I believe that with the right strategy, Fayetteville can continue to be the best community in Northwest Arkansas. We can be an example to other communities our size throughout the nation, and we can build on what we are already doing well to make Fayetteville an even better community to live in and work in than it already is. Fayetteville will maintain its first place status in Northwest Arkansas.
These are my ideas for doing that.
- Dedicate a funding source for festivals and arts organizations.
- Build bikeways to connect neighborhoods to one another and to the trail system.
- Design and construct outdoor civic space downtown.
- Re-prioritize our economic development strategy.
- Give Ward 2 citizens direct control over a portion of the budget.
- Enhance Midtown by focusing on Township and Colt Square.
- Decriminalize misdemeanor marijuana offenses.
- Use "citizen focus groups" to inform Council decisions.
Festivals and arts organizations are one of the most important aspects of a healthy community. Without these cultural cornerstones, companies won't come, graduates won't stay, and people won't leave their homes.
The Walton Arts Center has been vital to our community, but it isn't the only arts organization and the smaller groups contribute to that vibrant sense of place that makes a community so attractive. When speaking of festivals, the success of First Thursdays and the Block St Block Party should stand as testaments to the ability of events to stimulate a sense of community, not to mention economic activity.
These efforts deserve a permanent, dedicated funding stream. How can one be created?
Ideally, the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission should create a permanent funding stream for these events. In other communities, their A&P Commissions dedicate a percentage of their tax revenue straight away to causes like this. A significant portion of this revenue goes to seed funding for new organizations and events, but the majority is dedicated to operational support so that successful events and programs are kept going year after year. This is exactly the kind of strategy Fayetteville needs to adopt so that our identity as a cultural destination can grow.
Unfortunately, the political reality is such that re-orienting the A&P Commission to this task is an uphill battle. If I am re-elected, I have asked to be appointed to the A&P Commission so that I can make the case for this strategy directly, but if the A&P Commission is unwilling to make this change, finding a dedicated funding stream is important enough that other options should be considered.
Nevertheless, I do believe it is possible to steer the A&P Commission to this goal if the argument is presented in the best way. A dedicated funding stream would have a domino effect. Aside from making funds available to arts organizations and festival organizers, it would also allow the portion of the parking revenue dedicated to the Walton Arts Center to be replaced with the new funding source. Thus, finding a dedicated funding stream for the arts would indirectly free up funds for downtown improvements.
If I am reelected, I promise to present this idea to the A&P Commission in 2013, and, if they will not vote to do it, to pursue other avenues for dedicated funding.
If you appreciate the bike trails in Fayetteville, but you find yourself driving more often than not, you aren’t alone. Unless you live close to a trail and reaching your destination is convenient, it probably makes more sense for you to drive. Riding a bicycle is supposed to be a relaxing, joyous activity, but that ends once you have to leave the trail and ride in traffic.
For casual riders, there are three criteria which a prospective ride must meet before most people will even consider using a bicycle to reach a destination: safety from traffic, general comfort, and a clear route. Trails are fantastic at addressing each of these, but what if a trail won’t take you all the way to your destination? It’s a good question, and it’s not one Fayetteville’s Alternative Transportation Plan answers.
How can this problem be addressed?
The solution is to build bikeways to supplement the trail system. A bikeway is an on-street route updated with new signs, bike lanes, protected street crossings, landscaping, or other features that designate it as the best route for cyclists to take. They make getting to and from the trail safe enough, comfortable enough, and clear enough for a family with young children and other casual cyclists.
Building bikeways costs less per mile than building trails, and construction takes less time; so why haven't bikeways been a part of Fayetteville plan? It’s a chicken-and-the-egg question, with part of the answer being that we needed to build a “backbone” to our trail system before building greenways made sense. Now that we have that backbone, it’s time to start building bikeways and connecting our neighborhoods to the trails. Trail development shouldn’t stop, but our strategy to encourage bicycle adoption should be amended to remove the burden of route planning from individuals and families.
I proposed the first bikeway this summer to connect the Frisco Trail to the Square. The proposal was well-received by the Street Committee and should be adopted soon. The Spring Street Bikeway is a demonstration project, so it won't look like a best-in-class bikeway might look in another city, but it will prove that the concept works. Once we see the success of the Spring Street Bikeway, we can construct other bikeways to connect other neighborhoods. The City has already identified the best routes for the first installment of a bikeway system, and getting the Spring Street Bikeway created is the first step to moving forward with that plan.
Note: If you would like to read more on this topic, I wrote an informative article for the Free Weekly that you might find interesting.
Have you ever noticed that the west end of Dickson, the Metro Building, and the rest of Dickson seem so far away from one another? If you sit outside on a busy night and observe the people, you'll notice that barely anyone wanders from one of these areas to another. Why is that, and what can be done to change it?
