Tag Archives: anchorage

in protest of the Bragaw extension

It has been talked about for years, and now known as ‘U-Med Northern Access’.  If completed, the project will join the northern part of Bragaw St. [north of Northern Lights Blvd.] to the southern portion [now known as Elmore Rd.] that now runs from 36th Ave. all the way south to God knows where [to Rabbit Creek Rd., but there’s a break or two in the southern leg before there — as an arterial, it goes no further than Abbott Rd.].  Anyway, the northern end terminates at the outer edge of the Mt. View neighborhood.   When all the sections are joined, this will one of the longest roads in the Anchorage bowl.

And that is all that this story has to do with Mt. View directly.  This is more of a lament about loss of ecological diversity — fundamentally a quality of life concern.

Google Maps recent aerial showing UAA, APU and Providence Hospital land holdings.

When I was first in Anchorage in 1971, the area the campus was in felt like the edge of civilization — as if you could walk away from the parking lot at AMU and right into a wild area leading directly to a path to a mountain valley above the tree line, without ever seeing any sign of human habitation.  Most but not all of this feeling is now gone, but we seem determined to eradicate it entirely.

I attended a Public Open House about the road project on Feb. 18th.  There were at least a couple hundred people there, and it seemed to me that about half were against the project, and the other half were undecided but interested in listening and finding out more.  There was a presentation by the road design engineer, Dowl HKM President Stuart Osgood, followed by a Q&A session where around 20 questions from the public were fielded.  Only one questioner seemed very positive about the road.

Osgood noted that around 250 written comments had been received thus far, and they fell into four main categories:

This is where you should read between the lines a bit.  By placing the word PARK in quotation marks, Dowl manages to heap on a bit of scorn and scolding, while sort of correcting the record — no, dear reader, this parcel is NOT a park, nor has it ever been.  It is develop-able land, owned by UAA and they can do what they like with it — and the fact that it is a large, intact chunk of boreal forest, wetland and wildlife habitat is immaterial.

If you need further reasons to be skeptical, note that travel times will not be decreased very much, according to their own 2011 study [see page numbers 50-52; pages 58-60 of the PDF].  What their data says when parsed is that travel times will be reduced less than five minutes at most [rush hours] after the new road segment is in place.

Osgood went on to note, “If you throw out all the comments in this first category, all of the ones that are left are constructive…” and without any suggestion the project is ill-conceived or should not advance.  Subtext: you dirty hippies are the only ones holding up progress, for no good reason.

This line of thinking is particularly egregious, reckless and irresponsible.  When Osgood says, it doesn’t matter that we are going to destroy this land’s current function as an ecosystem and little corner of urban wilderness, what he really means is it doesn’t matter to HIM.  And if HE wants to experience pristine, unspoiled Alaska all he has to do is gather some friends and family and ride their snowmachines out to their cabin, or drive down to Whittier and go out on their boat for a long weekend.  The public, half of whom do not have a pot to piss in have a much different perspective.  They might not even ever make it to Glen Alps or Bird Ridge, let alone Surprise Cove or China Poot Bay or a Bristol Bay fishing lodge or anyplace else you need money to get to — but they may very well walk around the trails at University Lake, Russian Jack, Kincaid Park and so forth.

Reasonable people may disagree about whether or not Anchorage has a traffic problem.  Sure, there are times when it gets frustrating making your way across town in a vehicle — but it’s never as bad as what you will find in Seattle, LA, Chicago, etc.  Why do we have traffic jams at all, when we have a relatively less densely populated city [in terms of average number of inhabitants per square mile]?  The answer [and it’s also the reason why building new roads and widening ones we already have is never going to reduce congestion] is we have created Anchorage [outside of downtown] using a bad development pattern.

