The View From Above

By: Mr. Wilson on November 9, 2011
Have you ever played around with the satellite view on Google Maps or another mapping service? I enjoy zipping around Lincoln every now and then to see if I can find anything unusual. Not long ago I was scrolling along 48th Street when I found this view: It's a large open area between 46th and 48th, Hillside and High. As you drive along 48th Street you would never guess that just to your west are huge backyards, or a large common area, or whatever that is. Similarly, many people even within the neighborhood don't know about this long, north-south common area just south of Zeman Elementary: What other surprises have you found while looking at Lincoln from above? Or alternately, what other "secrets" can best be seen from above that most Lincolnites don't know about?

The Burden of Denser Development

By: Mr. Wilson on November 8, 2011
There's a bruhaha at 24th and Superior over a proposed apartment complex. There's a nice empty lot just begging to be developed. Unfortunately, neighbors aren't happy about the idea of filling the gap with 94 apartments. The complaints may be nimbyism in action, or they may be based on legitimate gripes. Or both. Let's think for a moment about a conflict this exposes in Lincoln's future. Planning documents such as the Comprehensive Plan have, for many years, talked about the virtues of denser development. Denser development helps keep down certain infrastructure costs relative to sparser development, among other benefits. There are costs as well, and that's where this scenario comes in. The area around 24th and Superior already sees a lot of traffic. (Or so I'm told; I don't frequent the area.) The region feels saturated -- there are residences, an elementary school, oodles of businesses, and two major arterials (Superior and 27th) funneling thousands of vehicles into, out of, and through the area. School-related traffic taxes local residential roads in addition to the arterials. So although the lot in question may be zoned for 94 apartments, it's no wonder area residents question the appropriateness of the development given the existing conditions. Whether or not the complaints about this specific project are valid, if Lincoln really is going to support denser infill development in the coming years we're going to be faced with many situations like this where the local transportation network's capacity will be put to scrutiny. And what if the roads can't handle the proposed traffic? Do we abort the denser development and instead transfer our problems to the city's edge? Do we prioritize updating the roads, trails, and mass transit system? Or do we sacrifice transportation convenience and merely put up with more gridlock, longer drive times, lower fuel efficiency, and diminished quality of life? These aren't easy questions so it's tempting to brush them aside. We aren't really under all that much pressure right now to figure out the answers. But it would be a mistake for Lincolnites not to at least begin processing the costs and benefits of various scenarios. Chances are, one of these days you'll find yourself directly affected by this sort of conflict. Have you thought through how it might affect you, or how your reaction might affect the city as a whole?

Your No [Kidding] Sherlock Report of the Day

By: Mr. Wilson on November 7, 2011
It's nothing we didn't already know, but the Legislature's Performance Audit Committee has slammed child welfare reform. In short, the Department of Health and Human Services, prodded on by Governor Heineman, moved toward privatization too quickly with too little leadership and too few concrete goals. HHS CEO Kerry Winterer's reaction to the report was no different than it has been all along: Yep, we screwed up royally, but we're gonna get it right this time, we swear! Perhaps one of these days we'll actually see the performance improvements we've been promised all this time. The downside of that, unfortunately, is that yahoos like Winterer and Heineman will then crow about how they were right all along.

The Future of Mall Walking

By: Mr. Wilson on November 4, 2011
Those of you who have given Centennial Mall more than a fleeting glance over the past decade know that the area, which should be a source of community (and state) pride, is an ugly, blighted mess. There's hope. New designs are in the works and they've been given a thumbs-up by the folks in charge of the inside and outside of the Capitol. There's a hitch, naturally: a $9.6 million price tag that will cover the cost of construction and ongoing maintenance. Fundraising begins next year. I wouldn't think fundraising would be too difficult. Heck, I'd buy a brick if the price is right. We'll probably know more about our options come springtime.

Did Somebody Say Beltway?

By: Mr. Wilson on November 3, 2011
I nearly piddled myself in excitement when I saw the South Beltway on a list of "priority" projects for the Department of Roads. Reality soon set in, however. The beltway has made (and disappeared from) similar lists in the past. And its $158 million price tag isn't due to be allocated until 2020-2023. If you actually believe it'll happen then (and at that price), I have some oil-free property in the Sandhills to sell you. But ... this is progress. Being on the list is better than not being on the list. Still, I can't help but gripe about the fact that the final pieces of the East Beltway should be put in place right about now. That we aren't even going to begin the South Beltway for another decade in the best of circumstances is horrible.

