Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Bloggers Love Challenges!

Leo Morris has been conducting a little quiz the last few days. Here's a sample question:

A nice stop on our downtown walking tour, but what's missing?
I thought the answer was obvious: people!

But apparently I was wrong; according to Leo, it's park benches.

In fact, Leo thinks that the city's lack of park benches downtown is more of a problem than we might think.
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.
But unlike most of us who are happy to point out a problem and walk away, Leo wants to do something about it.

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.

Leo's already had one reader take him up on his offer, and I hope there are many more. (I won't be donating any time soon; all my disposable income is reserved for attorney's fees right now...) Even if you aren't going to donate, you ought to go over to Leo's blog and let him know what you think about this idea. I'm sure the city is listening.

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