I have been reading the book Suburban Nation [the 2010 Anniversary Edition, updated from the original 2000 version].  The architect authors are most famous for designing Seaside, Florida, a planned community that is not exactly my cup of tea — nonetheless, Seaside and other nice places to live have been created by deliberately avoiding Anchorage-style sprawl; and their book contains everything needed to understand the underlying principles, and is chock full of evidence of all of the negative by-products of following a sprawl model vs a traditional town model.  Excerpts:

Why have suburban areas, with their height limits and low density of population, proved to be such a traffic nightmare?  The first reason, and the obvious one, is that everyone is forced to drive.  In modern suburbia, where pedestrians, bicycles, and public transportation are rarely an option, the average household currently generates thirteen car trips per day.  Even if each trip is fairly short — and few are — that’s a lot of time spent on the road, contributing to congestion, especially when compared to life in traditional neighborhoods.

But even if the suburbs were to generate no more trips than the city, they would still suffer from traffic to a much greater extent because of the way they are organized.  The diagram shown here illustrates how a suburban road system, what engineers call a sparse heierarchy, differs from a traditional street network.  The components of the suburban model are easy to spot in the top half of the diagram: the shopping mall in its sea of parking, the fast-food joints, the apartment complex, the looping cul-de-sacs of the housing subdivision.  Buffered from the others, each of these components has its own individual connection to the larger external road called the collector.  Every single trip from one component to another, no matter how short, must enter the collector.  Thus, the traffic of an entire community may rely on a single road, which, as a result, is generally congested during much of the day.

Sounds familiar, eh?  Anchorage as it now exists consists of about 20 of the above-described cluster fucks.

The stated purpose of the Feb. 18th Open House was to select a route [from four alternatives].  Then the design will be further developed by the engineering team.  The “orange route”, the most direct of the four was declared the winner, and a slightly more detailed schematic was presented [above].  The concept includes: one traffic lane in each direction; three roundabouts; a bike lane each side of the roadway; a wide sidewalk one side and three pedestrian overpasses similar to the one across Raspberry Rd. on the way into Kincaid Park.  Osgood said, “You’d think it would be easy to build a 7/10th of a mile long road section for $20 million, but the budget is actually really tight.”  Indeed, the $20 million allocated seems low, considering there are still substantial issues associated with wetlands designation/design/permitting that Dowl has to deal with before construction begins; there will be a greater than typical extent of drainage infrastructure along the route; and it’s unclear to what extent the road will integrate into the surroundings.  Will the existing network of trails be reworked to tie into the new pedestrian bridges, or will trail segments be abandoned/orphaned in the process?

What will happen if $30 or $40 million is really needed to build the road as conceived?  Will the State Legislature appropriate more funds?  Or [more likely, if I had to guess] will some of the non-vehicular amenities be cut?  Some have said, it’s well known that $20 million is inadequate but the project proponents just want to get started on it, and with the current composition of the Anchorage Assembly, the Mayor, the State Legislature [conservatives and conservative majorities] it seems like a good time to pull the trigger on it.

Local activist Walt Parker, a former head of the State Dept. of Transportation and a quiet voice of reason in this and similar debates said at a recent meeting, “In the old days when a project like this would be proposed we would start by asking simple questions.  ‘Is it good for Anchorage?’ and ‘Would we be disadvantaged if we did not pursue it?'”  It seems that whatever process we now have in place to arbitrate long term transportation and land use planning [at a local, regional and state level] manages to skip these basic initial questions.

The lesser informed members of the public tend to be confused by the processes we employ.  When the State hires Dowl HKM to facilitate a public process, they are doing so as a player with a stake in the outcome.  If the public, lawmakers and other stakeholders approve, Dowl is hired to design the road and administer its construction.  They have made millions off similar projects.

They say we should trust their judgment.  And to their credit, Dowl is [in one sense] NOT selling snake oil here.  Their other road projects, including the southern portion of Elmore Rd., East 15th Ave. and several others are high quality.  They really are capable, as they tell us of doing a lot better job with roads than in the old days [missteps we are still living with every day] — including the integration of transit and trails, pedestrian and bike ways and better safety and sense of place.  What they do not excel at is determining whether it is wise to build and/or expand roads in the first place.  The public needs and deserves an impartial process, not subject to partisan political maneuvering, and run by expert planners who do not have an agenda or ax to grind.

