Sunday, January 18, 2009

A new voice in/for the Delano District

Karen of Delano Bungalow fame has started a new website intended to be a source of information for all things Delano District: Delano Wichita Neighborhood News. It's only a couple of days old, but she has posted links to neighborhood organizations and has a blog aggregator for neighborhood blogs.

Over at Delano Bungalow, Karen explains the reason for this new site:
The "cause" that's prompted me to get around to setting the site up is one that came up on various neighborhood blogs: the lack of a grocery store in Delano. I'm not quite sure I'm ready to make a call to action, but I'd like to gather the discussion and see if it goes somewhere.
Radicalized much, Karen?

All kidding aside, I'm pleased to see this new site. I look forward to its attracting some eyeballs and becoming a virtual town-square for folks here. And things may indeed start soon: Karen has posted that the next Delano Neighborhood Association meeting is at 7pm next Tuesday, January 20, at West Side Christian Church. I'll try to be there as well; I hope others will, too.

Bring your own bike lane!

The Light Lane. Given the expense of building bike lanes (not that they shouldn't be built, mind you), this might be a possible solution--especially since this lane would go wherever you want to go.

(Hat-tip: Clusterflock)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Click a link and hear a good song; post it, and help rescue some animals

From Anti Music:
Today, we are especially happy to bring you “People Got A Lotta Nerve,” the first single from Neko Case’s forthcoming album Middle Cyclone (out March 3), because for every blog that reposts the song and/or iLike user who adds it to their profile, Neko Case and ANTI- will make a cash donation to Best Friends Animal Society. The promotion will run from January 13 to February 3, 2009. Five dollars will be donated for every blog post and one dollar for every user of iLike that adds the song to his/her profile.

More details about Best Friends Animal Society here.

"People Gotta Lot of Nerve"

Your post will be recorded if your blog is listed with Technorati or Google blogs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Let's go shopping!"

The late, lamented George's Market, no longer open any day. Image found at Delano Bungalow.

Karen of Delano Bungalow, inspired by my earlier post, has up a thorough post addressing the near absence of a true grocery store in the Delano. Karen and her famuily have lived here since 1995, so she speaks out of a knowledge of the area that I don't have. She rightly identifies me as "kind of an auxiliary Delano/Riverside resident," but for the record I'll add that I do most of my non-food shopping in the Delano, and a store there would be my closest option. She also notes that the market named in the article I linked to is too hoity-toity for the Delano, and I agree: My larger point was simply that a community's viability is invaluably served by a full-service grocery store (or three, in the case of smaller, corner grocery stores). Indeed, back in the summer when I first posted on this subject, I wrote specifically that what I did not have in mind was some sort of frou-frou gourmet-food kind of place but a true neighborhood store. Indeed, Karen's description of the Delano's demographics makes all the clearer just why it needs such places:
Delano is chock-full of seniors who've lived here since just after WWII, and many of them don't drive, or at least don't drive far (or fast, or well). As those folks move into apartments, nursing homes, or die, the houses are rented or bought by couples or families looking for inexpensive housing. Some are just starting out (that was us…in 1995), others just can't afford anything better, and often have one car or none. Even those who have cars won't regularly shop at a high-end market; that includes me.

Delano needs something a little more…working-class. But not too working-class, or no one will go there if they can afford to avoid it, and it'll become welfare-class. (Confession: towards its end, I did my real shopping at a Dillons even farther from me than Central and West, because the Douglas Street one was getting downright skanky.)

Here's where we go all blue-sky, because I know doodly-squat about the supermarket business, other than that it's obviously tough to compete in if you don't have the purchasing leverage of a big chain. None of the big chains (in the area, anyway) seem quite suited to experimenting in Delano. But we've already got some of the pieces for a non-super market, in or close to Delano.
Go read the whole thing, as they say.

To connect this subject to cycling and its part in neighborhoods who give thought to complete-street planning: stores whose true intent is to serve most of the grocery needs of neighborhoods would not need lots of parking--just a few spaces as part of the lot provided for trucks making deliveries. As traditionally conceived, people who use these stores would visit them 3-4 times a week (the now-familiar once-a-week grocery trip is an outgrowth of post-WWII suburbia/car culture). Most of the customers for these stores would walk there or, in my case, ride their bikes there (so don't forget to provide some bike racks). Some might take the bus, so a location near a bus stop would be important. Anyway, what with all those people making all those trips, people will get to know each other, get to talking. Assuming they like each other, the neighborhood becomes more than a collection of houses--it begins to cohere, acquire a sense of place that is informed as much by the people who live there as by aesthetics.

