ON THE AVENUES: Planners only love you when they’re planning.


ON THE AVENUES: Planners only love you when they’re planning..

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

“Right now I wish I was home in my slippers, creating hatred in the family.”
–Rodney Dangerfield

Let me tell you, it was a bizarre dream.

There I was, wearing only slippers and a jock strap, in a room filled to overflowing with planning professionals. Suddenly Tyler Allen sidled over.

He asked, “Who are these people, anyway?”

“They’re professional planners,” I said.

“Wow,” he nodded. “And they don’t know these things?”

“If they do, they’re not letting on.”

“That’s what I thought. If I had dreams like this, I’d consider foregoing sleep. You ever considered moving?”

But was it really a dream?

The room began shaking, and I leaped from my bed and ran to the window, all the better to view two 18-wheelers, side by side, thundering in the same direction down Spring Street as an officer on speed trap duty shone his radar gun on a box of multinational doughnuts.

Like MLK, I have a dream. Unlike him, this isn’t it. Then again, I’m not a professional planner in New Albany.

Well, was it a dream, or was it Memorex? At times it’s hard to tell.

In the aftermath of Jeff Speck’s library chat last week, I asked New Albany’s economic development director to explain the nature of local resistance to two-way street calming.

The reason for my curiosity? Apart from tangled, strangled, plaintive social media wails here and there, discernible organized opposition to street grid reform has not been visible. No less a personage than the economic development director’s boss once told me that in his view, there exists no community sentiment either way. Such a statement implies no pro, no con … just inert. But I’m pro. Where’s the con – that whole action and reaction dichotomy? The economic development director was quick to answer.

“Oh, it’s there. We hear it all the time.”

“But from whom?”

“We get phone calls and e-mails.”

“Look, I’m out on the street every day. I’m the face of the two-way lobby, so why aren’t they saying it to me?

“Why would they do that? Of course they won’t say it to YOUR face. They’re afraid they might have to talk to you.”

“Isn’t that what we want, a discussion?”

“C’mon, Roger; be serious. You DO have a reputation, you know.

“For what, being right?”


“You know exactly what I mean. You and your buddies, always talking down to people with facts and evidence. These people don’t have a fighting chance if they go and reveal their identities.”

“If they’re afraid of revealing their identities, then why on earth should their opinion matter? Anyway, they can always go vote, right?”

(long silence)

“Oh, I see.”

As I was writing today’s column, Twitter informed me of the best straight line, ever.

“Tonight’s New Albany Plan Commission meeting has been cancelled.”

If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no planning commission member on hand to hear it, can we have two-way streets yet?

However, what started the conversation was purely semantic. On the topic of Speck’s message, I thought it was self-evident, but I was asked to be more legalistic in my dialectic.

“Roger, why do you keep saying we’re not for this, when we’re not actually against it?”

“But not being against something isn’t the same as being for it.”

“That’s my point. Right now, we can only not be against it, at least until a study lets us know whether we’re for it. Look, we can’t know we’re for it unless someone tells us to be for it.”

“Wait a minute. You’ve been for several other things lately without someone telling you to be for them. Parks, aquatic centers, Main Street improvements, farmers market upgrades … ”

“Duh! Those are for feel-good parks and hallowed rows of mansions, and everyone’s for them, including us! It’s easy to be for it when no fundamental changes are necessary. It’s when you have to change something, then obviously you can’t be for it unless an expert tells you to be for it.”

“What about the Democratic grandees? Do you need their permission, too?”

“Hell no – wait, let me get this call.”

(Yeah … uh huh … thanks Mrs. Sipes, will do)

“Now, what was I saying? Right: Of course we need their permission. What do you think this is, a red city?”

“So, assuming you need an expert to tell you to be for it even though something has to be changed to do it, are you going to hire the expert who spoke today? Jeff Speck just told you what to do. Isn’t that cover enough?”

“Seriously, Roger, will you just try to understand the way life works? To preserve the disposable appearance of objectivity, as soon as we decide what we’re against – I mean for – then we’ll hire the same experts we’ve always hired previously. That Jorge Lanz; what a great guy, and he speaks bureaucratese without an accent. Incredible.”

“But aren’t guys like him the same ones who told you to do it the wrong way in the first place? Didn’t you hear what Speck was saying today?”

“Well, yes. I guess you could say that. Politically, we’re not against doing it the right way; it’s just that we’re not for it, either.”

“You’re the city’s economic development director, and what we’re trying to explain to you is that for the sake of independent small businesses downtown, two-way streets ARE economic development. Can’t you do just this one thing for us as a group?”

“We already do things for you. I’d offer you a matching façade grant right now, only the UEA’s skint since we cashed it in. Don’t you know anyone from Jeffersonville?”

“Compared to what the industrial park gets … “

“What the industrial park gets is totally justified. The industrial park is about job creation.”

“Really? My 20 employees at Bank Street Brewhouse will be happy to hear that they don’t have real jobs.”

“Roger, you just want what’s right for you.”

“Are you saying TGI Missouri does not?”

“That’s different. Just quit saying we’re not doing anything. Of course we are. We’re tap dancing as fast as we can. We’re just now learning all these newfangled ideas. We have a double secret plan, and we’re not like you, with all that time to read and ask questions. We hired away someone from One Southern Indiana, for chrissakes. Just remember: We’re not against it. But being for it … well, there’s a limit to what we can do.”

Tyler Allen, if you’re reading … did you have a destination in mind?

Too much more of this dreaming, and I may be ready for a nap.