase of downtown revitalization.

Last night we went to Wick's and were shutout by a two hour wait. That would have been acceptable to my wife and I but we were accompanied by two grandchildren for whom a two hour wait at the bar would have been mutually distressing. It seems that New Albany has proven to be fertile ground for restaurants and bars; with Phase Two on the horizon we need to look at a broader vision for downtown. If that broader vision is realized, it can and will contribute to a more sustainable local economy that will benefit us all.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Working Class Hero

Michael Moore's latest movie, "Capitalism A Love Story", according to The Tribune, will not be shown in Southern Indiana theaters. Well, it was shown to a packed house at the Baxter Avenue Theaters tonight. Those in attendance were treated to a finely crafted walk down a well-reported, but seldom seen trail. Many of the scoundrels of modern commerce who became known to us through the implosion of the financial markets, which began last year about this time, got their share of screen time. But the real stars were those, people just like you and me, who were ground down by the chicanery of those who pocket the gains doled out by the mysterious hand of the market.

Earlier in the week I was fortunate enough to transit back into the USA, uncorrupted, and free of the clutches of the socialist domain to our north. That nearby place offers many things which appear far out of our grasp on this side of the world's longest unprotected border. Universal health care, a concrete plan to vastly improve the nation's rail system, and returnable/refillable beer bottles are just a few of our neighbors' ideas I'd like to see adopted here.

Moore's movie and our Canadian vacation serve as a backdrop to the news I missed while I was out of town. First reports had New Albany in a state of economic free fall. According to initial reports, about one third of the City's general fund would need to be cut during the final ninety days of 2009 to get us in line with the strictures of the 2009 budget, which had not yet been certified by the state when I left town. I hate to carp, but a budget system which does not show its teeth until nine or ten months into the year is asinine. No, I don't have a better idea. But one wonders how such a system could be devised in the first place, and allowed to continue after that. And, one wonders if our governor chuckles to his inner Mitch when crowing about Indiana's One Billion Dollar Surplus.

The real news was considerably less stunning. The first report was like an Antarctic skinny dip. The real news, by comparison, was like the first sit-down into a Blue River innertube on a cloudy beerless day in May. Both unpleasant for sure, but the latter slightly more tolerable than the former.

Canada seems to work as a country because its citizens decided to get along. I know there's that dust-up with the parti Quebecois a few years ago. But the dominion's people appear to have accepted that they share a common destiny and that while fulfilling that destiny, they are their brother's keeper. The moving-target news reports from New Albany highlighted not a common destiny, but factionalization, which subverts our progress. Of course, we who live here are too familiar with the daily workings of the local scene and we see the shadings and between-the-lines dialogue that is not perceptible to a visitor. The traveller sees the big picture while a resident sees the rotogravure dots.

Moore, as he usually does in his movies, homes in on those, in Bob Dylan's words, "bent out of shape by society's pliers". As we all know now, those pliers were wielded relentlessly, viciously, inhumanely, and regrettably, to wider-than-deserved approval by what Teddy Roosevelt called in his day, "the malefactors of great wealth."

People are displaced from their homes. Factories are shut down. Presidents speak foolishly. Presidents speak presciently and eloquently. Disgust at what has befallen our country is tempered,ever-so-slightly, by hopeful approaches undertaken by everyday people.

The movie looks both at the big picture, and between the roto dots. That's an effective formula for Moore's movies. Perhaps we could employ the same formula when viewing New Albany.

I titled this post, "Working Class Hero", which is what I'd call Michael Moore. He more or less bestows that title on someone else though. If you see the movie,and I urge you to,see if you agree.

Two thumbs up.