ON THE AVENUES: We have our own Big Four Bridge. They’re called Main, Market, Spring and Elm.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
It’s family reunion time again, and with it my turn to host the gathering on what will be the hottest weekend of the year. We should consider moving the event to spring or fall, or else transfer it permanently to Baffin Island.
Earlier today, the absentee News and Tribune was harnessing both of its 2-horsepower of electronic media presence to push a pair of radically different pieces by Elizabeth Beilman, one a paean to sprawl (yay), the other a breathless preview of new restaurants (yay), with both united by a single municipal location: Jeffersonville, otherwise known as not as the City by the Bay, but the Burg By River Ridge.
I’m not bitter that Jeffersonville is the feature on days like this. Rather, it’s another example of how much the newspaper has missed during its unexplained 10-month hiatus from reporting on all things New Albany.
However, the chain newspaper’s characteristically non-contextual coverage dislodged a striking memory from almost exactly two years ago — to be exact, it was July 17, 2014, when I explained in this very space how New Albany might steal a march on Jeffersonville.
We subsidized an Indianapolis builder instead, and shifted mucho dinero toward the Gahan re-election campaign’s already bulging coffers. As Vonnegut presciently wrote, so it goes.
Except that I was right in 2014, and I remain right today.
Of course, two years later, we do now have our own Big Four … Burgers. It’s fine, but all we’ve achieved to date would be better if streets worked for progress rather than against it.
July 17, 2014
If car ownership is mandatory, [the place is] not urban.
– Donald Baxter
Seeing as you’re entitled to my opinion, here it is.
I believe it serves as evidence of a lack of imagination (at best) and a latent inferiority complex (at the worst) when we focus on the occasional yearly highlight at the expense of everyday possibilities.
Take Harvest Homecoming.
Please, take it.
Actually, today I have come neither to bury Harvest Homecoming, nor to praise it. Rather, I’d like for you to consider the primary operational conceit of Harvest Homecoming, and by this, I don’t mean the festival’s parade, or its elephant ear-fueled events, or even its Wal-Martesque target demographic.
What I mean is the most, basic, elemental aspect of Harvest Homecoming itself.
It occurs only once each year.
It is designed to be a temporary annual festival, and has been designed and planned accordingly. In short, everyday reality downtown is radically supplanted, and a template of temporary reality superimposed atop it.
This spring, when New Albany city officials began exploring the conceptual threads that led to Boomtown, their thinking was the same. It was to be a special event, perhaps repeated once each year in May, so as to contrast and bookend with Harvest Homecoming’s October hegemony.
Note that by drawing this very contrast, City Hall is implicitly conceding that Harvest Homecoming’s autumnal invasiveness downtown will continue to go unreformed, but that’s a different topic for another time. Simply know that Boomtown differs from Harvest Homecoming in one highly significant way, because while it is a one-off event, it actually showcases downtown rather than buries it.
We might take this “special event” notion a step further, and posit that this thinking in terms of one-off festivals and celebrations is a recurring feature of city government, now and in the past. For instance, there’s the Bicentennial Park concert series and the July 3 fireworks.
Develop New Albany organizes special events like the Jingle Walk and the now mercifully defunct Exclusively New Albany. NA First is planning its third annual Indie Fest. Churches have their summer picnics, and so on.
As a restaurant and brewery owner, we sometimes think in a similar way as these groups. There’s Gravity Head each year, and the brew crew spends most weekends during the warm weather months showcasing our wares at annual outdoor celebrations throughout Indiana and Kentucky (and one in Wisconsin). It’s always fun to do something different.
But the trick isn’t in the special events, although they require hard work and expertise to execute correctly. Rather, the objective for a food and drink business is to provide consistency on a daily basis, each and every time the door is unlocked and customers are invited inside. To do so, we try to institute a routine. If the routine is working as it should, you’ll get a clean glass each time you order a beer, even if the contents vary in style.
Throughout the year, customers come to us all the time when we’re not doing anything “special” – but they are. Maybe it’s a date night, someone’s birthday, a promotion or a graduation. They come to celebrate their world, in our place, by drinking our beer and eating our food. We provide a canvas, but our customers do the painting.
It’s what a city does, too. The special event planning only makes sense if the daily routine of infrastructure is maintained for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Admittedly these days utility monopolies do much of it, although City Hall has successfully reabsorbed the sewer department.
The city controls a cemetery and a system of public parks, features of which are usable throughout the year. It also possesses the street grid, which is the biggest single chunk of municipal property, and therein lies my larger point.
Since the Big Four Bridge opened and Jeffersonville became the new regional hottest ticket, I’ve heard many worried comments and witnessed an epidemic of hand-wringing. Can’t New Albany get a bridge, too? Can’t we stage more festivals, more special events, and more one-offs – you know, like Jeffersonville does?
Well, there won’t be a pedestrian bridge for New Albany unless we pry the K & I out of Norfolk Southern’s (preferably) cold, dead hands, and while we’re on the topic, do you know what is the most important facet of the Big Four Bridge?
It isn’t special at all.
The Big Four is open every day, and people use it every day. It isn’t open once a year, or once a month. It’s every day. As I write, metro Louisville residents are making the Big Four part of their daily arsenal of lifestyle and recreational choices. That’s all of it in a nutshell. Meanwhile, New Albany has the ideal means to steal a march not just on Jeffersonville, but on the remainder of the metropolitan area, by thinking about what makes the Big Four “special” on a daily basis … just without an actual bridge.
With our streets.
We have a street study coming from the nationally renowned Jeff Speck, who (believe it or not) knows even more about such matters than Bob Caesar, and when Speck’s study is finished, we must embrace walkability and embark upon a progressive, rapid, no-compromises program of traffic calming, complete streets and two-way street conversions.
By doing so, and by staking a claim to being the most walkable and bikeable neighborhood in metro Louisville, we can utilize the street grid we already possess to enhance our quality of life every single day, not just during those exhaustively conjured “special” occasions.
In effect, and to a far greater physical degree, New Albany’s street grid is our Big Four Bridge. The reformatted street grid is the canvas, and its users will do the painting. A walkable and bikeable street grid will be the daily complement to business and residential interests, rather than catering solely to cars and trucks alone, encouraging a broader base for the type of “special” activities the city currently takes upon itself to plan. They’ll happen more often, and more spontaneously, as instigated by businesses and residents.
In short, New Albany can be rendered “special” every single day by design, with the street grid supporting revitalization, not working against it – as our sad, outmoded truck-choked, speeding one-way streets do now.
All we have to fear is fear itself.
And that, my friends, is the biggest problem of all because boy, are we scared.