Like Karen, I don't know doodlely about the grocery store business, apart from the fact that it's extremely competitive due to low profit margins. Back when I worked at a grocery store in Texas, the store said it made one penny of profit for every dollar of groceries sold. Given that that was before Wal-Mart came along with its ability to set the prices it pays to its suppliers (rather than the other way around), that profit margin has probably not improved. So, there's considerable risk for someone who tries to open a grocery store anywhere these days, much less in a place like the Delano. But it would not have to be all things to all people, just a neighborhood thing for the neighborhood's people.

Anyway, thanks for posting on this, Karen. The first step is to admit there is a problem.

Friday, January 9, 2009

"In the neighborhood"

UPDATE: The list is growing--thanks to those of you who have let me know you're out there. If you know of others whose blogs should appear here, too, please send them my way.

If you have a blog and live in the downtown, Riverside or the Delano District of Wichita, I'd like to encourage you to leave me a link here in comments. My intent is to post links to your blog here in a section I'm calling "In the Neighborhood" so as to emphasize more that neighborhood-y thing I occasionally yammer about. No need to link to me in return, especially if you don't want to. However, I do look forward to the chance to visit your blogs and link to posts of yours on occasion.

Thanks in advance.

The need for a grocery store in the Delano

Imagine a couple of places like this in the Delano District. What more timeless place of business than the corner grocery? Image found here.

I don't know if anyone in the Delano District reads this blog, much less cares what I might have to say about its neighborhood revitalization plan, but here goes (again).

I have said at various times that Delano would immensely benefit from having a true grocery store and that such a business would seem to be central to achieving its vision of itself. Here, in full, is their plan's statement regarding "Neighborhood Character," with a crucial passage italicized:
The Delano Neighborhood has a wealth of resources, as identified in the SWOT analysis. In this case, character and identity are easy to create by revealing the heritage and history of the area. Preserving the character of homes and removing false facades from commercial structures to expose the original historical architecture not only celebrates the area’s architectural heritage but establishes the neighborhood as "timeless". Many of the most pleasant tourist destinations in the world are those that have timeless qualities - old Paris, Rome, colonial Bermuda... or closer to home- historic Charleston, Austin, New Orleans, or San Francisco. They also contain the most sought after real-estate.

Delano is a unique area of the City, and has the resources to establish itself as a high quality, people oriented, multi-faceted urban community. Ultimately, the average daily needs for a resident will be found within walking distance, thus fostering a greater sense of community through pedestrian interaction. The challenge is preserving that character once it is uncovered. This plan identifies the specific objectives that will ultimately preserve and enhance the character and quality of the neighborhood.
All this is well and good--really--but: The last time I checked, eating was an "average daily need" for people; and while the plan goes on to mention that a goal is to attract businesses to the area that will enhance its neighborhood character, the sorts of businesses specifically mentioned are places like restaurants, specialty shops, office space, "light industry," and single- and multi-family housing (though, it seems clear from the plan's language, multi-family housing is something they are wary of). Not one word about attracting a full-service grocery store. But here is the list of businesses described as "Grocery Stores" that serve Delano. No knock against Quik Trip, but a neighborhood that wants to compare itself to places like New Orleans, Austin and Charleston wants its people's grocery needs served by gas stations? Really?

I want to see the Delano District succeed in achieving its vision of itself. But it strikes me that that vision, at its most specific, really addresses only literal and figurative cosmetic issues. The most basic of a community's needs--the need for close access to a variety of good-quality, reasonably-priced food for daily living--seems to be not at all a consideration. The result, as I put it elsewhere, is that Delano, as well as places like it in other cities seeking to encourage people to live downtown but don't seem to seek out grocery stores as tenants, is "something like a bedroom community turned inside-out: now, people have to leave the neighborhood not to work but to buy food to prepare and eat."

(I would just note in passing that in New Orleans both the French Quarter and the Garden District have several corner grocery stores.)

Via my bloggy friend Ariel in Kansas City comes this announcement about his new neighborhood, in which he is raising a family and establishing a church in KC's arts district:
On Tuesday [January 6?] at 8 a.m. a grocery store will open its doors to the public. Cosentino’s Market Downtown will be located at 13th and Main, within view of the Sprint Center and Power and Light District. The new 33,000-square-foot store will all the typical shopping cart staples like meat, seafood, produce, bakery, liquor and floral departments… The store hopes to meet the needs of people who live, work and entertain downtown. A seating area designed for more than 100 people is equipped with tables and WiFi for lunch or dinner breaks.
Ariel goes on to wonder if the 120 or so parking spaces will be sufficient for customers, but I'd simply reply that such a store, given its stated hopes, probably anticipates that people will visit a couple of times a week rather than the once-a-week visits people tend to make to suburban stores.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily argue that a 30,000 square-foot store would be in keeping with the Delano's self-image, but surely a couple or three stores that collectively approach that square footage would be--especially if the Delano's Powers That Be are serious about meeting its residents' "average daily needs." And as for fostering a sense of community, I cannot put it any more succinctly than this, from the president and chair of the company that landed the grocery store:
"There is no greater catalyst to creating a livable downtown than a great supermarket, and in Cosentino's Downtown Market we have found the ideal tenant."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Some books on transportation and urban policy

