Ferry dreams

Posted: Monday, February 14, 2000

I read with great interest Riley Woodford's report on a second crossing of Gastineau Channel and wanted to take his excellent article one step further.

The real question posed by a second crossing is what kind of city Juneau wants to be: a real urban core, or a mini-Los Angeles with mountains. A second crossing would extend Juneau's urban sprawl even further beyond the present infrastructure. Water lines would have to be extended and suburban neighborhoods would stretch once more beyond the reach of transit lines. Downtown businesses and institutions would be further weakened as the population dispersed further and further out, until the notion of Juneau as a city becomes more symbolic than anything else. This is the Los Angeles (or Fairbanks) model of development: faceless, centerless, monotonous, mediocre.

We have plenty of buildable land in West Juneau, Douglas and other parts of the city. These areas can be effectively serviced by our present transit, fire, police, snow removal and water systems. Additionally, construction in these areas could help provide the population base that would enable downtown Juneau to survive and perhaps rejuvenate itself as the kind of business, civic and social center that a healthy town needs. This sort of ``in-filling'' would strengthen our city's resources, rather than further dispersing them.

Our present level of civic ``planning'' has given us an alienating tourist trap downtown that most locals have no reason to visit and sprawling suburbs that substitute shopping malls for real civic centers. The automobile dictates everything. Anyone who has seen the wreck of downtown Fairbanks can see Juneau's future if we follow the course of endlessly extending our suburbs outward. The only difference will be that we will have gift shops to stand in as souvenirs of what Juneau looked like when it was a real town.

Perhaps the second crossing and the suburbanization it entails is seen as ``development,'' but in actuality the words ``dispersion,'' ``placement,'' or ``shifting,'' more accurately describe the process. It develops nothing, but rather expends existing resources in a manner that is wasteful and destructive to both environment and community.

Alaskans used to take so much pride in being original that the slogan was ``We don't care how they do it Outside!'' Juneau's expansion in the last 20 years, though, has been a cheap imitation of exactly how things are done Outside. We have no civic vision and any shreds that surface (such as the Comprehensive Plan or the Visioning Project) are freely ignored when they conflict with the immediate desires of ``developers'' or those in the construction industry. This is truly a town which collectively dreams of itself as Anywhere.

The second crossing would not enhance our community, would not serve a real need; indeed, would accomplish nothing other than getting skiers to Eaglecrest more quickly. It's a useless pork barrel project. That's why it scores so low on the DOT ratings each year and why I hope we will never squander our limited resources on so foolish a venture.

Our fantastic surroundings and unique citizens give us the opportunity to build a city that could be renowned for it's beauty and vitality. That takes efficient transport, quality public spaces, wise planning that fosters community shopping and recreation centers, and a gradual lessening of our dependence on the automobile. These are valuable things for our contractors to build and our developers to develop. My hope is that we can move in that direction, rather than continuing the aimless drift toward mediocrity that the second crossing to Douglas represents.

Stuart Cohen

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