I’ve been going back and forth about the city’s visioning project. Most of the time, visioning seems like a pretty good idea — as long as it doesn’t get commandeered by any particular interest group. Some good people with solid backgrounds and reputations and the passion to get involved already have volunteered.
Yet at least one recent event leaves me skeptical about the project. Based on what I’ve been hearing, some days I wonder whether visioning isn’t already a “dead letter” that should be abandoned before any more time and volunteer effort are spent on it.
One of the reasons for visioning comes from the steadily increasing bombardment of the city administration by passels of supplicants who have their own passionate interests in this realm or that one.
It’s something you’ll probably find in any university city filled with bright, ambitious people overflowing with their multi-faceted interests and agendas. Visioning represents a way for the city’s management team to sort out and filter these respective interest groups as they try to plan for the future growth and development that begins at the budgeting stage and continues on to final execution.
I hope those who vision will have the foresight to concentrate first on what I consider to be basic municipal services while also having the foresight to leap forward, peering, say, 50 or 100 years into the future. Basic services, of course, include utilities, police and fire protection, health, welfare, public works, transportation and more optional amenities such as parks and recreation.
I haven’t heard much yet about the geographic scope of this project, but visioning must embrace not only Boone County but also at least every contiguous county in what eventually will become the Columbia-Jefferson City Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Failure to include the region will flaw visioning in my mind, which is why I’m still left teetering about it.
An incident that really almost threw visioning out for me came a couple of weeks ago when the City Council virtually was railroaded into approval of a neighborhood plan to keep a portion of West Broadway essentially the same as it is today. A whole parade of self-centered, like-minded neighbors co-opted the city staff and ultimately the City Council into adopting its scheme of “amenities” while unmindful of how the rest of us felt.
After the bleating of this privileged group died down and a single citizen strode forth in opposition, a wiser head or two on the council squeezed in an amendment calling for a traffic study. Those of us unselfishly motivated to “vision” the utility of a wider Broadway as an essential stake in Columbia’s future released a sigh of relief. I hope it won’t be a whitewash, but don’t be so sure of that.
In a city filled with rational, scientifically oriented people, I would hope that this so-called “traffic study” would mean a comprehensive, measured traffic-count analysis of West Broadway. The study would also include a concurrent analysis of neighboring West Stewart, West Ash and West Worley. But completeness would be assured only if the study also measured traffic on certain feeder streets, including Garth, West Parkway, Edgewood, Westwood, Glenwood and Greenwood avenues as well as West Boulevard north and south of Broadway.
You could always hope that this outline would signal the completeness the city would demand of its consultant, but don’t be deceived. In my opinion, the sanctity of the whole visioning project will be determined by how the city wrestles with this traffic study, its execution and the final tabulation and conclusion.
Consultants are always at the mercy of those who are paying them. Whispers uttered to consultants tell them what they should say, what they should conclude. Other whispers, the ones I’m hearing, are telling me that this so-called “traffic study” will turn out to be just a sham. For starters, there won’t be any scientifically conducted traffic-flow analysis or even any measurements taken with counting strips temporarily straddling the pavement.
The residents of the city-at-large have reason to expect more from those in charge. Nothing should be done about West Broadway until the visioning process is allowed to proceed. Whatever happens along West Broadway should proceed only following a scientifically conducted analysis of the traffic-flow situation coordinated with the visioning project. If the city fails us on this salient situation, why would we have faith in any other aspects of their visioning project? If Columbia recklessly barges ahead on West Broadway, visioning to me will be a dead letter before this otherwise ambitious, well-intended project is even out of the starting gate.