My Turn: Industrialized downtown tourism is repugnant

Posted: Friday, April 12, 2002

I'd like to respond to Jim "The Mad Hatter" Scholz and his pitch for expansion of bus parking on the prime downtown waterfront.

First hat: Who is he kidding that 12 big tour buses won't be on the roadway? They would drive on Egan into the driveway entrance to the "staging area," park, load up with passengers and drive back out onto Egan to their various tour destinations! Instead of seven buses rolling out into traffic, there would probably be 20 tourist-hauling vehicles. How? It's possible, but unlikely, that the former seven-bus curbside on Egan would be available for the public to park their cars. Vans and mini-buses of the small, independent tour companies would probably use that very area to pick up their own payloads. Promised relief of traffic congestion is more fiction then fact.

Second: Mr. Scholz is right about one thing - it does make very little sense to use the waterfront for parking in the long term. That goes for the short term, too. At a March Planning Commission meeting when downtown parking zones were under discussion, Commissioner Scholz was in agreement with the majority who determined that downtown waterfront property was too valuable to designate for parking! So why mar with pavement and buses precious land that should serve as a beautiful gateway to our community? It is the closest thing we have to a Juneau Commons.

Walking out on the dock above the tidewater on a leisurely lunchtime stroll is a great pleasure. Observing waves lapping at the mussels along the shore and kids at play, feeling the breeze, watching gulls and ravens, summertime flowers and the view across the channel. Decking over the open water, constructing canvassed arbors to shelter cruise ship passengers (and obstructing the view), restricting public movement along the dock with security measures that will fence off the gang plank area and block passage. All these things will multiply the congestion of people between the library and Marine Park and further spoil a place that could be relaxed and inviting to visitors and residents alike.

Third: Yes! Let's add 30 per cent (and more) green space for Marine Park. And extend green grass and pathways along as much of the Juneau waterfront as possible. Forget the ditsy ice rink and other engineered "amenities." Ask the public, including youth, what to include there. Many ideas were offered April 8 at the belated public hearing on the bus and park situation. Our prime downtown waterfront space could be enhanced and preserved in many ways - for skateboarding, dog-walking, bicycling, music performances, public displays and al fresco dining. But rumbling, beeping buses, belching fumes are not a compatible component of a people place. Another, more appropriate location can and should be found. One that would promote circulation of people in the "old core downtown" as the business owners wish.

Fourth: Visitors are good; we have a lot to share. Mainly, the unique quality of our life and environment, our history and Native heritage and the arts. "Industrialized Tourism," when it turns our narrow streets into crowded shopping malls, blocks the downtown and library views with walls of looming ships and obscures or drowns out all that makes our Capital City unique, is repugnant to visitors and residents alike. There are alternatives to "long, cold lines of people." But let's get more creative about solutions. The tourism economy can thrive without being obnoxious to residents. If it is obnoxious, it won't thrive. We can explore other locations for bus staging. Next to Marine Park is not appropriate.

Fifth: We are indeed the capital of Alaska. Among the many charms of Juneau are our varied styles of enjoying ourselves and this place. Some visitors want the meals and luxury of their ships while they shop. Others want to get out and into the wilderness with kayaks to rough it for a week. Some folks choose to stay at a bed and breakfast, get to know the locals and sightsee. We can do a lot to make Juneau a destination of choice, for Alaskans as well as Outsiders. We can develop venues for the arts and market ourselves as a year-round regional center of culture, showcasing our symphony, first-rate theater, the annual Alaska Folk Festival and Jazz and Classics and Native Celebration. Visiting yachts at Auke Bay and backpackers at the youth hostel can also sample and savor our own special slice of Southeast. Let's come together as a community to protect and enhance this glorious place we call home.

About the last question posed by Mr. Scholz: Politeness prevents my hazarding a guess.

Dixie Hood has lived in Juneau for 27 years. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist whose office is downtown.

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