My position might have shifted somewhat, had the two universities and Providence Hospital been more strident and pleading with the public that the road is badly needed, and they can’t live without it.  I don’t see this.  Their position is ambivalent at best — yes, access is good, better access is always welcome.  Does UAA have a Master Plan for its campus expansion?  How does the road tie into it?  Isn’t there a scenario where UAA/APU/Prov would benefit by NOT expanding into the undeveloped area [especially with more two- and three-story buildings separated by large surface parking lots]?  The 2011 report identifies the northern part of the site as a “Community Engagement Zone”, but they don’t really say what this is exactly — what they would like to build there and why it needs to be in that location.  Osgood noted during the presentation that the northernmost of the three new roundabouts will eventually link up with a east-west internal access road that will serve future university facilities.  But UAA might have better options, to redevelop and re-purpose existing sites that already have utilities and road access.

One of the questions from the public on Feb. 18th was something like, aren’t there more pressing needs we should be spending $20 million on?  Osgood said, he can’t answer that [it’s out of his area of expertise], and he assumed the question was rhetorical anyway [it wasn’t].

The Democratic coalition of the State Legislature is holding a hearing on a bill to pull the $20 million allocation for the project next week.  Their bill has no chance of passing unless some Republicans get on board.  But it is a good opportunity to provide feedback, and I encourage anybody with concerns on the matter to contact your legislators.

Tagged , , , , ,

fairview liquor bottle art installation

I read about the installation in ADN a few weeks ago and went over tonight to have a closer look.

I have mixed feelings about the politics underlying its creation — the owner of Grubstake Auction, the storage yard fence of which serves to display the work was a vocal objector to the nearby Karluk Manor, a first of its kind for Anchorage ‘housing first’ facility for homeless alcoholics that opened this year.  Parts of the installation reference Karluk Manor [protest signs reading, ‘No Red Nose Inn in Fairview’ — Karluk Manor was formerly a Red Roof Inn motel; and a stop sign modified to read, ‘Please STOP ENABLING’].

I happen to believe that Karluk Manor and its operator RuralCAP have a good program and deserve a chance to succeed.  But its detractors have legitimate objections, as I previously noted.

While I was photographing the installation, a guy in a Grubstake Auction truck [I assume it was Ron Alleva?] paused to ask, “How do you like it?”. “Love it!!”  “Yeah?  Well, we created that!”  He seemed keenly proud.

And I do love it.  Most of my artist friends will probably not agree, but for me this project functions on multiple levels, and really makes the viewer think long and hard about the subjects undertaken.  All of the impact of successful visual art.

Most of the many local spring cleanup efforts are considered successful when they get rid of trash, not put it on display.  Some of it’s buried, some recycled — but it’s taken away, out of sight and mind.  Putting up the bottles on the fence is a metaphor of how alcoholism is dealt with, both by its sufferers and by society.  So many municipal commissions in the past have focused on how to get rid of the homeless, by moving them someplace where no one can see them.  [Astoundingly unsuccessfully, since the problem has reached an epidemic in recent years and today there are people with cardboard signs asking for money at every single midtown intersection.]

The piece is expertly placed for maximum exposure, both to the general public and to the homeless alcoholics it directly addresses.  The 6 ft tall chain link fence runs right along a sidewalk next to a road that’s used to bypass part of E. 5th Ave. on the way out of town to Eagle River and points north.  In the surrounding blocks are shelters, soup kitchens, gas stations, strip bars, sleazy motels… and garages, a paint store and storage lots with electrical transformers, lumber, trailer parts, cars and trucks.  It is a strange, forlorn part of Anchorage, except there is also a wonderful creek with a salmon run, and an excellent urban nature trail.  And a mill, feed and garden store, and a taco wagon or two.

