Like Mountains Beyond Mountains

May 22nd, 2011 · 5 Comments

Update: In June, the Ames city council declined to give Lane4 more time to come up with a workable plan for Campustown redevelopment but said that the city may approach the Kansas City development company in the future.

“We started with almost nothing, mostly our own collection.”

Rob, co-owner of Mayhem Collectibles, rings up a tube of superglue for me. It’s a specialty brand with a removable brush under the cap instead of a nozzle, a feature I initially hated because I often spilled the whole pot on the floor or myself. I’ve come to appreciate the precision the brush offers, even though I upend the bottle with no decreasing frequency. I buy a lot of superglue here.

I have my recorder set up between us on the counter, next to a stack of flyers tagged with internet links, meant to help people educate themselves on Campustown and Lane4. There’s a maddening snip of music looping on the television, the idle screen of a video game. I’ll end up humming it for the rest of the day.

“I brought my stuff in, Dave brought all his. We tried to hodgepodge it together as best we could. It was a pretty motley looking store when we first started. Our sign was hand painted, really tacky. Our carpet was this dingy gray and butterscotch and red-checkered pattern, which was disgusting. The store before us had wood fixtures. There were these overhangs – the cheapest wood you could find – with lights underneath, so we put our comic books under there. We had sawhorses and plywood for our back issue shelves. For our comic books we had wire racks like you see in gas stations, then later, we used old greeting card shelves.”

Zack, the customer before me, reenters the store and Rob swivels on his stool to address him.

“What do you need, sir?” he says, though he pronounces the words with a casual tone belying the honorific.

“I need a small square box,” Zack says, using his hands to approximate the size, as if he’s holding it. “I think it’s for cards. That’s the second time in two days that I’ve walked out without grabbing the thing while I was here.”

I know Zack because we occupy the same curious niche of geek ecology. I consider myself to be a tabletop-wargamer, rather than a role-player or a comic book collector. I don’t know Zack that well because we play competing game systems. It’s not unlike the feeling between hardcore DC and Marvel fans. There’s respect, but also a certain wariness: you understand the person but suspect there might be something wrong with them.

It doesn’t mean we don’t dabble. He might have a weekly D&D group, and I still spend the occasional night drinking with friends around a card table, with pre-constructed Magic decks. But in here, identity is what you obsess about.

Rob pulls the box from a stack behind the counter, then lofts it through the air. Zack catches it and reaches for his wallet.

“Don’t worry about it,” Rob says.

He turns back to me.

“We made it because of our own stupidity, and sometimes, because of our own brilliance. We lucked into it because of Magic: The Gathering, the death of Superman, and the birth of Image Comics. All this gave us enough of a boost to keep going, and it hasn’t stopped since. April 1st is 21 years.”

~

I’ve been a customer for 15 of those years. My place is jammed with crates of RPG books. Heaps of minis are piled in plastic storage bins in my closet, with long cardboard boxes of M:TG cards stacked on top, glazed with dust and organized by color. I have my own stack of small white boxes. They make a safe nest for painted minis when lined with gauze or cotton: a transport solution before anyone realized there was a market for custom built three hundred dollar water-proofed Nylon cases, reinforced with plastic panels.

My desk is covered in old Tribune sports pages and littered with a hundred-odd pots of paint and a cup of small detail brushes. To write this, I’ve actually had to clear the space where I was assembling models on the paint-hardened sheet of newspaper, which, I’ve suddenly realized, I may have just inadvertently superglued to the bottom of my MacBook. No, it’s fine.

A couple years after my family moved here, Fleer released a line of X-Men trading cards to complement the Saturday morning series. After school, we’d walk from Fellows Elementary to North Grand Mall – back when there were was an arcade – to play the X-Men game. We’d go to Mayhem to buy the cards. I started reading the comics in the store – I couldn’t buy them, but no one ever said anything. It was probably a sound business decision because I buy them as trade paperbacks whenever I’ve got a spare 20 in my wallet.

From those cards it was a small step to get into Magic: The Gathering. Middle school was rough. I started spending a lot of time in the game room, then located in the basement.

