I Have a Vision

January 31, 2007 at 1:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Mr. T and I attended last night’s 2015 Vision community meeting at Lincoln East High School. I didn’t count, but I bet attendance was in the 200-250 range. I have all sorts of reactions, but let me begin with the most important one: I am incredibly glad I went and I strongly encourage you to go to one of the remaining meetings:

  • Tonight: Lincoln North Star High School, 5801 N. 33rd St.
  • Wednesday, February 7: Scott Middle School, 2200 Pine Lake Road.

The meetings are structured like so:

  • 5:00-5:30—Registration and mingling among images of the proposals
  • 5:30-6:00—Introduction and presentation
  • 6:15-7:15—Small group discussions
  • 7:30-8:30—Panel Q&A

Valentino’s pizza and water are available. Big eaters (like me) might want to bring along an additional snack.

I was afraid last night’s big turnout would consist primarily of complainers. It didn’t. Most of the people were there to learn, to ask questions, and to discuss. It was great. Sure, there were a few people who only know how to complain for complaining’s sake. But they didn’t run the show.

The opening presentation by Kent Seacrest was informative and hopeful. It nicely set the tone for the rest of the evening, both answering and generating questions. It was highly visual, giving the attendees a good mental picture of how the pieces fit together. Seacrest really tried to sell the idea that the Vision Group honestly cares about Lincolnites’ opinions about what should be a priority, and what can sit on the back burner. As the night went on, it became obvious that Lincolnites are very skeptical of that claim. I think the Vision Group will find that the public’s inability to vote on the Antelope Valley Project has left a little bitterness and skepticism behind, and the Group will have to overcome that resentment.

We broke into small groups for relatively open-ended discussions. I was in group #11. We represented a mix of ages (infant to high school to retired), incomes, and interests. We had: Quiet Lady; Talkative Skeptical Guy; Small Business Owner Guy; the Media Duo; and others. Curiously, our group never once discussed the financial aspect of the Vision. At the end, our moderator told us that pretty much every group the previous night had focused primarily on money. Frankly, I’m glad we avoided the topic. It helped us focus on what Lincoln can do, rather than what we can’t.

We discussed a few topics in our hour together. One gentleman was annoyed at the Vision’s Downtown emphasis. He argued that Lincoln is much bigger than Downtown’s one square mile. Other group members pointed out that a strong core makes for a more robust city overall, but he was unsold. He has a point; even if one agrees that a strong Downtown helps make a city great, the almost singular focus is probably a mistake.

Most of our group’s members were OK with moving State Fair Park out to 84th Street, but there was a strong desire to explore a transition plan during which UNL shares facilities (new, old, or renovated) with the Fair. The perception that the plan to move the Fair is “all or nothing” didn’t go over well.

The proposed “research corridor” along UNL’s eastern edge (and along the Antelope Valley) was very popular. No, it was extremely popular. Several of our group’s members would go out with shovels right now if it would help get the process started. No ifs, ands, or buts: our group wants UNL and the city to aggressively pursue public and private research opportunities in the corridor. Now. Sure, the Antelope Valley Project isn’t finished. But plans should be ready to kick into gear the day the land is available.

Lastly, our group was unanimous that trying to build an arena to compete directly with Omaha’s Qwest Center is wrong. We do not want to butt heads with Omaha, and Kansas City, and Council Bluffs, and Des Moines, and Wichita. (Funny story with a good lesson attached: one of our group’s members told about how he had recently been in Wichita. He was in a high-rise, when the man he was with said “Look over there. See those railroad tracks? That’s where we’re going to put our arena. Well, where we hope to anyway. And next to it we hope to find somebody to build a convention center and hotel. You see, there’s this vision…”)

Our group agreed that Pershing is a piece of junk and should be replaced, rather than remodeled. We were fine with the proposed location of the arena, and we were fine with many of the ideas about how it should fit into Lincoln and the Haymarket. But nobody wanted an 18,000 seat arena. Everybody wanted a smaller, kick-ass, 12,000 seat arena. We were fine with not getting the biggest events; our group wanted to dominate the mid-sized events.

The final panel Q&A wasn’t especially helpful or informative, mainly because the questions asked generally were not short and to the point. Still, it was nice to hear the panel’s take on several issues. On the topic of money, the panel was non-committal. It’s obvious they are afraid to quote a figure that will end in the word “billion” for fear of freaking out Lincolnites. But the alternative is freaking out Lincolnites by not giving them a number they can hold onto like a security blanket. The Vision Group can’t win on the topic of money.

The panel was also nice in that it “humanized” the members of the Vision Group. They are just regular ol’ (rich and powerful) Lincolnites who want to get things done rather than sitting and waiting for government to do everything. Good for them. Unfortunately, since they are human, they probably don’t have superpowers. Superpowers sure would come in handy for these projects.