At various times I've linked to posts by Matthew Yglesias that address the issues of city planning and mass transit. Today, he happens to have up a post with a short list of basic texts on these issues. I have this pipe dream that in my copious spare time I will pick up a copy of The Option of Urbanism and read it so that, when I write stuff on this subject, I won't feel as though I've had to, ahem, raise myself from my chair so as to extract what I've written. We'll see. But the price is certainly right.

While I'm at it: If anyone visiting here is interested in serious discussions of this topic, I have a short list of websites over in the right gutter under the heading of "Urbanism and Urban Policy." I've not begun a concerted search for sites in this field; as I've run across them, though, I add them to the list. Consider this an invitation to you to let me know in comments if you can recommend link-worthy sites, too.

I believe I've made this point before--well, okay: Yglesias has made it; I've just repeated it here--but it bears repeating yet again: While it's true that urban planning is a field dominated by politically-moderate and -liberal types, there's no inherent reason why conservatives should feel excluded from or disinterested in discussions in that field. Livable, more efficient cities are healthier, more economically-vibrant--that is, desirable--places to live: something all citizens of a city should be willing to work toward.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

An uneducated argument for a smart(er) gas tax

Image found here.

An anonymous commenter at this post left this comment, which I'll go ahead and post in full:
While I definitely agree with your musings on our consumerism and short attention spans, I do quibble with you on one point.

Are you serious? Put a higher tax on gasoline? I do believe the govt taxes us enough, thank you! And just what exactly would they do with that money? Misappropriation of funds is already at an all-time high. Let the people keep their money! Instead of a 7 whatever billion/trillion dollar bailout, why not give each person who filed a tax return get $500,000? It would have cost much less, and talk about stimulating the economy instead of giving it to banks who mismanaged it in the first place?
Anon., thanks, first of all, for dropping by and commenting.

The usual caveats: I'm by no means an expert on tax policy; although I'm inclined to believe that government on the whole makes our lives better than they would be otherwise, I, like everyone, have my own list of things government spends money on that, shall we say, could be better spent (and monitored)/shouldn't be spent. Recent bailouts included.

Given this blog's focus, though, I'd like to say a few words about the issue of a gas tax and the possible uses a higher--and smartly-applied tax--could be put to. Gas taxes are one of those quid pro quo taxes that, though we'd just as soon not pay them, we can see the purpose of: They usually go toward paying for building and maintaining streets and highways, helping to keep our taxes on income a little lower by taxing, instead, our consumption of something. It's perfectly reasonable to my mind, then, that those of us who drive should contribute a bit, every time we buy gas, toward offsetting the wear and tear our vehicles cause the roads.

But let's face it: owning and driving a car is a relative luxury even in the best of times, which our gasoline prices (dirt-cheap even with the taxes currently levied on it) have, up till this past summer, disguised just how good we have had it here in this country. But more urgently, our collective accommodation of that luxury has enormous costs. Maintaining all those roads is so expensive that much regular maintenance has been deferred (and deferred and . . . ). Providing parking spaces for cars is, frankly, a waste of space that--especially in urban areas--could be put to better use via the providing of more (and more affordable) housing, more (and more diverse) kinds of businesses; meanwhile, broad expanses of pavement increase run-off pollution and the potential for flooding via overtaxed manmade and natural drainage. (Aside: encouraging denser development has the added advantage of increasing tax revenues as well without raising rates of taxation, through increased property and sales tax revenues.) Cheap gas has also historically been a boon for food production (via farm mechanization and transportation); this summer's much-higher gas, though, gave those of us who bought food then a brief glimpse of how illusorily low our food costs are, too. Finally, the burning of carbon fuels is not good for us or for our environment, even if you don't think global warming is a problem. Not only are carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide not good to inhale, we've all gotten pretty flabby in large measure because our first thought when we need to go somewhere, no matter the distance, is to hop in the car rather than walk or ride a bike or, for longer distances, take a bus or carpool.