‘<—JAIL?’, asks a fence section, spelled out in bottles and pointing toward the Anchorage Jail, a few hundred feet away on the adjoining property.  Other parts depict a skull, a cartoon heart, a liquor bottle marked with XXX, and a slogan, ‘NO TO BOOZE’.  The message is quick and recognizable, and cutting instead of cute.

One is struck by how many bottles — 1,500 or more according to the ADN story, which also says they picked them up in just a few days without having to range very far in their search.  The bottles hang from the fencing, shine in the sunset light showing ironic brand names [Rich and Rare, Monarch, Southern Comfort].

Harry Mezak deserves recognition for this effort.  I hope to see more from him in the future.  He is following in a great tradition of activist visual art, whether he knows it or not.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

‘pop 11’ closes at MTS Gallery

A few people came by for the final day of Pop 11 at MTS.  The exhibition of Alaskan pop art was a part of the Pop 11 citywide mult-venue exhibit about Andy Warhol and the ’60s pop art revolution.


Multimedia installation by Nemo.


Mural on west wall by [l–r] Nemo, Esker, Alamander and Bisco, painted directly on the gallery wall.


Installation by Gariett Burtner.


Multiple works by Ferald and Kel explore homelessness.


Short film by Michael Walsh.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘the iconagones’ and ‘girls girls girls’ at MTS

Stephen Gray and Lisa Gray explore innocence, adolescent anxiety and the fate of pop culture sirens in this exhibit of painterly digital work.  Now through Sept. 11th at MTS Gallery, 3142 Mt. View Dr., Sat. and Sun. noon to 4; Wed. and Thurs. 5 to 8 pm.

"Miss 100% Pure", by Lisa Gray. Jayne Mansfield, polishing her super-clean image.

"Amelia Earhart", by Lisa Gray.

"Moonshine Mary", by Stephen Gray.

MTS Gallery is in its fifth season bringing fine art, performance and special events and its parent organization, Trailer Art Center is a key part of the revitalization and arts/cultural initiatives of the Mt. View neighborhood.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

art zine F covers gerstenfeld, street art

The May 2010 issue of F has two excellent articles about Mt. View.

A feature article about local octogenarian and self-described “Mt. View relic” Sol Gerstenfeld.  There’s a little bit about me in the piece, as well — I gave them the story tip.  She does a pretty good job breaking down Sol’s persona, without going too deeply into his philosophy and various endeavors and advocacy work. 

Sol can be a tough case, but he’s also a valuable asset in our neighborhood.  When the neighbors were discussing whether or not they wanted to be annexed by Anchorage in 1954, Sol was probably in the room and can still recall what was said.  He doesn’t focus on the past, though, like a lot of people his age — because it tends to steal energy from current projects.

F also has a story about the Mt. View street art project — how it was funded and planned; the selection process; a bit about the selected artists and installations; and thoughts on the likely impact after the pieces are installed in four or five locations along the length of Mt. View Dr.

Despite ten years of solid work on revitalization and renewal, Mt. View still has a serious image problem [partially deserved; mostly not].  The transformative effects the presence of artists and art making can have are beginning to show.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

‘confluence/influence’ group invitational opens at MTS

A strong showing by a group of artists from the Talkeetna area, reflective of the wonderful natural setting they enjoy on a daily basis. 

See it now through April 10, noon to 4 Sat.-Sun. and 5 to 8 pm Wed. at MTS Gallery, 3142 Mt. View Dr., Anchorage.

Untitled, by Chris Bowman

'Coat-rack #4', by Jeff Lebegue

'Floating Forest', by Bill Barstow

'Orion and Canis', by Bill Barstow

'Happy Hour', by Jim Gleason

'Birches and Devil's Club', by Tony Crocetto

'River -- Don't Build Dams in Earthquake Country', by Julia March Crocetto

Tagged , , , , , ,

karluk manor negative feedback continues

I wrote about this Jan. 25th — Rural CAP’s proposed residential center for homeless alcoholics in an existing hotel building in Fairview was generating some fierce opposition.

