The Speck Report and New Albany’s Future: A Contrarian View

I understand that some readers can still say of New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan that “He’s my guy.” I only ask, “Why?”


Almost from the moment I arrived in this city, I’ve pushed, prodded, and pleaded for city officials to pay some attention to our broken streets, most often in the downtown area, but elsewhere, as well. At first, my quest was relatively simplistic. I asked why we couldn’t change our one-way streets back to the two-way traffic patterns they were designed for. As the years passed and I educated myself and others, “my” quest became “our” quest and our petitions to our elected officials metamorphosed from simplistic to sophisticated, though no less simple to accomplish.

This is my 11th year working on this. Coincidentally, this is Mayor Gahan’s 12th year as an elected official. These were years where he could have educated himself and perhaps even become a champion for our cause. After 8 years as a city council member, Gahan put himself forward to serve as the city’s executive. Many of you voted for him. All of you believed Mr. Gahan when he said he supported two-way streets.

Today, we have available to us a comprehensive street design program that is, as they say, shovel-ready. Prepared by Jeff Speck, the most prominent city planning professional in this country, and his team, the program is elegant, simple, and inexpensive to implement. Whether you read the 60-page justification or the 40-page section-by-section program for street change, you are likely to feel your heart leap while imagining the probable outcomes if New Albany embraces the program.

Read the report here

Yet, as recently as this past weekend, the mayor said to the News and Tribune that he “want[s] to emphasize this is just a study.” (emphasis mine)

Rather than embracing this opportunity, this mayor is pre-emptively knee-capping it. He is unwilling to claim it as his own. He is unwilling to step out in public and say “This is what I want to do. I believe it’s in the best interests of this community. And here’s why.”

Granted, he’s not the first mayor to shy away from making what I believe could be the greatest leap forward imaginable for New Albany’s revitalization. Each of the past two mayors said they were for it, that it was a figurative no-brainer. This mayor told two-way supporters that he, too, favored it.

Yet now, when a plan is fully laid-out for him, he waffles. He will not claim it. He will not implement it. He now won’t even say he favors it.

Draw your own conclusions as to why. Draw your own conclusions about the mayor’s integrity, intelligence, and fortitude.

You might have noticed that I have personally been quieter than usual about this issue in the past year. There was a reason. In our family, we’ve been heeding the professional advice of Jeff Speck and his like-minded colleagues for years. With the publication of Speck’s Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, we found a concise vision of what it is we want to (and need to) accomplish.

Last January (2014) when, miraculum miraculorum, the city invited Speck to speak to us and then, Deo Patri sit gloria, a city board actually contracted with his firm, I placed an embargo on my own advocacy. I was (and am) perfectly willing to let Speck speak for me, whatever the consequences. Though I could have, I didn’t even speak to Jeff during his site visits and I did not share with him any insights on what I thought ought to be done.

The program presented by Speck is, as I’ve said, elegant, simple, and inexpensive.

The critical “pull quote” in the report appears in Speck’s Executive Summary. One would think that everyone with any interest or opinion on the matters would at least read that 3-page preface.

What Speck said was this:

If the principal purpose of the City’s downtown street network is the vitality of New Albany, then the choice is clear.

It is.

For that reason, I will no longer accept the duty of advocating for these changes. The choice here is clear. The mayor either will or will not accept his duty. There is no gray area here. I will not participate in the fraud of the Gahan administration pretending to support the Speck Plan for one audience while pandering to another audience by assuring them that it is “just a study.”

I did not and will not support Mr. Gahan’s political campaign. I’ve made my choice for mayor and am confident that my choice will implement the Speck Plan without dithering, without subterfuge, and without hypocrisy.

There is simply no excuse, even at this very late date, for anyone to allow Jeff Gahan to now, in an election year, play Hamlet. I would be very interested to know if any of us who have called for these changes for years have been approached by Gahan or his minions to “rally the troops” and thus give the mayor political cover. I did not sign up to work for the mayor’s re-election campaign. Whether the support for the Speck Plan polls at 9% in favor or 90% in favor, the choice is clear.

Now, the man I will work to get elected mayor publicly disagrees with my personal choice here. Roger Baylor, at his NA Confidential blog, decries the necessity for public assemblies and other such political theater, but says “we must outwork both whacked-out opponents and city hall.”

Roger, I say we must not.

Jeff Gahan, I say this one’s on you. You must say “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’ll fix it.”

As a philosopher from a galaxy a long time ago and far, far away once said: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Were I able to attend John Smith’s strategy session for the Facebook group Two-Way Streets Now!, scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. in the Sew Fitting store on Main Street, this is what I would say: Friends (and former friends), please attend the public information sessions planned for Thursday, January 29, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library (180 W. Spring St.; Strassweg Auditorium); Saturday, February 21, 10:30 a.m. – Noon at the Carnegie Center (201 E. Spring St.); and/or Wednesday, March 18, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at the Pepin Mansion on Main Street (1003 E. Main St.)

Learn. See. But refrain from campaigning for the adoption of the Speck Plan. That is now Jeff Gahan’s job. You may or may not be happy with this mayor. You may actually be part of this mayor’s campaign team. You may trust him. But it seems clear to me that nothing will be done in 2015 by this mayor to implement the Speck Plan. Let the mayor and his campaign team now take up the torch and tell us not only that they support it, but why, and why it is an opportunity we must seize now and not after this year’s primary and general elections.

That is, after all, his freakin’ job.

Mr. Gahan has already botched it with the Speck Plan. I won’t work to excuse his 11 years of inactivity on this front nor forgive his hypocrisy in saying one thing to one person and another to another. Jeff, son … we’re going to have to let you go.

