GEORGE KENNEDY: Council decisions offer optimism but guarantee conflict

Friday, June 22, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

The Missourian did a good job of reporting the decisions made at this week’s City Council meeting. A once-controversial rezoning was approved, and a new bus route was authorized, both by 6-1 votes.

From my seat in the front row, I thought I saw something more. I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that those actions and the discussion that preceded them just might have shown us an important preview of Columbia’s future.

If I’m right about that, it’s a preview that offers considerable cause for optimism and an absolute guarantee of more conflict ahead.

This is journalism, so I’ll focus first on the conflict. Craig Van Matre, attorney for the successful rezoning applicants, the ubiquitous Odle brothers, solicitously told council members he understands that “it’s never pleasant” to make decisions that fail to satisfy everyone. Of course, those outcomes are a good deal more pleasant for the winners than for the losers.

In this case, the most obvious winners are the Odles, who can now proceed to erect housing for more than 700 students on East Walnut Street. The apparent losers, residents of the nearby neighborhood, conceded defeat and spoke less in anger than in hope that city officials and other center-city dwellers might learn from what has been a contentious process.

Adam Saunders, vice president of the North Central Neighborhood Association, advocate for urban agriculture and a resident of St. Joseph Street, made a strong case for the necessity of a better planning process with more citizen involvement. He also touched on two issues that point toward our future.

Infill development, he said, is important but complicated. His association favors higher residential density in the central city, but density that is both mixed use and mixed income. (“Infill” is the term of art you often hear in discussions of “smart growth.” It signifies more intensive use of areas already developed as opposed to continued outward urbanization, or sprawl.)

The Odle project certainly qualifies as higher density, but it is aimed at a single demographic – the affluent student.

Therein lies conflict and possibility. At the moment, with two strong colleges and a steadily growing university enrollment, student housing drives the market. Maybe now that we have the precedent of major apartment projects downtown, another entrepreneur will see an opportunity to build there for young professionals and empty nesters.

Mayor Bob McDavid reflected on reality in his pre-vote comments when he foresaw a future with 3,000 students living downtown. The university’s 35,000 students have to live somewhere. For the mayor – and for the rest of us – the question is whether we want them close in or out on the urban fringe.

That question gets to the implications of the other important decision council members made Monday. They approved the cleverly named “FastCAT,” the new bus route intended to serve downtown dwellers and the MU campus.

As Mayor McDavid put it, FastCAT is, or can be, a first installment of what would be a revolutionary change for us, from a “commuter culture” to a “transit culture.” Those are cultures in conflict, for sure. The first is our tradition; the second is, or may be, our future.

The transition between cultures, if it occurs, will require more than a single new route serving a single category of customer. John Clark, whose frequent suggestions to policy makers aren’t always taken as seriously as they might be, this time urged that the transit planners think big, with year-round service and long hours of operation to attract campus workers as well as students.

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt has taken a good deal of heat from disgruntled constituents. He explained the choices being made by him and his colleagues as well as anybody has. The Missourian quoted him this way:

“We need to realize that the city of the future is one where the downtown and central areas will need to grow up and not out, unless we want unchecked urban sprawl.”

He also described the process of change with a simile I haven’t heard before. “It’s like the Arab Spring,” he said. By that, he meant that it has been chaotic, with an uncertain outcome.

The outcome of the Columbia Summer is also uncertain. If it leads to better planning, smarter growth and more useful public transit, we’ll all be the winners.

Change of some sort is inevitable. Engaged citizens and our elected leaders can only try to shape it. As Councilman Michael Trapp said Monday, “We don’t have the option of encasing Columbia in amber and keeping it like it is.”

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact news editor Laura Johnston.

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Carol Greenspan June 22, 2012 | 12:19 p.m.

Mr. Kennedy, I find your remarks on the two council members remarks a bit confusing as you seem to be making assumptions of what they meant.

Did Mr. Schmidt state that his comments on the "Arab Spring" meant "the process of change... has been chaotic, with an uncertain outcome"? If so, he is saying that his vote for the Odle rezoning implies that he has no idea not only where the infill will lead us, no overriding vision of what he wants for downtown and will work for, that this process has no limits. This is scary.