My mother started to get concerned that I was in some kind of cult. A psychologist friend of hers, proving that education is no proof against idiocy, had her asking all sorts of wacko questions. She wanted to know what I had to do to cast my “spells.” I got the impression she thought I was murdering house cats as an extracurricular. She asked me if anyone there ever painted their face white. I asked her why anyone anywhere would ever do that, but she didn’t know. I started to get concerned that maybe she was in a cult. Or that maybe people just went insane when they became adults.

Apparently it was just her.

It’s difficult to explain wargaming without having people look at you in much the same way as I looked at my mother. The hobby was started by historical recreationists, with their zeal for simulation, but the actors were scaled down in size so that the battles could be scaled up in magnitude. If you picture the archetypal general poised over a map with figures representing troops, you won’t be far off. Most of the popular games are dosed with a streak of sci-fi or swords and sorcery. Conceptually, it’s something of a mix between chess and playing with GI Joes in the backyard sandbox.

Both players marshal an army of 28-millimeter-scale miniatures, traditionally forged of pewter or white metal. There’s a strong hobby element: the figures are sold bare, meant to be painted by their general. Both players face off on a board livened with scale models of trees, flocked Styrofoam hills and blue felt rivers.

Because the games are dynamic, and the models have more options than chess pieces, dice are used to determine the success of an action. This is a much more expeditious method than that in sandbox GI Joe, which usually results in a 15-minute argument when one side has clearly scored a kill shot and the other side refuses to admit this, until one side invents heat-seeking ammo, thus backing the other side into a corner, who must then posit the existence of man portable force fields, thus inciting a heated debate on the exigence of person-seeking, shield-breaking munitions for America’s troops, ending with one side going home in a huff and forgetting his Snake Eyes that his mom bought him at the Air Force BX, which was impossible to find because all the good toys got snatched up right away, because we were overseas and there was no Amazon.com when I was a kid.

On certain days, Mayhem swarms with children. The game room is safer than sandbox-GI Joe, because after a certain age that game always devolves into one involving firecrackers and lighter fluid. There are well-supervised leagues and organized play events every night of the week, for games like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh, but also for games that tend to attract an adult following.

The store has what is colloquially known as the “family store” policy, for the words uttered whenever a conversation veers toward the off-color, or whenever an expletive seems about to be uttered because of some completely bullshit dice rolls. The policy is strictly enforced, by peers and employees. You’ll receive a polite warning, then be asked to leave after a second infraction. No exceptions are made, not even if you can’t roll above a fucking four on two goddamned dice.

My mother once went so far as to phone the police to see if Mayhem really was a safe place. Their response? They laughed at her. A few law-enforcement professionals spend their off-hours there, which is probably something to consider the next time you feel the need to stumble in drunk and mock us, though I expect one isn’t considering much of anything at that point.

The Mayhem community is as motley as the store was when it first started. Some are students, some have graduate degrees, others chose never to pursue formal education beyond high school. There are construction workers, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and social workers. Some live within walking distance of the store, some drive an hour from their farm to be there. There are Democrats and Republicans. Parents and bachelors. There are children and teens and adults. There’s a subtle truth to be discovered there, that people so unlike one’s self aren’t so very different at all.

~

There’s nothing simple about the Lane4 project. I don’t believe it’s just another case of residents versus students, though that is a factor. There is a looming enormity to the issues, they’re layered, with the largest hiding behind the smallest, as can happen in tricks of perspective.

What most struck me about the Lane4 development was the sheer lack of information. Coverage in the Tribune is nearly nonexistent, and though the Iowa State Daily has excellent access to primary sources, the questions they ask are less incisive than one might hope. Lane4 has hinted that the city has given them a wide purview with regard to development. Retailers and business owners in the area seem to have only the sketchiest idea as to the size of the final development and whether or not they’ll be affected. (The Space for Ames, which until recently was a part of the Ames Progressive, would be.)

The most common response to my queries was that no one had heard anything. This lack of information is what has allowed so many rumors to flourish. Lane4′s Trip Ross is on record with the Daily saying, “We’ve talked to business owners in all different kinds of contacts.” I asked Rob what kind of dialogue he’s had with Lane4.

