Over in Jacksonville, N.C., former Billings City Administrator Kristoff Bauer had occasion this week to talk to residents of his new community about "perceived community image problems." Part of Bauer's presentation to the Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee consisted of Bauer juxtaposing images of Billings and Jacksonville in order to illustrate the need for better planning and code enforcement. The gist of it:
While reactions to proposals to address unsightliness varied from enthusiastic to dismissive, all present seemed to agree that Jacksonville has room for improvement in terms of public image. "Jacksonville's an ugly town. It really is. There's just no other way to say it," said local businessman and former state Senate candidate Tommy Pollard. In a power point presentation featuring shots of Billings, local streets bore an occasionally eerie resemblance to a city two time zones and 2,300 miles away. "There are so many problems analogous to the ones we have here," Bauer said as he took the audience through the figurative tour of his former town. The problems in question were often the product of sprawl and slap-dash development that dubious aesthetics tend to produce.
Wouldn't you love to know what images of Billings were featured in that "figurative tour" of Billings? I'm guessing there were shots of our lovely Grand Avenue, with its jungle of competing signs, sparse vegetation and pedestrian-killing layout. Or maybe it was the area of King Avenue West and South 24th Street West, our own little Wal-Martville. Or maybe it was Main Street in the Heights, like Grand only wider.
If Bauer is tackling these issues in his new town, good for him. It's easy for a city manager to sit back and ignore such issues, given the propensity of business owners and developers to howl with indignation at the first mention of "planning" or "esthetics," so you have to admire Bauer for daring to do so.
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And God forbid that anyone should call any part of our town ugly. When urban planner Anton Nelessen came here a few years ago and poked fun at some of the more unsightly corners of the Magic City, the outrage was loud and sustained. Granted, he did little to spare our tender feelings, to wit:
"The signs here are so bad that they could almost become kitsch. Instead of doing away with signs, you could intensify it. Maybe you could have a section of town where businesses could erect the biggest signs they have --- you could tell them that if they take down two signs elsewhere in town, they can put up one really big sign in this zone. It'll be Signarama --- the Disneyland of signs."
I guess the truth hurts.