A couple notes to the event organizers, if any happen to be reading this. First, teach panelists how to properly use a microphone. I was in the second row and I could barely hear a couple of the responses. Second, make the question-askers ask a question (rather than editorializing) and sit down. I would love to hear more Lincolnites’ opinions, but not in the middle of the Q&A. Third, you aren’t going to learn anything useful from your questionnaire. Mr. T and I, for example, interpreted the instructions in different ways. I think you’ll find that you end up with a whole bunch of numbers that don’t mean anything. If you want to find out, for example, how Lincolnites prioritize the ten pillars and why they prioritize them that way, your current method will fall flat. I have some suggestions, or contact methodology pros at the University for assistance.

I will say it one last time: the event as a whole was incredibly valuable. If you have questions (or answers) about the Vision Group’s proposals, get to one of the meetings. You will be glad you did.

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The Comments

ST January 31, 2007 at 7:21pm

Thanks for the summary.  It is incredibly good to hear that is a good experience.

It is very uplifting, to me, to know the research corridor is so popular with the average Lincolnite.  I am way too close to the subject to not be completely for it, so I wasn’t sure where the community as a whole was leaning.  It is quite nice to hear that there are at least some vigorous supporters!!

Neal January 31, 2007 at 7:27pm

Something I don’t understand, and maybe they covered this at the meeting, is why the research corridor requires moving the State Fair. The two seem to be inseparable when pitching the plans, but it was my understanding that the research corridor was going to be in the Beadle Center area and east to the Antelope Valley Project; that land is going to be freed up anyway, so why does the 2015 Vision group say they need the State Fair for the research corridor? (or are the reporters just misstating their position?)

avon January 31, 2007 at 7:45pm

I’m solidly pro-downtown, pro-revitilization and all that, but I have some gigantic. problems with this 2015 buisness.

However, one thing that bugs me is how UNL is far more interested in corprate partnerships and research than teaching and education, I realize the importance of reasearch to an extent, but this goes above and beyond.
It’s especially bad in the sciences and engineering, where the push to focus on reseach has become a detriment to teaching, I’ve heard some current (and former) UNL students/employees even go as far as to recomend students in sciences take their 100 and 200 level classes at SCC where they’ll get more experiecnced teachers and more of their teacher’s attention.

I don’t really have any nostaglia for the state fair, but if we are to move it, why is it assumed we’ll give all that valuble and desirale land to UNL?
Doesn;t the antelope valley boondoggle (which Im still sore about) really cut UNL off from the fairgrounds anyways?

I’m all for improving lincoln, I’d just rather not get tied into some rich “visionarys” (and developers who are in bed with UNL) plan, or an expensive and unessisary converion center.

Mr. Wilson January 31, 2007 at 7:50pm

That’s a good question, Neal. I’ll try to answer it, but I don’t guarantee that this is correct.

The research corridor consists of three parts: (1) an area in Antelope Valley near and north of O Street; (2) an area in Antelope Valley along the east and northeast edges of campus; and (3) State Fair Park.

(1) is intended for private ventures that are either spinoffs of or that cooperate with research done at UNL. It is very valuable land intended to attract firms offering high-quality jobs.

(2) is for Beadle Center-like research spaces and classrooms. It will be a part of the UNL campus, and will have that sort of feel.

(3) is for large-scale and/or “messy” sorts of research. Think a testing track for UNL’s motorsports safety research; biofuels research and demonstration plants; and so on. In other words, stuff that just doesn’t “play nice” with Downtown. There won’t be any Beadle Center-like facilities in State Fair Park.

Does that help?

Neal January 31, 2007 at 7:57pm

Oh goodness, if you’re right about 3, I’m even less excited about the university taking over state fair park. If the appeal of moving the state fair is to take advantage of its proximity to downtown, why not put something there that takes advantage of the location, rather than something that might be better suited for the university’s industrial park? (which has been declared blighted)

Mr. Wilson January 31, 2007 at 8:07pm

Hi avon,

However, one thing that bugs me is how UNL is far more interested in corprate partnerships and research than teaching and education

I think that’s a fair criticism, especially for students at the 100 and 200 level, and especially for certain types of students. The upshots of a strong research emphasis are myriad: hands-on research for upper-level and graduate students is a far better teacher than anything that comes from a textbook; students with intensive research experience get better jobs; more and more, research is having to pay the bills; and so on.

<em>...why is it assumed we

avon January 31, 2007 at 8:43pm

MR. W-

“The upshots of a strong research emphasis are myriad: hands-on research for upper-level and graduate students is a far better teacher than anything that comes from a textbook;”

I’d respectfully disagre, having participated in both classes and research at UNL. The research being done is not always (in my experience rarely, analagous to what students should be learning). It does a good job of preparing students for a career in a research field, but not nessicarily for a career in other aspects of science/engineering.

as for you last point, I’m writing off everything because I don’t like the way it’s been brought about.
To me, I see a bunch of ruch and influential citizens, almost literaly come up with an idea at a party, pay for publicity and drawings, and wait for their plan to take hold.
I wasn’t keen on all aspects of the “downtown Master Plan” (for one it’s Stanlinist-sounding anem), but at least it was brought about in a reasonable manner.

