Carrol Way's beauty is worth saving

My turn

Posted: Friday, October 27, 2000

In city planning, some things are obviously beautiful, and some things are obviously unattractive. When we discuss aesthetics in relation to architecture and landscape, we are rarely talking about gray areas.

Even though it usually is obvious what is beautiful and what is not, our city government seems uncomfortable with the subject. Hopefully, there is change in the wind. I feel reassured that new Mayor Sally Smith and new assembly member Dale Anderson have demonstrated affinity for visual art. Ms. Smith is active in arts organizations, and Mr. Anderson had an art gallery in the valley.

Under their leadership, perhaps our planning will have a more aesthetic orientation. I hope that a new Aesthetic Advisory Board to the Planning Commission will be created. The need is urgent. The beauty of Juneau is seriously threatened by rapid change. We need to integrate this change with the continuity and familiarity reassuring to our residents.

Many people are worried about the disappearing visual attractiveness of Juneau. I hear comments about it all the time, such as, "Soon it will be too depressing to live here anymore;" "Whenever I come back to Juneau and see all the changes, I feel so depressed;" and, "Soon the only history we will have left will be in photographs."

As one person told me, "There are pockets of beauty all over Juneau which need to be protected." One of the most beautiful and most threatened is the little community where I live. I urge the new assembly to consider immediate action to save it because it is a treasure that would sorely be missed were it to be gone; and gone it might be, soon.

Why the powers-that-be have so far abandoned this lovely spot is a mystery. Every tourist area needs its area of breathtaking beauty. This spot is the only one where it is, so if it is gone, there will be none.

I am talking about Carrol Way, the staircase off of South Franklin Street next to the House of Russia and across from Timberwolf Gifts. There are historic homes up there and a gorgeous apartment house. One can see eagles and mountains and the channel from up there. There is a greenbelt area in front of the apartments and a huge garden in front of the historic yellow-striped house. The yellow-striped house was the home of the famous Tanaka family who started the City Cafe. It is planned to restore the Tanaka home and Mrs. Tankaka's gardens, which covered two lots around the house.

Carrol Way is in danger from a proposed development of the Alaska Fur Gallery. The danger is, first, aesthetic, because the size and style of the building would reduce the beauty of the neighborhood, including the business community on South Franklin Street. The second danger is engineering.

One of our governing CBJ publications contains a passage which applies perfectly to our engineering problem at Carrol Way. It states that, because of the high precipitation in Juneau, "Maintenance of slope integrity is prerequisite to preventing earthslide occurrence in urban areas. This means, at a minimum, protection of all hazardous slopes from large scale construction activities which may disrupt an already delicately balanced stability situation."

It was chilling to hear our engineer, John Cooper, say urgently to Engineering Department Head John Stone at a recent meeting, "This hillside can't take any more destabilization." It was also chilling to hear Dean Williams, an expert on landslides and avalanches, warn of a "death trap," referring to the dry weather opening in the fall or winter when they plan to drive the sheet pile. Mr. Williams, who dug bodies out of the 1936 slide in our area, said that slide happened because a cold, dry period was sandwiched between two very wet periods, because of the way the water turned to ice and expanded in the loose soil. And our hill is even looser than normal because it has cracks in it!

I believe that beauty is the most important consideration in city planning. Some would disagree, but for most of us, the beauty of our surroundings is what makes us want to get up in the morning and go about our business. A walk through our beautiful neighborhood, or even just looking up at it from South Franklin, gives the spirit a lift.

If our city's planning decisions had a serious aesthetic component, this project would never have been approved. We, including the city, would not have to be dealing with the engineering nightmare of cutting into a severe hazard slope just a few feet under houses. But there is still time for an aesthetic solution to save the day.

As proposed by Juneau Artists' Guild, a non-profit devoted to preserving the beauty of Juneau, the city could buy the land for a garden park. JAG would help to create the garden. Please, new assembly, this dangerous situation is too urgent to ignore. Please save Carrol Way.

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