My commenter decries mindless and/or short-sighted consumerism, and s/he is right to do so. So why not levy a higher tax on this particular form of consumption? And, even better: why not direct the revenues generated toward the funding of mass transit, safer, more accommodating streets, the granting of seed money for manufacturers of cars that use alternate energy sources, for researchers looking for those alternate sources, for bicycle-renting programs, etc., etc., etc. The idea is analogous to how some cigarette-tax monies are used: Use that money to fund programs that ostensibly seek to counterbalance the effects of your consumption choice . . . and if, at some point, you decide that the cost of that consumption becomes higher than you're willing/able to pay, then good for you--and for all of us.

It's a strange thing: some become so fixated in their opposition to taxes that, quite apart from the issue of how is government going to do what we expect/need it to do without revenues, they can miss the point that in some instances, increased taxation--that is, the uses to which that increased revenue are put--can end up benefiting us far more than they cost us. Fewer people are smoking now than when I was growing up (I'm old enough to remember seeing cigarette ads on television); and we all benefit as a result, even if only indirectly: cleaner air, a reduced burden on our public health care system via the better health of those not smoking, etc. In a similar way, if higher gas taxes encouraged more people either not to drive or to drive less often, all of us--even those who keep driving--would benefit: less-congested streets and parking lots, cleaner air (again), better overall public health (again), etc. And, there'd be that much more gas available, and at lower prices, for those services which really will require gas for the foreseeable future: transportation and food and energy production.

As a consumer-oriented people who no longer have the means we once did to generate real wealth through manufacturing, our literal and figurative bills for living the way we have are coming due, or they soon will, and it will be harder to pay them as a result of that reduced means. A higher gas tax whose revenues are smartly spent with an eye toward reducing our consumption of gas would be an excellent step in the direction of making those literal and figurative bills a little easier to deal with.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The 1-Mile Solution

In catching up with my cycling-blog reading this morning, I ran across something that I'd like to help promote--or at least, Twilight Zone-like, present for your consideration.

Early in this blog's life, I posted a little something in which I mused on how cycling changes how we think about that thing we call a neighborhood. Over at Carbon Trace, Andy Cline has a proposition for us to consider that's very much in keeping with the spirit of that post of mine:
The idea is simple: Find your home on a map. Draw a circle with a 1-mile radius around your home. Try to replace one car trip per week within that circle by riding a bicycle or walking. At an easy riding pace you can travel one mile on a bicycle in about seven minutes. Walking takes about 20 minutes at an easy pace.
He's right, of course: Not only can almost all of us physically do this easily; most of us--even us suburbanites--live in places where, logistically, we can do this. Here, for example, is my neighborhood's walk score. I happen to live just on the outer edge of downtown, so my neighborhood's score is high, but I suspect that most neighborhoods in Wichita won't score much lower than mine does.

I realize that if you're reading this, I'm preaching to the choir. The thing, though, is to spread this idea like a (real) meme: via blog posts, through writing our representatives in support of legislation that would facilitate this, and of course through our own example.

Dusting off the blog, oiling the chain, airing up the tires . . .

Greetings to any who still happen by here, and a Happy New Year to you.

The story is simple: the weather turned cold, and because I (still) don't have any proper cold-weather cycling gear (Santa stiffed me in that department), I had to stop riding. And, sorry to say, some of the impetus for keeping up the blog went away as well, especially as my writing obligations elsewhere became more urgent. But: Santa did bring me a Planet Bike speedometer; my younger daughter has a new bike and I got to buy her some small but important accessories for it for Christmas; I spent some time this holiday in Austin, Texas, a city struggling to become more bike-friendly even as people (and their cars) increase their pressure on that city's streets; and spring is coming . . . and with it, a teaching schedule that will allow me to ride to school twice a week. I may even be able to buy some decent cold-weather gear this week.

In short, Cycling in Wichita shouldn't be quite so dormant for the foreseeable future.

I'm still sold on this cycling thing, by the way. I was dismayed, in my travels this holiday, to see that the combination of cheaper gas and carmakers' practically giving them away caused me to see lots and lots of brand-new trucks and SUVs on the road, and I asked myself, What are people thinking?? In the short term, gas will go up again . . . and there's that far more important long-term consideration of the environment, too. But I have hopes that the new administration (through a combination of a more integrated approach to thinking about transportation issues, a possible higher tax on gasoline, and shifting our emphasis in health care toward a model oriented toward prevention rather than treatment) and, yes, a growing awareness and thoughtfulness on the part of the public (already showing up in ways such as a steady decline in miles driven nationwide) will gradually but firmly shift our culture's thinking in the direction of making our nation's cities places in which bikes have a greater (and safer) role.

We shall see. In the meantime: it's good to be back.