Since then, the municipal Assembly has been removing some roadblocks, and plans for Karluk Manor seem to be moving ahead.

Today, former Veco Times columnist Paul Jenkins engages in NIMBY-baiting in an ADN column:

If another facility for drunks is such a great deal for Fairview, maybe it would sell in an East Anchorage or Midtown or Hillside neighborhood.  Right?

Jenkins’ faux compassion for the much-maligned Fairview still makes a point [one I have noted serveral times]: social services tend to congregate in places in Anchorage where their clients are located, and where real estate prices are lowest.  The vicious cycle created makes it doubly difficult to distribute these services in locations citywide.

It’s both a financial and attitudinal vexing problem.  People have to stop believing Mt. View and Fairview [and to a lesser extent, Muldoon and Spenard] are dangerous and undesirable locations, and begin to take on an active role in a counterpunch, i.e. try [in any of dozens of different ways] to make the neighborhood famous for a better reason.

Not an easy task, and results may take decades to materialize.

The problem with fanning the flames of NIMBY-ism in order to derail Karluk Manor, is that it is a promising community structure, based on a model that has worked well elsewhere, and should be given a chance to succeed.  I think that, though the situation Jenkins laments should be addressed in the future, the potential for Rural CAP to make real progress in rehabilitation of chronic street alcoholics trumps downside for the neighbors in this instance.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

‘mark this’ fiber art exhibit at MTS

A group show by Alaskan members of the Surface Design Association opened Feb. 19th at MTS Gallery, 3142 Mt. View Dr.  The exhibit will be open for public viewing Sat. and Sun. noon to 4:00, and Wed. 5:00 to 8:00 PM.

'Colors Unfurled, aka If Betsy Ross Had My Stash', by Maria Shell.

'Fossil Fish In the Sand', by Mary Hertert.

'Peaks and Pops', by Wendy Smith-Wood.

'River With Poppies', by Ree Nancarrow.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

bike to work with the mayor

Note: The following is cross-posted from my other blog, La Bomba Shelter.  It’s not directly related to Mt. View, but the neighborhood does support bicycling as much as any part of Anchorage… and we have a fondness for populist politicians.

Ran across this item yesterday at Bike Commute Tips. Tried to put the video up here but couldn’t do it last night after an hour of trying. WordPress supports a few different players, but not the one StreetFilms uses… there was another way to back-door it in via Vodpod but that had its own problems. Since I’m too cheap to get the $57 annual upgrade to support all video types [I’d do it, if this blog was getting hundreds of hits per day instead of 10 to 20], I gave up.

Ya sure… anyway… do go to StreetFilms and watch the short video of Seattle mayor Mike McGinn biking to work. It is totally worth it! I know nothing of McGinn’s politics, but I am aware that he beat two other candidates who were a lot better funded, in a close three-way race. He makes biking 6.5 miles from his house in the Greenwood neighborhood to City Hall downtown look like a piece of cake — even while it’s obvious it isn’t. I biked around Seattle extensively in Summer ’08 when I was photographing alleys, and while it was delightful it was also challenging and obstacle-laden. Anchorage is a lot easier.

Conservatives are fond of telling commies like me that we have “Portland envy” or “Seattle envy”. There are aspects of both these places I find compelling, even precious. But they have major issues with pollution, crowding and congestion and high cost of living — without the access to wilderness that Anchorage offers.

But what I appreciate about them is a desire to improve. Look at McGinn’s ‘Ideas for Seattle’ site, and try to imagine these suggestions coming from Anchorage residents. Or do I sell Anchorage short? Maybe a little. You’ll never see our current mayor, Dan Sullivan riding a bike to work — but on the other hand, the days I ride I have plenty of company on the paths, side streets and arterials.

McGinn is still in the honeymoon phase — but if he makes good on listening to suggestions submitted directly from citizens, and flattens the pyramidal control structure a little, and makes good on various populist principles — he will enjoy a long and productive run. I love the guy.