Visioning has been a major effort for this city for a few years. There ARE visions for downtown which arose from the citizenry. There are also visions which came from consultants. If all the council intends to do is to nibble around the edges before granting C-2 zoning (owner can do whatever s/he wishes with the property), our wonderful downtown will soon be gone, replaced by private dorms, lost trees and businesses meant for the nonstudent population.

This is not essential! Downtown should be for everyone! a wonderful vibrant place with the wonderful old buildings rejuvenated and new ones to continue the eclectic tradition of this town.

As for Mr. Trapp's comment, "We don’t have the option of encasing Columbia in amber and keeping it like it is," this implies that anyone who is concerned about HOW our city develops as it changes is standing in the way of "progress." I hope this is not YOUR intended meaning.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin June 22, 2012 | 12:52 p.m.

The argument presented here goes against Columbia's long-time history with segregated housing, student and otherwise.

The winners in the case cited -- the Odles -- are amongst THE group of perennial winners -- well-financed developers who drive, not well-planned, but ad hoc change.

In this case, the ad hoc change is stated simply enough: The vast expansion of segregated rental housing all over the downtown area. Segregated, you say? Indeed. This is segregation by age and occupation -- student -- rather than by race and income.

Columbia's history has proven time and again that segregated rental housing is a bad deal that only gets worse.

Without a diverse mix of owner-occupants and varying income levels, rental slums are too often the end result.

The public rental housing downtown -- racially segregated -- is gradually sliding into oblivion, along with the hopes and dreams of the generations it has housed to no apparent happy end.

Crime, social problems, hopelessness -- you name it, this racially segregated rental housing has it.

Segregated student rentals haven't faired much better. Columbia is literally ringed with them, hundreds of units both newer and older that also gradually slide into oblivion, as their tenants tear them up and wear them out, then move on to the next big thing.

What replaces former student populations? Segregated low income populations in yesterday's hot student neighborhoods that are today riddled with crime and despair.

If Mr. Kennedy thinks downtown Columbia will suddenly see a different future, then he is imagining the wholesale reversal of a decades-long trend with little else but his abiding City Hall optimism to recommend it.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble June 22, 2012 | 1:57 p.m.

What I'm seeing is a move toward increasing homogenization of downtown. Such an intense, massive influx of student rental housing, the development of "Tiger Town" and likely increased openness of alcohol consumption throughout downtown, and the slow disappearance of diverse residential housing in the area (see recent BCFR stories) points toward an increasingly one-dimensional downtown catering to one demographic only.

Most of this move is artificial. It has been driven by a few moneyed interests buying and developing land with one purpose in mind. The natural evolution of the area over the last ten years, on the other hand, has been far more diverse and interesting. The North Village arts area, urban gardening projects, and increasing presence of families living at the edges of downtown has to this point been moving things toward a more human-scaled, family-friendly, diverse, sustainable, and creative direction. I see that as now under threat.

Time will tell, but an upgraded transit system won't mean a lot if downtown is a place that turns its back on the rest of the people who, up to this point, have found it to be a welcoming and increasingly pedestrian and child-friendly place to go. I personally am not pleased that the Odles are putting 400 student cars between my family and downtown access.

I can also only speculate how long it will take for a legal/financial justification for public housing to be moved somewhere far from downtown. Looking at the enormous development projects steadily being stacked up against its borders, who can think that downtown business interests will turn a blind eye to the incredibly valuable land right next to the current northern edge of downtown?

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 22, 2012 | 2:34 p.m.

Let's change the city's name from Columbia to Tiger Town and be done with it. We can cut transit for anyone not carrying a student ID, and rename the buses Tiger Shuttles, which will operate from a yellow and black bus station called the Cub Hub. Non-student residents will take a knee when shown the official Tiger Club Badge, which is proof of enrollment and also scannable by all credit card readers. All business will accept the Tiger Club Badge and nothing but the Tiger Club Badge as payment. Residents will not interface with students under any circumstances, especially those residents who might frighten Tiger Cubs (the official University of Missouri title for undergraduate students). Potentially frightening residents will include, but are not limited to those who are: elderly, homeless, overweight, disabled, or destitute. Residents will, however, be required to attend a minimum of two University of Missouri sporting events per academic year. While in attendance, residents will remain in their allotted section of the venue and will not, for any reason, use a concession or restroom designated for Tiger Cub use. Failure to submit to the rules of Tiger Town will result in mandatory castration and banishment from Tiger Town.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 22, 2012 | 2:35 p.m.

