"Asked and Answered" is an online feature in which community leaders respond to questions from The Bloomington Alternative. The officials' answers are presented unedited. Alternative editor Steven Higgs submitted the following questions to City Council President Dave Rollo.
Questions submitted on Jan. 6
BA: One of the first articles we published in the Alternative print edition in the spring of 2005 was based on an interview with you as the catalyst behind the creation of the City Commission on Sustainability. The commission has since been created and meeting for about a year and a half, with you as a council representative. What's your assessment?
DR: The first year for the BCOS was challenging. It required commissioners from a variety of backgrounds to grapple with a very complicated subject. It is not a simple task. If one serves on another commission, say the Traffic Commission, the subject is quite circumscribed. This is in no way meant to disparage other commissions, but it's difficult to imagine a broader topic than sustainability. I will say, without hesitation, that the team has worked very hard, and has accomplished a tremendous amount in a short time (with the help of the coordinator, Danise Alano, and the BCOS interns). Examples include:
- Partnering with the Environmental Commisson, the BCOS has sponsored a number forums on energy efficiency and alternatives for individuals and businesses. These are ongoing.
- BCOS member Cairril Mills has been introducing the topic of sustainability in a "Sustainability 101" presentation throughout the community.
- Through numerous public roundtables, the Commission derived an indicators list to develop a metric for measuring community sustainability. This Indicators Report will give us a starting point for future action.
- BCOS and EC members have been working on an action plan for the city to follow through on our commitments to the Kyoto Protocol (as resolved by the Council, and the Mayor signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement).
- A BCOS Initiatives Committee has also been active, and will begin working on specific tasks related to sustainability.
- A speakers bureau has been established with people who have expertise in areas of energy, pollution, building design, climate change, and there will be presentations on a regular basis. Personally, I've focused on the impending global peak in petroleum production, and have given dozens of presentations by now.
So, I would say that the BCOS is off to a fine start, and we will see more in the coming year.
BA: As you know, the Kruzan administration has been pushing yet another parking garage on downtown city property, despite the fact that the garages the city already has sit empty the vast majority of the time. What is your position on the Fourth and Washington garage, and do you have any idea what Mayor Kruzan was talking about when he wrote in the Alternative that his vision includes a series of parking garages linked by shuttles?
DR: As I've said before, I am skeptical of a need for another parking garage. The general perception, that there is not adequate parking, may be a reflection of a lack of surface parking when people drive to visit restaurants, the theater and shops and find none available nearby.If the existing parking garages were better utilized, or if people were to find other means to travel, that would likely alleviate much of the perceived need. And so, placing a high priority on alternative forms of transportation; to make it easier for people to access and utilize it, whether its bike trails and lanes, covered bicycle racks, or a downtown bus shuttle, only makes sense.
My recent visits to several of the existing garages suggests to me that we have a surplus of parking. This was the conclusion of a recent BTOP (Bloomington Transportation Options for People) report, and we (the City) are now conducting our own study. Personal observation is one thing. A good thorough analysis is ultimately what we need and will determine what policy we should pursue.
I don't want to speak for Mayor Kruzan, but one possibility in the area of Fourth and Washington is an expanded bus service terminal. Linkages to parking garages via shuttles is one way to make parking in one of many garages more viable. I fully support creative ways to allow people to get about downtown, and this could present a way that would encourage the use of existing parking.
BA: Like others, you have written and spoken about the need for downtown to remain "vital." But what I and many progressives see is a downtown that already is vital but whose character and charm is being destroyed by public policies that encourage the corporatization and yuppification of our downtown economy. To some community "leaders," vital seems to mean small, local business and average folks out, corporations and fat cats in; local cash flowing into the pockets of the few, most of them out of town; more people, more cars, more speed, more pollution, more congestion and, frankly, more reasons not to go downtown. What exactly do you mean by vital?
DR: By a "vital" downtown, I mean active and inviting. It also means that our downtown should serve the community interest in serving everyone — not just a particular demographic group. Young people to seniors, a range of incomes, a variety of services and goods, the rich cultural and ethnic diversity, and an active place for civic engagement all of that is important in preserving and enhancing. An ideal situation is a downtown where residents live, work, shop, get an education, find entertainment, and meet basic needs while driving a minimum, or by using alternative transportation.
Clearly, it is a balancing act, and I'm not interested in micromanagement. But, local government may help in creating the conditions for this to occur. Once we had a downtown that was close to needing life support. Now, it is a success story, and in many ways, there is a downside to its own success. That being, the pricing out of businesses that see their rents shooting up as the land value and competition increases. This is something that we need to work on, there's no doubt.
To keep the downtown healthy, and our community, for that matter, we need an emphasis on buying local.
This is largely an educational effort -- to affect purchasing habits and changing behavior. When we buy local, we keep dollars circulating longer in the community. This "multiplier effect" prevents the economic leakage that otherwise impoverishes communities that choose to shop at big box stores. If this could expand, to include not just small retailers, but local services, investment, food production, and manufacturing, then "vitality" acquires a fundamentally new meaning.
Councilman Dave Rollo can be reached at email@example.com.