[UPDATE, THURSDAY, MARCH 20: The public hearing has been postponed. The City Council will consider Vision Fairbanks in a “work session” at 6:00 on March 24, but it will not be an item on the agenda. The tentative date for consideration is now April 7. I will post an update when this date becomes more firm.]
If you would like to see a revitalized, pedestrian-friendly downtown in Fairbanks — a true retail and cultural center that is a pleasure just to be in and where people can work, shop, play, and live — then show your support next Monday evening (March 24) at 7:00. It’s as easy as wearing a blue shirt.
On March 24, the Fairbanks City Council will take public testimony on their proposed endorsement of the Vision Fairbanks plan for downtown. While the legally binding vote will take place in April among the Borough Assembly, the endorsement of City Council is crucial. It is up to us — the citizens who seek a city where people want to spend time and build fond memories — to show the members of City Council that this vision of downtown has popular support.
The Downtown Association of Fairbanks, which with the Borough Planning Department has led the public re-visioning and planning process, asks that all supporters of the Vision Fairbanks plan attend the March 24th City Council meeting wearing a blue shirt. If you support the plan, you are also welcome to give up to five minutes of testimony. But the important thing is to show our numbers. If the Council chambers are full of supporters and some of us must stand outside in the hall to show support, that will not be too many. Let us overwhelm them with our enthusiasm!
If you are not already enthusiastic about Vision Fairbanks, here are a few things to be enthusiastic about:
- The plan calls for a major grocery store near the corner of Barnette and Airport. Throughout the public process, this has been people’s loudest cry: let us buy groceries in the heart of town!
- The plan calls for a public park square that will be lined on all sides with retail, including restaurants. When there are scads of people shopping, there will be a lot more opportunities to run into friends and acquaintances.
- Sidewalks along Cushman Street will be widened from a meager 6 feet to at least 10 feet, and in some places 12 feet. The Cushman Street Bridge will have a 20-foot sidewalk on one side.
- Most of the one-way streets — most notably, Cushman and Barnette — will be made two-way. This will increase businesses’ opportunities for customers, decrease wasteful and irritating out-of-direction travel, and slow down traffic (which is essential to creating pedestrian-friendly places).
- The plan calls for a mix of retail, commercial, civic, and residential uses, mixed closely together. This means that people will not have to drive to several locations to do their errands, since downtown will be a “one-stop” destination, as some of our big-box retail stores are now
- An off-street pedestrian/bike path will be built close to the Chena River, from Wendell Street to a new bridge at Cowles Street. Also, pedestrian-bike improvements will be made along Lacey, 8th, Cowles, and the north side of the Chena.
- A hotel and convention center combination will be built on Cushman north of Airport Way. This will make Fairbanks an attractive destination for state, national, and even international conventions. (I’ve commented before on the folly of holding our conventions away from town.)
- The convention center will be only one part of a “cultural anchor” that also includes a community/skate center, a performing arts center, and a winter garden. Downtown needs cultural destinations.
The Vision Fairbanks plan is an attempt to make a downtown that is (1) attractive, (2) safe for pedestrians, and (3) rich with worthwhile destinations. In short, it is a plan for an economic, civic, and social town center where people really want to spend time. That is what a downtown should be.
For me, there is another reason to support the revitalization plan, more important than mere widened sidewalks or grocery stores:
- Vision Fairbanks is an example of city planning for social justice. The ownership of cars eats up a tremendous part of a family’s income: I have seen estimates ranging from 15% to 30%, or more. This is an unfair burden on people, especially the poor. When the various functions of a city are spread far and wide, there is no one place where a person can go to meet his or her daily needs (home, work, and shopping), and a car is needed just to participate in society. (Walking and public transit will take too long.) This amounts to a citizenship tax — an idea which should offend any citizen. If land uses are mixed instead, then it is possible for people to enjoy basic civic life without devoting a sixth (or a third, or more) of their income to the care and feeding of automobiles, since they will be able to work, shop, play, and live with nothing more than two healthy legs.
So join us for the City Council meeting on March 24th. Wear a blue shirt. Show your support. Help us make a downtown to be proud of!