The answer lies in the effect the Walton Arts Center parking lot has on the pedestrian experience. The WAC lot is essentially a desert, and no pedestrian will cross the desert at night to get from one side to the other. The solution is to turn the WAC lot into something more useful.
The Downtown Master Plan shows the WAC lot as being completely covered with buildings and a parking garage, but I think there is a better way of doing things. It is a large piece of property, almost three acres, and there is room there to do more than one thing. I foresee a greenspace and civic space, and if West Ave was included in these plans, Fayetteville could have something very special that would set us apart from other communities.
There are a few obstacles to making this vision a reality. The first obstacle is how to justify removing those parking spaces that are currently in use in the lot. This vision is the only reason I voted for the paid parking plan and support the construction of a parking garage. I do not believe that we have an emergency parking shortage and I don't believe that Fayetteville needs more parking spaces to be built just for the sake of more parking or more convenience. The only reason, from my perspective, to build a parking structure is to justify the transition of the WAC parking lot into something else. Once the parking structure is built, this particular obstacle to razing the WAC lot and installing something better is eliminated.
The next obstacle is paying for the design. Luckily, there is an award-winning design firm in town that wants to do the first phase of this, and they have identified a grant to complete this task. (Full disclosure: I worked with the UA Community Design Center to identify this opportunity and am writing portions of the grant application.) They are applying for a grant from the National Endowment from the Arts to design the enhancement of West Ave, the WAC Lot, and portions of the surrounding streets into a civic space ideal for art and festivals.
The final obstacle is paying for the actual construction. Ballpark construction estimates, based on past projects, are under $1 million. The best source for funding I have identified is to use a portion of the bonding capacity of the A&P Commission. Extending the bonds requires a vote by the people and would not enact any new taxes. If the bond extension were dedicated to several projects and the package were presented to the public, the public would get to decide if the bond extension was worth it. There is no question in my mind that with projects like this making up the package and with no new taxes required, the public would vote to support the bond extension.
In summary, downtown civic space can be created by using parking revenue to build a parking garage, grant money to design the space, and construction can be funded without enacting any new taxes. In the end, Fayetteville would have a world class festival and civic space downtown.
Economic development is a complex topic. The conventional wisdom says the key is recruitment of large companies - the bigger, the better. Companies bring jobs and people go where the jobs are, or so the wisdom goes.
This isn't all wrong, but it isn't the whole story, either. People base their decisions on where to live and work on a variety of factors, like cultural amenities and housing choices. And it turns out, companies are interested in more than incentive packages and shovel-ready office parks. Companies want skilled people, and they will locate where the people are.
Figuring out how to attract and retain people is the first half of the puzzle. The second half is figuring out how to cultivate and support small businesses and entrepreneurs. These businesses are the veins and arteries of any community's economy; without them, money doesn't circulate.
How can we take this knowledge and make it part of our economic development strategy?
The critical strategy is to cultivate a sense of place. It takes a few tactics to accomplish this, some of them are public in nature and others are private. Some of them are related to the physical space and others are related to the creative class within our community. The list of ideas I am going to put forward here is not intended to be exhaustive, instead my intention is to illuminate the benefits of using a community-based approach as a complement to a conventional, recruitment-based approach.
The first tactic I will mention is dedicating financial support for arts organizations and festivals. This is such an important strategy for supporting local businesses and developing a cultural identity that I have made it a full plank in my campaign platform, so I won't talk more about it on this page.
The second tactic I will mention is similar to the first, which is to hire a full-time grantwriter to support new small businesses. There are tremendous opportunities to leverage grant money, but they are not pursued because most small or new businesses don't have the resources or expertise to find and apply for them. Oftentimes, these grants would make the difference from a new idea getting off the ground or overcoming obstacles to survival that arise in the first few years. This staff position could be written into Fayetteville's economic development contract, which is currently held by the Chamber of Commerce.
The third tactic is to encourage commercial and residential development around existing employment clusters. In the near-term, that means the University of Arkansas and Joyce St/the Mall. In order to do this we need to educate our economic development team on the value of walkable, mixed-use development in terms of economic activity and indirect benefits from tax revenue, so that they understand the importance of our form-based zoning codes and proximity to employment and retail. Our economic development team is the point of contact for people looking to invest in Fayetteville, and if our team can point them towards walkable, mixed-use development we can all be better off for it. This makes a lot of sense for many reasons. Mixed-use development brings in far more tax revenue for school districts and city budgets than conventional projects, indirectly strengthening our economic development foundation. Jobs-housing proximity (and to a lesser extent, retail-housing proximity) reduces infrastructure spending associated with automobiles, but more importantly, businesses that have access to high amounts of pedestrian activity in addition to being accessible by drivers simply do better. Finally, the rule of thumb is that any given square footage of commercial space requires 10 times the square footage of residential space to be economically sustainable, which means if Fayetteville wants another 10,000 square feet of retail space downtown, 100,000 square feet of residential space needs to be built to support it. This tactic addresses that residential requirements as a critical goal instead of as an afterthought.