If we continue to do everything with MU in mind, we will always be nothing more then "a college town."
Better to look at areas like downtown Denver and its surrounding "Five Points" area.
This is what Columbia could become, if we had that kind of vision, instead of heading towards becoming another Georgetown University town, or worse, a mini St. Louis..

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 22, 2012 | 2:49 p.m.

excellent post!

I bet if you wanted to buy a downtown building and turn it in to a park for all of us to enjoy, you could do that and make a lot of friends at the same time. The only problem is that people usually don't do business to make friends. They do it to make money. Having the citizenry decide what should be built is part of this idea that we are entitled to tell someone else what to build with THEIR money. I wholeheartedly agree with Mike's post above that we are going to have problems down the road as the current student housing complex's age. The ones who age worst / first will become, "blighted", down the road. Sorry, couldn't pass that one up...

So, we have to find this balance. As evidenced by the controversy of this development, I would say future requests for zoning accomodation for downtown apartments probably won't fly. That is the easy part. The hard part is that it doesn't work the other way around. We can't just say we want a downtown grocery store and only allow the one thing we want to be built. We would have zero development and the town would suffer. Developers are not building things to serve the community and judging them for that is useless.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor June 22, 2012 | 2:56 p.m.

If you don't want to live in a college town, move to Jeff City. That is what Columbia would be without the U. I'm stayin put!

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin June 22, 2012 | 3:00 p.m.

Hysterical! Louis Schneebaum. LMAO.

Meanwhile, the Tiger Cubs need their own government, boards, commissions -- and EEZ. Kinda like a reservation, where tribal members are generally exempt from local laws. Imagine that -- the Town Where Students Ruled.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett June 22, 2012 | 5:52 p.m.

@"Let's change the city's name from Columbia to Tiger Town and be done with it."

Let's get rid of all the city council but Daryl Dudley, and start over.

New mayor? Maybe. However, at present, he is still on good proving ground.

City manager? Let's keep him.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 22, 2012 | 8:19 p.m.


(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 23, 2012 | 5:51 a.m.

mike mentor wrote:

"I wholeheartedly agree with Mike's post above that we are going to have problems down the road as the current student housing complex's age."

It wouldn't surprise me if MU bought some of those apartments downtown. They might be able to get them for less than the cost of building new dorms sometime down the road.

One of the characteristics of housing is it doesn't stay diverse for very long. Residents tend to live near like residents, because they tend to have living styles that are more compatible with each other. You'll never get families and professionals living next door to a bunch of undergrad college students - they're just incompatible lifestyles. No amount of wishing is likely to change that.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 23, 2012 | 7:18 a.m.

Thomas Jefferson dormitory at MS&T was built by private investors who thought they were going to do well renting the large, high-rise (towers) facility with its own cafeteria, indoor rec facilities, and outdoor swimming pool to students.

Students stayed away in droves! Hey, according to MS&T, a third of its present students come from what the federal government considers "financially distressed" families.

What to do? They tried to make it into a Seniors living facility and that went nowhere.

After bankruptcy, University of Missouri System bought the facility for peanuts; today, beside being the largest capacity dormitory on the campus (which has been extended to include it) it is a great asset to MS&T's summer camps for middle school and high school students, especially with its outdoor swimming pool. 2012 summer camps will finish in July.

I do agree that regardless of how some would homogenize things, different age and/or economic groups of people prefer to live with or in the vicinity of people like themselves. You can posit that it shouldn't be so, but it IS!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 23, 2012 | 7:37 a.m.

Let's return to the business of "blight."