“None, unless they’re using telepathy. We’ve never been approached by or even talked to a human being from Lane4. We’ve received form letters – offers to buy the business. The only difference between ours and the letter that All Cuts got was the amount of money. If they’ve ever come into the business they’ve never identified themselves or even talked to us on the phone. We’ve never been personally invited to any discussions.”

The lurking issue for the past six months has been eminent domain. Eminent domain is most often invoked by city or state governments, though federal funding is often involved. A controversial 2005 court case (Kelo v. New London) drastically expanded the scope of eminent domain. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that eminent domain can be used to transfer private property to a new owner if the government will generate increased tax revenue, that economic growth qualified as public use under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Previously, eminent domain could only be invoked for public use.

“I think the thing the city council wanted them to do was sit us down, lay out all the terms and talk to us. To become not a friend but somebody who was interested in us and what we want to see. I don’t think that’s the approach they came in with. Their approach has been very aggressive without being an approach. Their lack of approach is aggressive.”

Iowa eminent domain law requires that the governing body involved pass a resolution that an area is a slum or blight, but the definition of blight is somewhat elastic. Applications to begin proceedings must include, of note: the minimum amount of land necessary to achieve the public purpose, with land acquired beyond that to be presumed unnecessary unless “substantial need exists” or if the land constitutes “an uneconomical remnant that has little or no value or utility.”

Telepath Trip Ross told the Des Moines Register that eminent domain was “nothing we’re planning at this point.” Hunter Harris, also of Lane4, is quoted in the same article: “There is a current feeling from focus groups that campus town has become continually blighted over the years.”

While Lane4 is developing a business relocation plan, the commercial space available and the occupants being invited to fill it remain in question. Because the plan includes the construction of several parking structures, and a change from parallel to diagonal parking, which requires sidewalks to be pushed back, it’s spatially impossible to maintain the same amount of viable retail space. Current businesses may be unable to afford rent at $25 to $35 a square foot.

According to the Daily, several of the development possibilities are a hotel – a “Marriot, Hilton and West End” – as well as a grocery store Trip Ross described as “like a Trader Joe’s” and restaurants like Red Robin and Ruby Tuesday. While discussing possible tenants for the proposed pharmacy or grocery store during another Daily interview, Hunter Harris said his company had “been talking with several national grocery users.” In a separate interview posted on the very same day, Mind Lord Ross asserted, “One criticism we’ve heard in our focus groups … is that we’re just going to deliver some cookie cutter development with box stores and national retailers … we’ve never even said anything that would allude to that.”

He then goes on to cite Buffalo Wild Wings as a possible tenant.

~

Rob is a strong proponent of the free market.

“If there’s one thing you can say for Campustown, it’s that if these businesses were not wanted or needed or desired, they wouldn’t be here. People put their money where they want to put it. If they want tattoos they’ll buy tattoos. If they want to have a drink, they’ll come down and have a drink. If they want a comic book, they’ll buy a comic book. The market is its best self-cleaning method. If these places aren’t desired or wanted, people stop frequenting them and they go out of business: problem solved. Bulldozing it is not solving the problem.”

The type of development being proposed should be familiar. New Urbanism is the planning and architectural style utilized in Somerset, though Somerset has deviated significantly from initial plans. The aim is to create bustling commercial and residential areas like those on affluent city blocks. Does Somerset bustle? New Yorkers don’t live in apartments because they want to, they do it because that’s the compromise they have to make to keep in the city. Given the way Somerset has developed, I’d say it’s a trade that Ames residents aren’t yet willing to make.

A kind description of New Urbanism would be to say that it’s an innovative, aesthetically pleasing solution to a problem. An unkind perspective might describe these developments as strip malls that got confused and put the parking in the back. A New Urbanist area in Campustown could actually be quite successful since the population is already there and somewhat captive. But one critique of New Urbanism is that proponents can’t accurately approximate the dynamic growth and fluidity of a mature urban environment.

A small grocery store in Campustown sounds like a good idea. But when the idea is mentioned in the papers, it’s often accompanied by a blurb about the grocery stores that used to be there. These little juxtapositions need to be examined. Why are those grocery stores gone? Why has the market dictated that they be absent? Smaller grocery stores tend to be more expensive than larger ones, with less selection. When a large section of students in the area have cars, or friends with cars, can such a store really compete with a Hy-Vee, which is literally less than two minutes away?

