ON THE AVENUES: New Albany’s political culture is designed to reject Jeff Speck.


ON THE AVENUES: New Albany’s political culture is designed to reject Jeff Speck.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

“You’ve got to own the room with smarts. I’m not gonna apologize for smart people.”
Lexington (KY) Mayor Jim Gray, quoted at Insider Louisville

Just think about it for a moment.

How many New Albanians do you know who would dare utter Mayor Gray’s words aloud – even if they were lying?

For that matter, how many residents of Mark Seabrook’s and Steve Bush’s Floyd/Macon County Line would harbor the faintest degree of such subversion, much less state it publicly?

I’m not restricting this survey of scarcity to the odiferous heritage of New Albanian political culture, but since you’ve asked, let’s take a look.

New Albany political culture is Dixiecrat dependent.

New Albany political culture is slumlord dependent.

New Albany political culture is speeding pass-through-traffic dependent.

New Albany political culture is lowest-common-denominator dependent.

At least New Albany political culture doesn’t apologize for smarts. Rather, it expresses open contempt for them.

With degrading, self-defeating dependencies like these, it’s easy to see why New Albany political culture suffers from savage allergic reactions: To ideas, to vision, and to those with the ability to express them.

One searches in vain through two centuries of New Albany governmental history for instances of rooms owned by smarts, and instead finds the official city symbol of vacant lots. One seeks boldness, and is confronted with change-resistant, goggle-eyed terror of modernity. One asks why the same civic mistakes must be repeated over and over, and this time, the answer comes far more quickly than it should.

Now Roger, how else do you expect us to win elections?

By all rights, Jeff Speck’s visit to New Albany today should be an occasion for joyous celebration. It doesn’t matter who brought him here or why, because the author of “Walkable City” will be right there in the library, and for once, smarts will be owning a room in this city. In an unprecedented process of osmosis, perhaps Speck’s walkability mojo will rub off on those luncheon chat attendees carrying city pay stubs in their wallets.

If so, then why do I feel like earnest, trusting Charlie Brown, jogging toward the football, and all the while suspecting that quite soon, I’ll be flat on my back – again – in the cold, oozing mud?

Maybe it’s a combination of factors gleaned from long experience and consistent disappointment, although it comes down to anal glaucoma: My ass can’t see New Albany political culture allowing a room … a city … to be owned by smarts. In two hundred years, it never has.

Why would it “smart” now?

As I write these words, filled with hope and dread in unequal measure, it’s dark outside. Especially in winter, I often awaken quite early on weekdays. My seat in the chair by the fireplace affords a view of East Spring Street. Until 5:00 a.m., there isn’t much going on, but between 5 and 6, the pace quickens.

A variety of dump trucks, delivery vans and numerous half-block-long semi-trailers usually begins passing through around this time. And why not? As currently constructed, Spring Street’s primary purpose is to facilitate passing through.

I can hear their approaching rumble to the east, where the stoplight at 15th Street releases unimpeded travel all the way until 8th. By the time they’ve reached my block, full torque is under way. In a 30 m.p.h. zone, the majority of these vehicles pass my house at speeds surely reaching the mid-forties, and perhaps as much as 50 m.p.h.

And why not?

As we’ve seen for decades, and as the bookseller recently proved anew simply by asking to see the piddling record of police citations issued per annum, speed enforcement barely exists in New Albany. Except that this isn’t the point, because the most glaring omission on the part of political culture in New Albany isn’t speed enforcement, or ordinance enforcement, or anything enforcement.

It’s imagination. The ordinance prohibiting political imagination is the only one we bother enforcing.

New Albany political culture is blinders dependent. Using Spring Street as just one of many examples, New Albany political culture cannot imagine the wide, home- and business-lined Spring Street as a neighborhood-friendly grand avenue, intended not for domineering automotive traffic to drive as quickly and dangerously as it can in a pell-mell rush for the I-64 ramp, but for the use of all humans irrespective of their conveyance, whether vehicular or with their own two feet.

However, New Albany political culture quite easily imagines one-way Spring Street gifted with even worse traffic issues, courtesy of the Main Street Diversion Project.

Did I mention that the transportation planners live on Main Street?

Seems I’m not the only one with anal glaucoma. New Albany political culture cannot see its ass inhabiting rooms owned by smarts, because smarts are a threat to a system predicated on managing decay, stupidity and fear. It isn’t this or that political party. It isn’t one administration as opposed to another. It’s been 24-7-365, since the year 1817 – sorry, CeeSaw, that’s the real date.

Jeff Speck’s appearance is hours away, and I feel dirty already. Maybe it’s a combination of factors, although in the end, it’s probably because dirty and demeaned is how New Albany political culture wants me to feel. I resist it, but one can only shower so much.

Yesterday I was texting a fellow downtown business owner. We were discussing how to market our establishments in the ingoing absence of an economic development plan for downtown. He asked:

Sometimes I wonder if they ever leave New Albany. If they do haven’t they already seen it being done in other places?

I answered:

They have, and it scares them out of their wits.

Welcome to New Albany, Jeff Speck, and good luck. You’re welcome to use the tub at 1117 East Spring before you move on to Frankfort. You’ll likely be needing it.