Our Mission is to Plant Ourselves at the Gates of Hope

gates of hope

On this chilly Friday in December, my thoughts wander to friends out there who are beset by doubts and fears, by crises and catastrophes, and who are struggling to find meaning in it all.

I keep this posted beside my desk. It is a meditation by Victoria Safford, to whom all credit should be given. Ponder and enjoy.

Our Mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope – not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness … nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of ‘Everything is gonna be all right,’ but a very different, sometimes very lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle – and we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.

May you all have peace and joy in this season.

The Rev. Victoria Safford is minister of the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. She is the author ofWalking Toward Morning: Meditations (Skinner House, 2003) and a contributor to The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear (Basic Books, 2004).

Who is Scott Stewart?

For someone who wasn’t born here, I know quite a few people. Fortunately or not, the vast majority of people I know in New Albany and the surrounding towns are customers of my bookstore. That is, readers.


What’s more, they are readers, for the most part, who strongly support the concept and the reality of independent business. They understand that their choices make a difference.

Unfortunately, those people in New Albany who don’t buy books from the only independent full-service bookstore in the Southern Indiana often fall outside my ken.

Accordingly, I rely on those people I do know to introduce me to those I don’t. Often that is in real-life. Sometimes that is virtually.

I’d like to meet (virtually or otherwise) a man named Scott Stewart. We don’t run in the same circles (yet) and I’m curious to know more about the man.

Here’s what I think I know about him, objectively. [from the Web]

  • He is a native of New Albany, although he spent much of his professional career working for Procter & Gamble in postings throughout the U.S. and the world, retiring in 2008.
  • He subsequently served as a “senior policy director” for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
  • Before taking his current post, he served as Director of Strategy for the Indiana Department of Transportation on the Ohio River Bridges project.
  • He recently joined the board of the New Albany-Floyd County Education Foundation.
  • He is said to live in Silver Hills.
  • He is currently the Port Director for the Ports of Indiana-Jeffersonville.
  • He is a board member of 1SI, the regional chamber of commerce.
  • He is a graduate of Indiana University Southeast.

So … who knows him? What can you tell me about him? And can you help me to know more and perhaps to meet the gentleman?

That is all, for now.

$6,142,49: Mayor Gahan Must Just Be Swimming in Money

It happens every year – the Indiana Secretary of State Attorney General issues a press release reminding residents to check for unclaimed property being held by the State of Indiana. The City of New Albany has literally dozens of unclaimed checks and credits and thousands of dollars sitting idle, albeit safely.


Something is wrong, though, when an administration that promises to make our city “fundamentally better” can’t keep better track of monies owed to it. Most, but not all of the money owned by New Albany but apparently not important enough to keep track of consists of insurance premium refunds. You can look it up here.

In something of an irony, New Albany Township Little League, Mayor Jeff Gahan’s bete noir, has left a few bucks unattended, too. So has the Tribune, who ran a story this week reminding everyone to check the state website for unclaimed property.

The $6,142.49 figure is just from a cursory search. There might actually be more there.

Make your own searches. It could be fun and the state even offers you the ability to email a friend to let them know they have money coming to them. And please share your results with us in the comments below.

Are you searching, Floyd County Young Republicans?

List of Properties to send to your friend.

Property ID Name Total Cash Value

How about you, New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department? Or you, Floyd County Youth Symphony? How about you, Faculty of New Albany High School?

Even the staff of NA Confidential ought to try a few searches … hint, hint.

Ann and I Are Expecting

I”M CROSS-POSTING HERE FROM OUR STORE BLOG, because this is about big news for New Albany and fits right in with our philosophy of NewAlbanism.

For some readers, this will come as a jarring shock. For others, it will bring tears of laughter to imagine us bringing a little one into this world.

No, it’s not what you’re thinking, except perhaps metaphorically.

Since 2004, we’ve tried to create a place for community, bending our backs to recruit, nurture, and facilitate the efforts of creators, whether they be communitarians, authors, or entrepreneurs bringing unique products and services to our city. And let there be no illusions: creators are the soul of a city.

There is always a dividing line between the creators and the looters, and hardly anyone qualifies as neither. One is either building and creating or one is extracting and looting.

We like to encourage the creators and it has long been our dream to build an incubator where they can do their thing without undue risk and with some infrastructure support.

Many of you were patrons of Dueling Grounds Cafe until we closed it in 2011. For some time now, we’ve been working with both serious and not-so-serious people who needed a great kitchen to prove their concept, but no one until now had the requisite preparation and experience to utilize the space with a viable business plan.

Now, we have just such a tenant. This is not a Destinations Booksellers operation. It is fully independent of us and will have free reign in the back of our building. Ann and I are just the landlord.

We’ll be making a follow-on announcement to reveal the details of this new food-related operation. We want to give this new business a chance to make their own public bow, to make their own splash, but we’ll follow shortly so all of you can know what’s going on. By Tuesday, all the details should be locked down and we all hope to have appropriate signage in place soon.

So, to that extent, Ann and I are expecting. We expect great things from our new tenant and are convinced that this is something New Albany, Southern Indiana, and the entire region need now.

In the meantime, know this. This new occupancy will not exhaust the possibility of other food-related businesses making productive use of the space because it is, while permanent, not a full-time operation. It’s a good space for a caterer. It’s a good space for someone who wants to offer daily breakfast and/or lunch service or a beverage service. And both Ann and I still think New Albany can support a savory bakery (thanks, moondansyr). So if you know someone who’s looking for something like that, have them get in touch.

And be sure to check back for the full reveal of this exciting addition to New Albany’s rising food class.

A Thought for the Weekend

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

Farmers’ Market Polls: Winter 2014

New Albany’s Common Council is discussing a request to make a sizable investment to build additional structures there, locking in that site’s use as a permanent farmers’ market. What do you think?


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