Other critiques leveled against New Urbanism are that it actually exacerbates sprawl. The addition of green space and parking will reduce first-floor commercial space. With the amount of parking currently planned, Lane4′s proto-development doesn’t seem to combat sprawl so much as accommodate it.

Focus groups are a questionable tool as well: do you really want to build your city using the same mechanism that delivered New Coke? Jonathan Ive, senior VP of design at Apple, has characterized focus groups as worse than useless: “They just ensure that you don’t offend anyone, and produce bland inoffensive products.” Henry Ford may have said it best and, more importantly, first: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Inoffensive seems to be the aim. Lane4 has indicated that their research shows that Ames residents take exception to tattoo studios and the preponderance of bars in an area that services thousands of students, 25 to 40 percent of whom (depending on the study) are tattooed. Nothing short of martial law is going to stop college students from getting drunk and inked. Hopefully not in that order.

Lane4 itself may have said it best. There’s a “feeling” that Campustown has become blighted. Feelings are not actualities. They’re perceptual judgments and I’d hazard to say that the people who feel that Campustown is blighted don’t go there, and may never have. If you think Campustown is all PBR and tramp stamps, you probably can’t tell me the locations of some of the best food in Ames.

I don’t think the area could legally be considered blighted by any standard. There are some places that tenants do little to keep up. But I don’t see the neighborhood in decline that so many residents seem to, and I think one would have a hard time convincing an outsider that such a condition exists (outsiders like, for instance, an appellate court). The area is full of locally owned businesses that have expanded, remodeled, or relocated, investing their profits back into the community.

Consider: Mayhem Collectibles (once a fraction of its current size), Little Taipei and Fighting Burrito, Battle’s BBQ (once a dark little dive on Hayward), Grandma’s Attic (once called Grandma’s Jewelry Box, its old space is now a part of Mayhem), and Dogtown and A&R Marketing (housed in a lovely new building that’s a vast improvement over the McDonald’s, which was, let’s be honest, actually a blight). Campustown is now home to West Street Deli. Nicer housing has gone up, there are Ev Cochrane’s new buildings and RESGI’s space across from Planned Parenthood. Slums don’t cost $800 a month, not even in New York.

The most important thing to know about eminent domain is that it will never work. Eminent domain proceedings are long and public. They’re also extremely expensive. After seven years of litigation and a surprise Supreme Court decision, one which isn’t likely to be replicated, the city of New London was finally the undisputed owner of Susette Kelo’s home. It cost $81 million in public funds. The development was never completed, was never even started. It doesn’t matter how popular an initiative like this is, lawsuits and appeals will eventually take the decision well out of the bounds of the city in question.

On the one-year anniversary of Kelo v. New London, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13406, which limited the seizure of private property to that of “public use” with “just compensation” for “the purpose of benefitting the general public.” Eminent domain may not be used “for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken.” If the city isn’t planning to invoke eminent domain, why not simply say so? And if they are, the only question that remains is just how expensive of a failure this is going to be.

We aren’t dealing with a blighted area. We’re dealing with the perception of one. Are businesses failing health inspections en masse? There’s nothing wrong with the food. It’s good and cheap, two things which are often mutually exclusive. Pizza Pit has excellent wings. If you’ve never had a torta, or don’t even know what one is, head down to Mr. Burrito. There’s nothing on Cafe Beaudelaire’s menu that isn’t good. Campus town is the only place in Ames with a range of ethnic cuisine.

Most arguments against the area seem to be aesthetic ones. Stomping Grounds, which is being touted as the model for a new campus town, didn’t start out as it is. Stomping Grounds started out as a hole in the wall like so many others. There used to be a flower shop there.

Here’s the thing about Stomping Grounds: it wasn’t successful because it looks so nice, it’s so nice because it was so successful. That’s the thing about New Urbanism, it creates very successful looking spaces. Stomping Grounds is there because they were smart and savvy, and because they put Santa Fe Cafe out of business.