Tagged , , , , ,

wohlforth radio program on public involvement in government

I caught a repeat broadcast of a segment of KSKA’s Hometown Alaska tonight.  Host Charles Wohlforth and guests Lois Epstein and Anne Brooks talked about how public input is solicited and processed for public projects, and how the criteria and means and methods for public process are evolving.

It was fairly lively, considering the subject matter and that it aired in the polite, genteel world of KSKA.  [Well, I thought so, but I thrive on this sort of pastime.  Your results may differ.]  The overall take away from the hour: the old ways of communicating [attending a public meeting you found out about by reading the newspaper] are fractured; and no one here has any idea how to utilize the new channels.

Especially interesting: a call-in from a retired former State Highway Commissioner.  He said, compared with the old days:

  1. Anchorage has a weak Planning Dept.,  and there’s a disconnect with AMATS;
  2. AMATS/DOT do not brief the Municipal Assembly about ongoing work; and
  3. Nothing of substance can be learned by attending public meetings.

He further hinted that the non-transparency that prevails means that projects take everyone by surprise.  Why, for example are we talking about a road to Nome again?

Some other random notes I took during the broadcast, spoken by the host, panel or callers:

Washington State DOT uses Twitter extensively for public communication.
Anchorage Federation of Community Councils [FCC] email tree is a great way to receive various updates.  FCC budget has been cut 5 to 10 percent each year for several years in a row.
ADN is a popular forum, but comment sections are difficult to read because of their faceless, derogatory nature.
Project leaders seem to resent it when people in the community go straight to their elected representatives with concerns, bypassing a project team.
How can we involve youth in the community to a much greater extent?
Road/transportation projects have incredible momentum and are difficult to influence, even when found not to be fact-based or desirable [i.e., Knik Arm Crossing].  Even if discourse on a project reveals new information, cancellation or change of direction is quite rare.
If there are a lot of new projects, there will also be neglect and deferred maintenance of existing infrastructure — this conflict isn’t usually debated but it should be.
“No build” alternative is sometimes required to be included, but usually isn’t a serious consideration.
Public process is only as good as the people administering it.  And are they willing to listen?
Long-range plans such as Anchorage 2020 need to always influence project planning.  We are still siting new projects for other reasons [the state already owns the land, for example].
Sometimes politicians claim that support or lack of it for a project can’t be proven by what is stated by the public since so few people participate.  Polling, done in unbiased fashion can affirm or deny these claims.
Project engineers sometimes receive training where they are encouraged to empathize with commenters.
How do comments impact a project?  How do we know if comments are heard?  An effective structure of distribution and response.  Constructive comments will often be utilized.  Negative comments [“Your project sucks!”] are not useful or well received.

I would have liked them to get more into specifics.   I’ve followed a lot of projects over the past decade or so.  In the last couple years I submitted written comments for both the Muldoon Wal-Mart and the lease deal for First Tee at Russian Jack Springs Park

Wal-Mart was administered by the Planning Dept. and the public comments were well displayed in an online matrix with author name, date and complete comment.  All of the comments received were included.   For Russian Jack,  the Parks and Recreation Dept. project manager integrated excerpts from emails received into written narratives at various phases of the public process — but it would have been a lot more informative to know who wrote them, how many respondants were for or against the project, and all of the additional data, ideas and concerns contained in the complete and unabridged versions.  Considering the Russian Jack project [which is hopefully now on indefinite hold] was a lot larger and more objectionable, I thought it deserved a more thoughtful approach.

The panel touched on it briefly, but maybe it’s worth restating here: proposed solutions for integrating and disseminating comments should foucs on access and how comments will be archived for future retrieval. 

There are a lot of bloggers writing about public advocacy and community.  I ran across one from St. Louis the other day that’s a good example — the writer and commenters are informed, connected and engaged; the posts are thoughtful, lengthy and linked to sources.  If transportation planners and other municipal and state department heads started blogging their daily activities, intentions would be previewed far in advance of decisionmaking, and valuable input could be received on a continuous basis.  It’s time.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,