Now Open on Sabbath Day

By: Mr. Wilson on November 2, 2011
Last night I discovered, quite by accident, that Lincoln Racquet Club (around 54th and Old Cheney) is now open on Saturdays. That's a huge policy change, apparently brought about by a change in ownership. Racquet Club's former owners were Seventh Day Adventists who stuck to "no working [out] on the Sabbath". This is great news for me considering how close I live and how I've been pondering the ups and downs of joining a fitness club over the winter. Unfortunately, Racquet Club's website commits one of the worst possible sins a website can commit: it doesn't provide the critical information a consumer needs. Specifically, it doesn't mention membership rates. I refuse to call or schedule an appointment just to find out how much money they want from me each month. And so they won't have my business. It's their loss. That issue aside, it will be interesting to see if being open on Saturdays improves Racquet Club's perception in the community. I can't tell you how many people I've heard say that they would join if it weren't for the Saturday policy. Now that that's out of the way, will they follow through?

Jane Raybould’s Donut Hole

By: Mr. Wilson on November 1, 2011
County Commissioner Jane Raybould doesn't think the new election districts are fair. Her proposal had five districts each including a chunk of Lincoln, along with a sizable rural area. The new districts -- just approved today -- eliminate Jane Raybould's rural constituents. Instead, her district falls entirely within Lincoln. The other four districts all include chunks of Lincoln along with rural areas. Ms. Raybould's complaint is that the districts are now all but a lock for particular parties. Raybould's district leans heavily Democrat; the others lean heavily Republican. It's one of the rare times you'll ever hear a politician complain that redistricting makes her more likely to get re-elected. Does Ms. Raybould's complaint have merit? As she's phrasing it, no. She seems to be arguing that like-minded people are more accurately being grouped with other like-minded* people. How could that possibly be construed as a bad thing? Since when is it bad that Democrats will be more likely to be represented by a Democrat, and Republicans by a Republican? By Raybould's own admission she is not a good representative for rural Lancaster County residents' wants. Why would she want folks in her district that, based on party affiliation, she's likely to vote against? Ms. Raybould raised some really fun and interesting topics for discussion. I credit her for that. But I haven't yet been able to wrap my head around her argument here. She raised questions that involve fundamental issues of democracy -- and which should, therefore, concern all of us -- but the message folks heard was her complaint that she's too likely to keep her job. *For the purposes of this discussion we're of course making huge generalizations here about the "like-mindedness" of the affected populations; the propensity of an individual to always "vote with her party"; and so forth.

Exactly Right

By: Mr. Wilson on November 1, 2011
I appreciate the City's approach to handling Occupy Lincoln protesters. Rather than reflexively creating rules or ordinances to deal with the folks while they're camped out, the City will wait until they're gone before updating restrictions on the use of Centennial Mall. The protesters simply aren't a big deal right now. Why stir up trouble? Obviously the rules do need to be changed. As it currently stands, anybody can camp out on Centennial Mall any old time they like. Talk about an invitation for trouble! For that matter, any public right of way is open to camping. I'm not entirely clear on what counts as a "right of way" for these purposes, but isn't the area between the sidewalk and the street generally considered the right of way? Does that mean anybody could camp out just outside my house? That could make for some entertaining methods of protest. Rabble-rousers take note. For now, though, Lincoln is taking the right approach. Sit back, do some research, and as soon as the coast is clear take reasonable action.

Don’t Hold Back, LJS

By: Mr. Wilson on November 1, 2011
Apparently the Journal Star -- or at least Matt Olberding -- doesn't think much about good ol' Lincoln. In an article on top places to retire, Lincoln is summed up as a place with "high taxes, cold winters and hot summers". Gee, sounds dreamy! I don't think the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau will be picking up that slogan any time soon. I'm nowhere near retirement age, but frankly taxes and weather wouldn't (necessarily) scare me off. No, if I wanted to frighten old people away from Lincoln I'd point out all the damn hippie college kids. Now THEY are scary. Their music; their clothing; their bizarre mating rituals; their inability to form a coherent English sentence. Nope, a little snowstorm wouldn't keep me away nearly as effectively as would a pamphlet titled The Perils of Living in a College Town.
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