The city seems determined to force something that’s happening naturally. Why? Iowa State University’s Warren Madden told the Daily that one of the problems with Campustown is that “during the daytime Campustown in many parts … is a relatively empty or quiet space, and then there is a level of activity that may pick up in the evening … around some of the bars and restaurants and other things,” which is a very accurate description of every commercial district in Ames.

The problem may not be with Campustown.

~

In a transcendent moment when art intersects life, which I hesitate to even write because it’s just so perfect that everyone will think I made it up, Rob is trying to sell a pre-order on a limited edition Godzilla comic to a customer who came to ask about new releases. (If a store opted to order 1,000 issues or more, the publisher would alter the cover to show Godzilla stomping the store in question. Mayhem didn’t order 1,000 issues, so don’t go looking.)

“The biggest misconception is that we’re absolutely opposed to improving Campustown. We’re retailers: we know if it’s a better place, if there’s more parking, if there are businesses that complement us, we’re going to make more money. We’re not here because we’re squatters, we’re here because we’re trying to earn a living and make our businesses successful. Anything the city can do to help with that, we welcome. We do respect the city council. I think the problem is that there’s a little naiveté at City Hall. I’d like to see them take the approach they did with downtown Ames. The students are not that much different than anyone else. They want a nice, clean, well-lit place, and they want variety.”

While it might be true that alumni want to interact with students when they visit (presumably they might also want a campus town that is in some way recognizable), I think most residents prefer their student contact be limited to having their order taken at Hickory Park. I don’t think it matters what gets built in Campustown. People like my parents still aren’t going to go (“No,” my father has since confirmed, “we wouldn’t.”) The causal relationships motivating this project may have been inverted. It may not be true that Ames residents don’t go to Campustown because businesses there don’t cater to them. It may simply be that there are no businesses catering to them because residents don’t or won’t go there.

An area in town is perhaps being designed by people who simply don’t know much about it. No one who’s been to Campustown on a Friday or Saturday night would question the need for the amount of bar space that exists there. With one or two notable exceptions, most bars are packed to capacity. That’s the primary reason why ISU’s social scene is dominated by house parties, whereas at the University of Iowa – a school of comparable size – the bar scene is prevalent.

Bear with me here and think about this a little: there may not be enough bars in Campustown. A reduction in drinking space will do two definite things: it will push drinking even further into residential areas, and it will get students driving from Campustown to other parts of the city to drink and then drive back.

Having attended both the U of I and ISU, I can say that I didn’t feel as if I was a public menace in Iowa City, though I grew up in Ames. It’s important to note that not every community has such an antagonistic relationship with its student population. There’s a reason why Ames has more riots than Iowa City.

One of the big differences is that, historically, Iowa City residents haven’t had the option of avoiding students. Their downtown was the same as their campus area. Their community was closer knit. Not much closer, but close enough. If you’ve been following the Daily, or if you’re old enough to remember, you know that Campustown was once a very different place. You could buy groceries there. There was a hardware store. I doubt the people using that space were students building patios off their dorm rooms.

What’s happening to Iowa City’s campus area is what has already happened to ours. The only difference is that it’s managed to avoid it for a longer period of time. Old Capitol Mall is all but dead. Pedestrian mall space is going unused. Residents are electing to not frequent the area.

When you neglect something, at some point it starts to look neglected.

Are there a few pits in Campustown? Yes. Are there spaces that seem continually in flux? Absolutely. Are there locations that should fix their damn bathroom door? Of course there are. Why don’t they? Because most of the people that choose to use that space don’t care as much as my parents would.(Notice how it’s always the men’s room door that’s busted; if the ladies’ room is out of order that gets fixed quick. Unless it’s Thumbs, that’s an equal opportunity dive.)

The most frustrating part about the city council’s position is that it’s not wrong. Ames seems determined to sprawl out. There are too many social and commercial loci in a city that doesn’t have the population density to support them: there’s Campustown, Somerset, Main Street, North Grand Mall, Duff Avenue, and now the area around Perfect Games, where a new building seems to erupt from the earth every time you drive by. New Urbanism is a movement designed to counter the type of growth we’re seeing (urban sprawl), but its efficacy is debatable.