I guess I see this as partly an expansion of the A.V.P. which I feel wouldn’t be supported had it been voted on, besides being almost city-funded UNL project and short-sighted and detrimnentl to the Malone neighborhood, (and perhaps to UNL, having been to many colleges, I’m struck by how commuter-school UNL can feel, and I think not having a “college neighborhood” with affordable housing right next to campus would add to this feel).

It’s not the ideas that bug me, it’s the way they came about and the way they’re almost sure to be implimented, these meeting seem much more like the ones used to attempt to show public acceptance for antelope valley a few years back.

I’m all for downtown housing, a P street corridor, even a modest sized downtown (not in the Haymarket) replacement for Pershing.

Let’s say you and LT and Neal come up with a plan, hire a consultant, draw up some pictures (my favorite part of AVP is the architect’s sketch of all the outdoor dining and seating along the drainage creek), would the city give it as much creedance as it’s giving this?

I ask because I’ve formed the 3015 vision group, in order to combat expected brain-drain in the year 3015 we plan on moving the captiol bullding to east 186th and holdrge and build a top of the line spaceport (and Hammons hotel) in it’s place.

ST January 31, 2007 at 10:40pm

However, one thing that bugs me is how UNL is far more interested in corprate partnerships and research than teaching and education

This might be a bit of a tangent, but the University’s mission is threefold: teaching, research, and service.  The University’s role in the state, as a whole, extends well beyond educating first- and second-year students.  The ideas, research, and technology that grow from the University start new businesses and can provide the foundation for the kind of economic development that Lincoln and Nebraska very much need.

In many ways, the research corridor is a hard sell because it is a different role for the University than many Nebraskans are familiar with from their undergraduate days.  It is moving UNL into the same category as University of Iowa and University of Illinois, or even into the MIT and Cal-Berkeley, etc., research funding ranks.  The benefits of this type of growth extend well beyond the academic community.

Additionally, with state support lagging and limits to the amount of tuition that undergraduates are willing to pay, external research funding is essential.  External funding supports faculty and graduate students, which takes the burden off the University.  However, adequate facilities (as well as space for future expansion) must be present for research and to attract quality researchers in all disciplines.

Mr. T February 1, 2007 at 3:26am

Good points Avon. For sake of full disclosure, 2 things first:

1) I attended an extremely small liberal arts college where the student to teacher ratio in all classes was probably about 1-to-15. I feel extremely grateful to have had such an experience and wouldn’t exchange it for anything.

2) I work at UNL.

As you know, a lot of students and faculty believe that teaching quality has suffered because of the emphasis on research and publishing. Remember the controversy a few academic seasons ago about the popular CBA professor who has since left UNL? I personally know some faculty who hate the do-or-die research/publication tenure tract grind. Unfortunately, (I use that word cautiously of course) research and getting in the big grants is very significant in keeping UNL afloat, and of course has huge tangible and societal benefits that we all know. But anyway its just a financial reality that every public state school faces.

I think the research corridor is a good idea, and I think that nurturing Lincoln’s human capital is the right way to go. After all, we don’t have any mountains or oceans or any other great sell-ables here but we do have a quality university, quality public schools, and an intelligent population. Investing in that human capital is a no-brainer as a strategic priority in my opinion.

Having said that, I do share some of the same apprehensions that were raised by some others in the group I was a part of last night. The vision places an emphasis on attracting and nurturing the educated young professional sector who will move here, spend money, and so on. The implied logic (and this seemed to be inferred by at least one or two of the comments from the “expert” panel last night) is that the trickle down theory will kick in and benefit all of Lincoln.

I think that is a dangerous assumption to have for a variety of reasons. It may work in some cases, but won’t in others. Obvious case in point: what’s going to happen to the cost of housing in the near south area (where I live) which we all know is peopled by a lot of low to moderate income working class folks, students, renters, etc.?

I understand that catering to the young professional crowd is important, but they also need to consider things for others as well - normal working class folks, recent immigrants, and so on. I wish there was more of this in the vision. If there is, I hope this is made more clear in future iterations/presentations made to the public.

Along those lines, I was very disappointed that the vision didnt’t seem to integrate a new main library in downtown. If it does, I missed that in the presentation. A new main library would truly be of benefit to the entire community, not just to a particular sector. It something all people can enjoy and use for free regardless of background or profession. As it stands now, the place is basically a dungeon, and frankly it pisses me off that the place is so crappy. Says a lot about how important the clientele (i.e. poor people from Near South) is to them, eh? I know that may seem unfair and I know there are some valid reasons and complex problems behind the whole main library debate, but I still feel disappointed that the main library is what it is. Another universally accessible asset that they could put in the plan would be some greenspace in downtown as well. Didn’t see that either in the plan unless they meant the sports triangle area.

Anyway I digress. Yes, the vision presentation was an interesting, educational, and enjoyable experience. Try and catch the last one if you can.

Mr. T February 1, 2007 at 4:36am

Avon - By the way I forgot to mention: If you feel like it please feel free to describe some of your experiences with research and so on at UNL in depth. Not for purposes of debating your opinion or anything, but I would just be curious to know what a fellow current (or ex) UNLer’s experience is/was in that area. I never tire of hearing and learning about other people’s crazy experiences here at “the mothership.”

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