Sunday, July 18, 2004

Moving city's fountain isn't the answer

Peter Bronson

In the Chamber of Commerce Handbook, right between the lesson on "Buy Locally'' and the one on "Ribbon Cuttings and Giant Checks,'' there must be a chapter on "Potemkin Planning.''

"Modern city planning was invented in 18thcentury Russia by Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin, with his clever and colorful fake villages built to impress his boss, Catherine the Great,'' it probably says. "It saved his neck, and might save yours, too.''

I'm pretty sure this handbook exists because I have covered hundreds of city meetings from northern Michigan to southern Arizona, and everywhere I've seen the same lame ideas rolled out as "New and Exciting Plans.'' They even "discovered'' the same cutting-edge Potemkin blueprints: Eureka, let's do a frontier theme!

It's always the same: They pass around cans of paint and new signs with rustic lettering and do everything but hire Slim Pickens to spit tuhbacky at tinhorns. But the Wal-Mart moves in anyway, and the "new improved'' downtowns soon look like ghost towns wearing saloon-gal makeup.

Cincinnati is much more sophisticated, as we might expect from an urban metropolis that can afford to squander millions.

The Potemkin Plan at City Hall this summer is: Rearrange the furniture on Fountain Square. Move the fountain.

This, the consultants say, is the patent medicine to cure urban neuralgia and draw throngs of ecstatic shoppers downtown again. You can see them in the drawings, crowded under a leafy canopy of trees planted in concrete.

I'm sure it works - for pencil people on paper.

But if Cincinnati really wants to get people to come downtown again, I don't think moving the Tyler Davidson Fountain, and ripping out all the nice benches that are actually crowded at lunch time, is our first priority.

There are a few other things we could move first. Such as:

• City Hall. Move it anywhere. With everyone in it. Toledo, for example, if they will take it. Or maybe they will roll out the welcome wagon in Washington, D.C. - where they just can't get enough high taxes, fumbled projects and lifer bureaucrats who grow on government the way potatoes grow on Idaho.

• Over-the-Rhine. Move it to Northern Kentucky. It's an instant fix for downtown crime problems. Newport residents would suddenly be happy to escape the crack markets and come downtown to spend money. Sure, they'd have a little crime trouble at first. But unlike our billion-dollar debating society at City Hall, Northern Kentucky would hire enough cops to deal with it and back them up when they do their jobs.

• County levies. Move them back from ridiculous to affordable. Cincinnati is losing population faster than any city in the country, but we can't give all the credit for Detroitification to City Hall. The county is doing its share to drive people away.

• Bonehead drivers who are too busy talking on cell phones to notice they just caused a rush-hour wreck. Move them to bicycles. Let's see if they can talk to the drycleaner, order a pizza, do a conference call and still pedal a 10-speed down I-75.

• Parking meters, tickets and overpriced lots. Move them all to someplace that deserves them, such as Canada. If the city really wants people to come downtown, stop giving them $14 tickets for being 10 minutes over-parked.


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