Parks and streets - Time for some fresh ideas in La Grande

June 20, 2008 03:16 pm

The Observer’s thinking about parks needs some updating. It’s about as old as I am!

Most of the issues confronting our city need some fresh ideas on how to address them. It is good to hear that a Street Advisory Committee will make recommendations on sidewalks and streets; this suggests the possibility for varied ideas on new funding mechanisms.

Often we rely on government (city councils) to solve all of our problems and we defer to their traditional approaches, which often get defeated at the ballot box. With the inclusion of citizens to share ideas and even to do a lot of work, ownership is expanded. But the city council can and should provide creative leadership and incentives and show enthusiasm and support that will permeate the community.

Our sidewalks and roads are deplorable and we are about five years behind in our planning for upgrading this part of our infrastructure. Yes, we are in times of financial stress (and it will get no better!) so let’s collectively determine how to fix our streets.

It will cost millions and will entail some bonding, and there are probably state and federal sources from which we can draw that we have not even thought about. How about a component for ongoing future major projects similar to our modest sewer fee designed to accumulate for future major construction as done recently at the sewer plant paid for with accumulated funds? Is there a reliable local consultant that we could hire short term to search untapped sources?

Maybe the city qualifies for other funding not on our radar.

The Parks Commission proposed a reasonable plan and approach to funding, which was apparently met with a roll of the eyes by the council. I concur that to put the levy on the ballot in competition with the school district bond levy is not wise at this time. However, your statement “The plain truth is that the community has far more pressing needs (than parks) and money is in short supply” should be challenged. Let me offer some other views.

Perhaps parks improvements should be of highest priority especially in hard financial times. When money is tight and a $4 gallon of gas will not get you to Wallowa Lake, can you get to Morgan Lake and back? Or to Pioneer Park and watch a game?

Parks are not just “pretty places” and nice features viewed from passing cars. Consider: parks are symbols of culture, aesthetics and livability for possible new residents and employers? When people relax, walk, stroll or run to parks along our “new sidewalks,” is security and safety enhanced with the gathering of folks? Is health improved with fresh air and movement? I think so.

The more we can get people out of their homes and moving around their neighborhoods the more our awareness and security are enhanced. Equivalent to added police protection? I think so. Let our good police force do the heavy stuff and reduce the calls to solve problems of annoying and frustrated neighbors. Can only help when neighbors are aware of each other.

Let’s get neighbors talking and volunteering to cut down the weeds in the nearby vacant lot or paint the home of the older couple on the corner. But will it ever happen? It could if neighborhoods become closer and more aware of one another. Sidewalks AND parks bring them together.

The Noon Rotary has committed money and work toward improvements at Morgan Lake. Boy Scout projects are generating creative projects. Other organizations have indicated interest in financial support. I submit that much of the cost of Morgan Lake improvements alone could be gained from volunteer sources. The park in Sunny Hill was developed by volunteers, as were the ball fields at Pioneer and the huge investment by volunteers at Riverside. But not without the enthusiastic endorsement and leadership from a less than enthusiastic city council and local newspaper.

What about combining the levy for parks with a future street bond aimed at repairing our sidewalks and streets?

Consider these together; park improvements for less than 1 percent of a street levy? Sidewalks enable us to meander to parks and green and open spaces throughout the city — even to shop downtown, alleviating parking congestion and enhancing shopping opportunities.

As the Street Advisory Committee makes its recommendations, the priorities for street and sidewalk improvement should enable ease of foot and bicycle travel to and from parks and schools, on both sides of the tracks. Maybe even straighten roads to enable a “quiet zone” to silence those noisy trains.

Consider, for example, the very lovely park between 18th and 20th streets, its community use compliments of the Nazarene Congregation. Now only if we had sidewalks along narrow and bumpy 20th street, the children could walk or ride bikes to their workouts.

If we had consistent sidewalk access to all of the schools, could we promote more walking and bike riding by the children?

Let the thinking begin. There are many ideas, much better than the above. Let’s hear from the La Grande citizens and work to muster at least a 9 on the council enthusiasm scale.

Doyle Slater lives in La Grande.