I hope Speck is right, even if the political facts in New Albany suggest otherwise.


I’m not sure if my friend and colleague Jeff Gillenwater always approves my quoting him, but the way I see it, we’re trying to accomplish something here, and to do so by means of words, sentences, paragraphs and essays intended to espouse and advance, and also by recording local events for posterity. At this blog, we’re writing about the bits of New Albany that are important, but otherwise neglected by other more conventional sources.

I accept help, support and succor anywhere I can find it. Frankly, we’re engaged in a form of political struggle against institutionalized mediocrity, and it isn’t a genteel game.

Earlier this week, Jeff G and I corresponded briefly with Jeff Speck, proponent of walkability and the street grid reforms designed to institute and enhance it. As most of you know, Speck is authoring the study of New Albany’s traffic and streets which (as we’re told so often privately) will serve as the blueprint for our city’s transportation future.

The problem, as I explained most recently here, is that we’ve been persistently unable to locate elected or appointed officials who are willing (or able) to say aloud what they claim privately to embrace, as whispered in darkened back corridors. I’ve frequently pointed out that my personal ethos differs with this approach, because my world works like this: If it’s true, fair and you embrace it, then you’re obliged to own it, sell it, and accept the credit or the consequences, come what may.

It is unimaginable to me that any of us in the better beer business ever would have advanced the cause of “craft” beer by fearfully huddling terrified on the down low.

Back to Jeff G, who phrases it this way:

Official statements about the street grid in question:

  • Police department says there is no speeding problem.
  • Planning department says there is no heavy truck problem.
  • Development/Redevelopment Director says no one is interested in talking or hearing about it.
  • Mayor/Board of Works say nothing.

If these folks are correct, sincere. and working in my interests as is, then what is Speck doing here anyway? Isn’t it all fine? If it’s not, why so many city statements denying problems and dialogue? Which part of this is trustworthy, the denial of problems or the hiring of Speck to solve them?

You’ll notice that I’m not divulging exactly what thoughts we exchanged with Speck earlier this week. I don’t have his permission to do so.

However, it might suffice to say that his view of the situation here differs somewhat from ours (i.e., he takes their word for it), and that I sincerely wish that he is right, and we’re wrong — although the evidence on the ground here in town doesn’t support the faith of Pollyannas of any dimension, from any academic or geographical perspective.

In fact, I’m reminded of an episode of television’s M*A*S*H (Season 4; Episode 92). In “The Novocaine Mutiny,” Hawkeye is accused of mutiny against temporary camp commander Frank Burns. In Burns’ testimony before the tribunal, he is the unquestioned hero and Hawkeye the pernicious villain.

Hawkeye’s recollection is the polar opposite, and naturally it is the factual one. He is found innocent.

My point?

Until Wednesday, I’d never considered the similarities between New Albany’s public projects honcho John Rosenbarger and the TV character of Frank Burns. Since Wednesday, “The Novocaine Mutiny” is playing out in real time, right here, as the semis and dump trucks whiz past unchecked on Spring Street.

In my heart of hearts, I know that the same old failed suspects are going to botch this Speck reform plan, just like they always have and always will botch reform plans. It’s because they have no interest in reform, because they’ve never been compelled to pay a price for their disinterest. They’ve forfeited our trust again and again, even if it may not seem obvious from afar.

But maybe Aesop’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a better example.

This time around the dance floor, with the Speck plan looming, Rosenbarger swears he is being genuine about the helpful principles of street grid reform. He (and others) are all on board. They’re for it and not against it, and yet they cannot bring themselves to say this for attribution. What I want to make clear in rebuttal is simple.

“Sorry John, but nobody believes a liar … even when he is telling the truth.”

Except that I don’t believe he is telling the truth. Why start this late in the game?

Drinking Progressively: Let’s make it Tuesday evenings, 6 to 8 p.m. at BSB