After three years of war, Allied forces had a victory to celebrate. Sir Winston Churchill addressed his nation on the occasion of victory in what he called the Battle of Egypt. British forces overwhelmed Rommel’s Afrika Korps and, for the most part, began the long reverse of Nazi hegemony. U.S. troops, working from the west, had freed the continent and begun to prepare for the jump to Sicily and then Europe proper.
On Tuesday, New Albany’s Board of Public Works and Safety set in motion the hiring of Jeff Speck, a pre-eminent urbanist and planner and the author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At a Time.
In trying to come to terms with the import of this event (and believe me, this could be the most important public expenditure of our still-young century), I thought of Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, a chronicle of World War II in the West, consisting of An Army At Dawn, The Day of Battle, and Guns At Last Light.
Churchill, in his address at The Mansion House, said this: Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning to the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
It has been my personal mission, joined by many others, to find a way to impress on our city leaders the criticality of paying attention to the consequences of our broken streets grid. We have shared with the city best practices, white papers, books, and articles from across the country and the world that show how smart streets spur prosperity.
In one wonderful package, Jeff Speck put it all together, outlining a prescription for nothing less than the salvation of cities. By what I can only presume was either divine intervention or fate, circumstances conspired to have Mr. Speck personally speak to more than 100 leaders of the community a little more than a month ago.
Until now, January 16, 2014, would have been the “red letter day” for New Albany. March 4, 2014 eclipses that now.
On that cold and snowy midwinter Thursday, armed with visuals specific to our city, Speck surgically excised years of accretions and cancers that have prevented a comprehensive review of our harmful one-way street grid. As he wielded his knife, a number of us were astonished to see those most (ir)responsible for the current condition of our street grid sit calmly as their most cherished shibboleths were demolished.
That is, the mayor, some council members, and the full administration sat there placidly while being told that everything they had held dear was wrong. That their timidity was holding our city back and actively damaging the small businesses that make downtown their home.
Fortunately for us, making New Albany a walkable city won’t cost us much of anything, financially. If the city will take Speck’s advice, we may, perhaps, be able to say that this is the end of the beginning.
Much more than economic development is at stake. Public safety and the quiet enjoyment of our properties, residential and commercial, stand to benefit greatly.
And yet, much more work remains. If wisdom exists there, city hall can call on us to help lay the groundwork for what will certainly be Speck’s recommendations to us. Quite a few of us, from among both supporters and opponents of the current administration, are fully conversant with the principles and practices that Speck will provide us over the next six months. We can help build support for the transformation of New Albany’s streets.
Suspicion lingers, though. But $75,000 is a great deal of money to throw away if today’s vote to contract with Speck is merely a rope-a-dope tactic. Not that this city has shown its unwillingness to throw away money.
I questioned it, wondering if this is all a dream. Another has already warned that this expenditure is not a good-faith effort but, rather, a means to smother a building fire of public support and insistence that change is required.
The embers may be banked temporarily, but only so we won’t have to rebuild the fire from scratch. The fire will not be extinguished.
If you’re on Twitter (and seriously, why wouldn’t you be?), follow Jeff Speck at @jeffspeckaicp. Send him a welcome message and let him know you will be eager to hear his ideas. I think that will mean a lot.
Gonder for New Albany http://johngonder.blogspot.com/2014/03/pitch-till-you-win.html
NA Confidential http://cityofnewalbany.blogspot.com/2014/03/tunnel-beneath-paywall-and-reflect-will.html
Jeff Speck http://jeffspeck.com/
And even more reading, just out:
Ballet of the Sidewalk http://www.metropolismag.com/February-2014/Ballet-of-the-Sidewalk/