These are only the most obvious and most impactful tactics we should make a part of a community-based economic development approach. We have every reason to implement them within the next four years.
Imagine a scenario in which citizens have direct control over a portion of the city budget. What if your neighborhood could discuss and decide which specific projects should be funded to benefit your neighborhood the most? Do you think your funding priorities would be different from what city leaders decide?
It is an intriguing idea, but how would it work?
Participatory budgeting is a budgeting process that gives citizens the opportunity to make these decisions, instead of delegating this task to representatives. It started in South America, but has been used in New York City, Chicago, and other cities. I want to try the idea here.
It's not a simple process, so it would take some time to set up. If reelected, I would wait until 2014 to take a serious look at this. The basic idea is that a portion of the Capital Improvement Budget and the Parks Fund would be turned over to the Ward 2 voters. In order for it work, a minimum number of different neighborhoods would have to participate so that the discussion would be diverse.
My Ward 2 colleague, Mark Kinion, supports the idea. We both agree that this process could be transformative, but that any attempt must be well-planned, with buy-in from other Council members and the administration.
Participatory budgeting is exciting because it is pure democracy. It is direct action; it is inclusive; and it guarantees that Ward 2's priorities would be implemented.
Broadly speaking, there is only one walkable area in Fayetteville: "downtown". It includes several neighborhoods, a grocery store, retail space on the Square and Block Ave, and restaurants and entertainment on Dickson St. Sure, it needs improvements, like an outdoor civic space, but generally speaking, it is walkable.
There is no other area in Fayetteville that fits that description. The purpose of the Neighborhood Master Plan for South Fayetteville is to change that, and it's already working. Where is the next area in town that we should focus on?
In my opinion, Midtown is ripe for this kind of planning effort. The basics of creating another walkable core to service Midtown neighborhoods is already in place with Colt Square and the block of Township between Gregg and College. That stretch of Township is particularly important for Midtown. It is the gateway to Colt Square and with a visionary plan and the right incentives, it could transform into something similar to Block Ave.
As an anchor, Township would encourage new businesses and living space to be developed in Colt Square. Taking Township and Colt Square together, this change would be the cornerstone of making midtown neighborhoods walkable. It would establish another economic center for Fayetteville. As Fayetteville grows, it could become a second location which supports festivals and other creative activity.
If I am reelected I will work to make this vision for Midtown neighborhoods a priority with the City Administration.
In 2008, Fayetteville voters passed an ordinance making misdemeanor marijuana offenses our lowest law enforcement priority. Support for the ordinance was overwhelming, and it passed with 68% of the vote citywide.
The Low Priority initiative has made a difference in the number of arrests made, but the fact is misdemeanor marijuana offenses still take up valuable law enforcement resources that should be used enforcing more important things.
Is there anything else that can be done to reduce the resources Fayetteville spends on misdemeanor marijuana offenses?
Yes, there is. If I am reelected I will send a proposal to the Fayetteville City Council to decriminalize all misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Instead of going to trial, being put in jail, or being put on probation, misdemeanor marijuana offenders would be given a ticket and fined, just like a traffic violation. The associated fine could be paid to the Circuit Clerk of Fayetteville Circuit Court, or the violator could argue their case in court.
There are worse crimes being committed in this city than misdemeanor marijuana violations, and there is no good reason Fayetteville should continue to enforce misdemeanor violations the way we currently do. Decriminalization will save the city money and ensure our law enforcement priorities are being allocated to more important issues.
What is a "citizen focus group" and how would it help the Council make better decisions?
A citizen focus group is a group of randomly-selected citizens who are tasked with studying an issue and making an informed opinion. Participation is voluntary and up to 100 or more citizens may be asked to participate. Some people contend that randomly selected citizens won’t make quality decisions because they don’t have the expertise necessary to make the best decision. I became fascinated with the concept of the citizen focus group during a class. I saw research that showed when a group of citizens are given the information and the time necessary to study an issue, the outcomes of the group's decisions can be just as good as any expert's.
When a controversial decision is coming before the Council, I want to send a randomly-selected group of voters a detailed information packet and a corresponding follow-up survey. This process would supplement existing opportunities for public input, like public meetings, and the information obtained would be presented to the full City Council and Mayor. The strength of this approach is twofold: the citizens are randomly selected so we can be assured there is no bias in the response, and the information packet contains relevant details so we know the respondents had every opportunity to be fully informed.