An unconfirmed rumor is circulating on state-supported university campuses in Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis, Missouri, and particularly a state-supported campus in Lawrence, Kansas, that a substantial area of real estate in Columbia, Missouri located west of College Avenue and south of Elm Street will soon be declared "blighted" and will subsequently be razed. Out with those ratty-lookin' Columns!

Don't ya just love progress?

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett June 23, 2012 | 11:34 a.m.

@"Louis Schneebaum: Hush."

Too late.


(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett June 23, 2012 | 11:54 a.m.

@"You'll never get families and professionals living next door to a bunch of undergrad college students - they're just incompatible lifestyles. No amount of wishing is likely to change that."

True sometimes, but sometimes not.

When our kids were in college, they found it hard to concentrate because the "adults" who lived around us slept all day, but stayed awake all night with boom boxes and heavy traffic in and out. Multiple times the police were out on them, and we could not even enjoy our supper all the way through nor get our sleep at night.

By the way, we never had to call the police; they patroled in that town, and the lawyer who lived on the corner across from us had a deputy drive by on a continual schedule and shine a spotlight up and down on the apartment complex from which came all the "adult" misbehavior. Not one of those "adults" was in/at college, but were into something the police was trying to keep under control (and that can happen in any neighborhood, even the best - where even lawyers live near it).

Here in Columbia, we had a little bit of a problem with college kids, but in the same house, one of the young men came over and said they wanted to be good neighbors, and it stopped - the loud music, the standing in our yard and hollering at night. We never met more respectful and kinder people than those kids - and they kept that promise years following - even to the point of double-parking in their drive and never parking in our curb space. They always spoke when they saw us out, and wanted to know how we were. They turned out to be the best neighbors ever.

While there are some people who call themselves "adults" who have made our life into living Hell.

Please do not generally blame all college students. It is not the age, but the behavior - every time. Some people are just immature and they are trouble to anyone and do not care. Maturity is not an age thing, but a mind set.

It's like saying all teens are reckless drivers. Some of them are so careful that they can do much better than anyone on the road.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro June 23, 2012 | 12:45 p.m.

("mike mentor June 22, 2012 | 2:56 p.m.

If you don't want to live in a college town, move to Jeff City.")

I was once told by a local "historian" that during the planning of this area, it was up for grabs for which city, Jeff or Columbia, to become the Capitol or get the college. (Apparently, neither was to get both.) As it turned out, Jeff chose to be the capitol and Columbia got the college.
Both have their positives and negatives.
However, you don't tell me where to go and I won't tell you where to go.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 24, 2012 | 6:46 a.m.

Actually, where groups of people live is often a mixture of personal preference AND economics. Long before the popular TV series "Beverly Hillbillies" there as a widely syndicated comic strip called "Bringing Up Father." It was much better known by the names of the two principal characters, Maggie and Jiggs. Jiggs, a hod carrier*, wins a huge amount of money in a lottery and Maggie and their daughter immediately talk Jiggs into buying a mansion (with servants, including a butler), buying expensive clothing, and getting to know the wealthy and elite.

Jiggs is unable to make the transition. He prefers to hang out in the old neighborhood with the labor crowd down at Dinty Moore's (which today is still a brand of canned stew you can buy at the grocery store).

Jiggs' inability to conform continually frustrates and embarrasses Maggie and their daughter, and that tension was the basis of the comic strip, which ran from 1913-2000! That's an amazing number of years for a comic strip to run. The originator of the strip was George McManus.

McManus did something in the strip that was unusual and a bit racy for the time. In some cartoon panels he would show women (Maggie, the daughter, or other society women) with "back lighting," such that you could see through their gowns to the figure of the woman beneath the gown. Whether McManus was trying to be titillating or was making a statement about how "shallow" high society really is remains a question. I prefer to think he was making fun of high society and its pretensions.

*- What is a hod carrier? A hod is a carried device allowing the carrier (not a skilled laborer) to bring fresh mixed mortar or bricks to where brick masons (who are skilled laborers) are laying up bricks. As a brick structure rises in height, carrying a hod can be exhausting work. Now you know, but if you'd matriculated at another University of Missouri System campus you might already know.

(Report Comment)

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