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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

The Curbside Challenge

The answers for the quizzes posted here in the last three days:

Downtown quiz, Part 1: What does Reservoir Park have that downtown needs? Answer: park benches. Downtown quiz, Part 2: What is missing from this stop on a downtown walking tour? Answer: park benches. Downtown quiz, Part 3: What does this site have that the rest of downtown needs more of? Answer: park benches. Kind of a theme there. (Watch the video.)

This brings us to:

The Curbside Challenge

A friend of mine went downtown recently and noticed something most people don't. "If you want to make someplace walking-friendly," she said, "you also need to make it sit-down-and-rest friendly." What she saw were all these inviting places -- such as the One Summit Square plaza, the space around the Botanical Conservatory and a lot of other sites where the decorated mastodons reside -- that did not encourage walkers to tarry in their see-the-creatures walk. No place to plop down here, move it along, move it along. Think about shopping centers such as Glenbrook or Jefferson Pointe or tourist-destination towns like Nashville in Brown County -- lots of places to just sit down, in every one of them.

This was about the same time that John McGauley, public information officer for county commissioners, was starting to talk about his Skyline Challenge. The sum of $100,000, raised from the private sector only, would be put up as a prize. To be eligible to win it, someone would have to start a business downtown with a certain number of employees and keep it going for two years.

That was an innovative idea designed to get real people involved in downtown, not just the usual government sources pushing the usual government studies. But it wasn't something most residents would have the time, money and ability to try for.

Which got me thinking. How much would one park bench cost? What if the city would pay for half the cost of one, inviting anybody who wanted to pay for the other half to do so, getting for that money a little metal plaque that said something like, "This bench dedicated by so-and-so in memory of so-and-so"?

I brought the idea up with Mark Becker, the city's economic developer, and he didn't say I was crazy. He even offered that he would also like to see more opportunities downtown for people to eat outside. I asked City Council President Tom Smith what he thought about it. He was also encouraging, and mentioned that during his first council term, he got some benches put in at Reservoir Park because the people who liked to fish there had no place to sit but on the ground. The benches cost, he remembers, about $1,000 each.

That's a very reasonable amount. So here's my Curbside Challenge: The city, or perhaps someone on the City Council, puts up a small pot of money, to be used for park benches downtown, on a 50-50 match basis with any resident who wants to participate. The sum of $10,000 would equal 20 benches; just $20,000 would get 40 benches, with 40 ordinary citizens, even those of modest means, being able to feel invested in downtown and have a stake in its future. Decide how many benches would be desirable, multiply by $1,000 and divide by two, and there you go. I will donate the first $500 for the privilege of dedicating a park bench to the memory of my father.

Yeah, I hear you. This is grandstanding. But I'm in a position to be able to grandstand once in a while, and if something good might come of it, I'm not going to agonize over it. And downtown needs ideas, big ones like John McGauley's, small ones like mine and lots of others in-between.

Certainly, I'd like the idea to take off (wouldn't want to squander that grandstanding), and see benches everywhere downtown. But if that doesn't happen, that's OK, too. If you don't like this idea, or John's, come up with your own. Downtown won't turn around until people who care about it stop waiting for a Grand Plan and decide to do something. There is said to be a "tipping point" at which things change. Maybe for downtown, that point is a critical mass of people willing to offer new ideas.

Posted in: Blogroll, Our town


Bushwick Bill
Wed, 08/10/2005 - 9:15am

Great idea. Sign me up 2nd for one park bench, in honor of my parents.

Wed, 08/10/2005 - 11:10am

I've always thought it would be a great idea to have park benches painted by artists. Public art that can be of use!

Wed, 08/10/2005 - 11:19am

As usual, Janette has a great idea. Maybe this should be next year's Mastodon follow-up!

Leo Morris
Wed, 08/10/2005 - 1:01pm

I like Janette's idea, too, and it makes the idea of people buying half of one even more intriguing -- not just places to sit, but works of art, too; and, unlike the mastodons, desiged to be there over the long haul. Assuming the city would go along and contribute some money for it, the question is who would organize it and see it through?