For those just tuning in: The Borough Assembly will hold a public hearing on Vision Fairbanks this Thursday evening (Aug. 21) at 6:00. Be there, speak in favor of its adoption, and wear blue to show your support!
More details here.
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Those of you who read the Vision Fairbanks article in today’s (Monday’s) News-Miner will have noticed that there is some division among the Borough Assembly over whether Vision Fairbanks should be adopted as a binding resolution, or as something more flexible where the Assembly could simply consult it for direction then take whichever course of action they believed correct.
The Vision Fairbanks plan — which includes very specific layout maps, street cross-sections, diagrams, and measurements — is far more prescriptive than the existing Comprehensive Plan (PDF, 829 KB), which consists largely of goals, strategies, and considerations. The Borough Assembly has long had a great deal of flexibility in what kind of development it allows. Some of them would like to keep that flexibility.
I can imagine other circumstances in which a party preparing to enter into an agreement might like to keep some flexibility:
- I’m sure that the bank that financed my house would like flexibility in setting the interest rate on my loan. Perhaps they could take my mortgage as an “advisory” document.
- If I were about to accept employment, I could tell Human Resources that I’d like for my contract to be non-binding — more like a set of preferred guidelines, really.
- If I were getting married, I could tell my partner-to-be that I’d like some flexibility in sexual partners, financial responsibility, and commitment to raising children.
You all see the problems:
- The bank that demands flexibility in setting the interest rate on mortgages will create such a feeling of instability among would-be buyers that they would not feel safe committing to the purchase of a house, and house sales would decline.
- The employee who demands flexibility in his employment contract will be seen as too much of a risk and will not get the job.
- The would-be spouse who demands flexibility in his commitments to his partner will be seen as a bad risk — perhaps a splendid person, but not reliable — and will never find somebody willing to marry him.
In each of these circumstances, the only way to reap the benefits (of getting lenders, landing a job, or winning a spouse) is to commit, to make a binding declaration of intent. To some degree, such commitments are already flexible and negotiable, through communication, negotiation, and arbitration. They can also end in complete dissolution, where both parties may settle their accounts and walk away.
So it is with Vision Fairbanks.
No less than any bank with its borrowers, any worker with a job, or any person seeking a lifelong partner, businesses need commitment. They need to know that the good conditions that allow them to thrive in the short term will allow them to thrive in the long term. If they are enticed to open shop downtown because it is being billed as a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly community center, they need to know that it will continue to be developed that way — for example, that their business relying on walk-in customers will not be surrounded by retail-killing parking lots.
There is already flexibility built into Vision Fairbanks: it is our process of public policy. Changes to the plan would require public hearings and resolutions from the Assembly. They would be difficult to make — rightly so — but they would be possible.
As far as downtown retail and civic improvements go, Vision Fairbanks is The Big Enchilada. The plan was developed with principles that (when adhered to) have made city centers pleasant, just, and prosperous places for millennia. We have an opportunity now to have quality retail, civic, and recreational uses knitted tightly together, in pleasant public space that’s conducive to civic life.
But, if we want businesses to buy into our plan, we must commit.
To date, the Assembly, under the guidance of a vague Comprehensive Plan, has enjoyed the liberty of an unmarried person: perhaps mindful of some obligations to existing partners, but keeping the liberty to change its agreements and rules, to favor whichever partner it cares for at the moment.
Now, like a responsible adult, it must offer stability and security to those whose benefits it would seek. It’s time for the Assembly to commit.
Please ask your Assembly members (their e-mail addresses are here) to make a true commitment to Fairbanks’s prosperity: ask them to pass Vision Fairbanks as a binding (or codified) ordinance.