ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: “I Just Want to Know, Can I Park Here Somewhere?”


ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: “I Just Want to Know, Can I Park Here Somewhere?”

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

There are at least two dated references in this column, which originally was published as “Can’t stuff ‘em in a burlap sack, either” on March 29, 2012.

In a rare admission of failure as it pertains to inside jokes, I’ve changed the title, primarily because after three years, I can’t recall the nature of the inside joke being referenced at the time.

Specifically: The Riverview housing and parking garage giveaway died deservedly and ingloriously, and gasoline prices have fallen a tad in three years. Now, are we ready for that overdue discussion of parking meters?

My forthcoming documentary is going to be called, “I Just Want to Know, Can I Park Here Somewhere?”

It will be filmed on location in downtown New Albany, with a large cast to include prominent living and deceased examples of: Ducking-and-covering elected officials, their overburdened economic development appointees, shrugging policemen, knowledgeable but bureaucratic planners, thinly stretched street department workers, officious board of works members, eternally fractious business and property owners, neighborhood busybodies and thoroughly confused out-of-town visitors.

At the end of this three-hour movie, there’ll emerge no single instance of agreement among any two of the respective parties mentioned above, and nothing even distantly approximating a quantifiable answer to the question asked in the title, but just to give the ending a nice, down-home New Albanian zeitgeist type of feel, I’ll have Develop New Albany on hand to claim complete credit for an outcome that doesn’t even exist.

In fact, they can call it Drive By City if they like.

For those who are struggling to keep score, please open your “Principles of Banana Republic Management” textbooks to page 105 … or just load the app on your smart phone. It’s called “Is It Even Possible To Do a Worse Job of This?”

Once upon a time, in the golden age lasting approximately 25 minutes following curtain calls at the conclusion of World War II, New Albany made vague gestures at enforcing its own traffic ordinances by using policemen to issue tickets. However, because the cops were needed to control rampant episodes of social disarray stemming from the city’s refusal to enforce its buildings and housing codes (see: The Slumlord Empowerment Act), ticketing went somewhat out of fashion.

At any rate, monies collected mostly reverted to the state of Indiana, where they were used to finance measures aimed at thwarting home rule while allowing the simultaneously disingenuous promulgation of the opposite, and when it came to parking tickets downtown, no one bothered to collect the fines incurred.

When city officials did try, certain prominent local citizens – often those veritable doyens of tottering local political party structures – refused to pay, promptly threatened to sue anyone within pellet scattering range, and as a sign of genuine civic solidarity, doused themselves with lighter fluid with Bics close at hand.

After all, there was hardly any activity downtown, so what did it matter to anyone?

Then, something completely nutzoid occurred. During the Garner Administration, the city council unanimously approved the creation of a riverfront development area. This was the pretext for a delineated zone in which modified three-way alcoholic beverage permits could be issued apart from the state’s self-defeating quota, and this single, elegant and inexpensive act immediately leveraged numerous independent small business investments in food and drink establishments within the historic downtown commercial district. The first stirrings of a revival began, and overnight, utter chaos descended.

As it turns out, there was nothing whatever – statutory, administrative or experiential – that foresaw the possibility of progress, as opposed to regress. All the rules and practices, and most of the people in charge of them, were jigged only to manage decay, and decay alone.

At this critical moment in the city’s history, Develop New Albany’s invisible cadres rushed in to take complete credit for the progress gained by entrepreneurial investments that had little if anything to do with DNA, and to contribute nothing to the resolution of problems stemming from improvements … rather like State Farm, but without the money to pay claims, which is where the Urban Enterprise Association comes in … but I digress.

During the epochal third England Administration, which ingloriously perished when the Democratic executive’s hand-picked Republican successor was crushed prior to his suffering a humiliating council race loss to a comparative non-entity, the mayor took precious time away from his lifelong hobby of dispensing politically-motivated favors with other people’s money to heroically sidestep any involvement with downtown parking issues.

Hizzonner simply decreed that downtown parking rules would not be enforced, so that revenue from fines in that particular locality of the city would be lost, but not in other localities, with there being no clear explanation to this very day of where one might park illegally and expect a ticket, or park illegally and not be ticketed, and if cited, whether there’d be any effort on the city’s part to collect the fine, other than a frayed, adapted Wheel of Fortune board game and a case-by-case heave-ho.

For a number of downtown merchants and their employees, non-enforcement has proven to be the best policy of all, seeing as it is their aim to park their vehicles as closely as possible to their own front doors. Other building owners zealously guard their surface parking lots lest someone dare make an offer to pay or use of the spaces. Still more surface lots are owned by the city, which spins the wheel yet another time so as to determine whether these spaces are to be free of charge or paid, and if paid, to guess aloud if the checks received will ever be endorsed.

And then there’s the proposed Riverview development, and a rare, once-in-a-lifetime chance for the city to pay $15 million for a parking garage and then give it away to private interests which may or may not let anyone else use it.

It doesn’t stop there. As I write my documentary prospectus for publishing over at Kickstarter, the price of gasoline has climbed above $4 per gallon, which means more of the city’s least thoughtful citizens will be riding their bicycles in all directions through streets and on sidewalks, without the slightest effort at internal control, or any degree of external regulation.

Automobile drivers impaired by their cell phones weave in and around these oblivious cyclists, as well as roaming packs of skateboarders, at ridiculous rates of speed, regarding all non-automotive presences as targets (if they ever see them in the first place).

Meanwhile, the sensible, oft-cited benefits of traffic calming, two-way street conversions, enforcement of bicycling rules, opportunities for pedestrians to walk safely and an overall elevation of a human-scaled city to primacy even if it means sacrificing a full two minutes of time traveled by car – well, these are routinely derided by those congenital obstructionists for whom New Albany remains a collection of distracting impediments to speeding through and exiting as quickly as possible out the other side.

And, no matter where one looks, the only clear presence on the local scene when it comes to resolving these many issues is a great big hole – not where the giveaway parking garage might go, but the obscure place where leadership is supposed to be, but never is.

Of course, if there was any such thing as public transportation in the Open Air Museum … no, never mind.

Hey, you – can I borrow your lighter? It’ll only take a minute.

Recent columns:

May 14: ON THE AVENUES: Take this cult of personality and shove it.

May 7: ON THE AVENUES: In Havel I trust.

April 30: ON THE AVENUES: Until philosophers become kings.

April 27: ON THE AVENUES MONDAY SPECIAL: Et tu, Greg Phipps? Or: Anger and the electoral variability of transparency.

April 23: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Anachronisms and intellectuals, here and there.

April 16: ON THE AVENUES: Say a prayer for NA Confidentialas it conducts this exclusive interview with Councilman Cappuccino.