The city is right to focus on Campustown: it’s the best, most logical choice for development. It’s centrally located and densely populated, with frequent out-of-town visitors. It’s an area that can turn Ames into a destination instead of a waypoint. It has everything needed to urbanize the city, which is becoming a dire necessity given our current rate of growth.

Sprawl results in ineffective public facilities: emergency and health services prove inadequate when serving an area too large. It can cause inflated infrastructure and public transportation costs and create serious environmental issues. Perhaps the most serious consequence is that it can engender high levels of socioeconomic segregation, resulting in the loss of social capital. Social capital is an abstract resource, part of a concept which, grossly simplified, posits that social networks (stop thinking about Facebook) have intrinsic worth and are analogous to the physical resources and intellectual reserves that allow an individual to prosper and be productive. Except social capital applies to communities instead of individuals. Close communities function better than disconnected ones.

Ames has grown such that it not only allows groups to segregate themselves, it actually encourages it. Don’t want to leave the Northridge area? Have a clinic, grocery store, gas station, and some restaurants. Now you don’t have to.

The problem with suburban values is that they aren’t sustainable. You can’t build a community by cherry-picking the people you want to associate with. That ends with disused public space and dead shopping malls. The problem with creating a good part of town is that you’re also creating a bad part of town, and all the ills such a division creates will eventually follow. It creates the very things about cities that the first suburbanites were trying to avoid.

The Ames visioning survey appeared just after the Lane4 public forum, in what is either a genuine attempt to touch base with the community, or an attempt to justify what has already been done. The city council seems baffled that there’s resistance to this project, which makes one wonder what city they’ve been living in for the past decade. There are two scenarios that seem likely to me.

The first is that this really is a misunderstanding, between the city and Lane4, or between Lane4 and the people, or any number of permutations. Rhetoric is a lost art in this nation, and it certainly seems lost here. There are good arguments to be made for developing this area, but the city has neglected to make them, perhaps believing that the argument was apparent.

The city may be faithfully trying to remedy a very real problem. One of the best ways to increase social capital is to share space. Ames may simply lack the minimal social capital to generate more.

The decisions thus far have been made from the top down, and retailers have zero incentive to go along with them. The city is creating conflict when it needs to be creating consensus. It doesn’t see the methods being utilized as draconian or divisive. Its view may be so slanted that it can’t see others, and the proof may be that it seems incapable of realizing this. Maybe the city is naive. Does it – could anyone – seriously expect a retailer to sell their livelihood for the vague promise of a relocation plan, and the even vaguer hope of triple the going rent at a location they used to own? Would you?

But the darker possibility is that the city might not expect it at all.

~

“Matthew [Goodman] has said that the city was unaware of how we felt. I don’t know how that’s possible. All you have to do is come down here. What do they expect us to think when we hear eminent domain and all these things floating around and there’s nothing to dissuade that? I don’t want to get down on Matthew, he’s a wonderful guy and a great businessman. I want to consider him a friend to Campustown, but I have reservations. I think he’s on the right track and he’s very torn: I know he abstains from all the votes. There’s just too much money, too much uncertainty.”

If this is all a mistake, we need go no further. The city just needs to make this process more transparent. It needs to foster a discourse friendly environment.

The scenario that frightens me, as a resident and an American, is that the city may have been planning to force this from the beginning. I worry if the speed and lack of information in this project aren’t very deliberate. The city may have just finally resolved to give the residents of Ames exactly what they’ve asked for.

Were Ames to pursue “smart growth” and attempt the creation of a compact city, one of the first things they’d need is a center. There are fewer empty storefronts in Campustown than there are in Somerset or North Grand Mall. Campustown may well be the least-threatened micro-economy in the city, and I suspect that the people in charge are aware of that.

It may very well be why they’ve chosen it. It’s low risk. There’s a captive market that will use the space out of necessity. And, relative to any other part of town, there are few voters to upset. If they fail, they won’t have messed up anything that most residents care about. Their great feat of legerdemain will be in convincing people that an area which is producing some of this city’s most successful businesses is, in fact, a blight. And they may be banking on a few problem tenants and the prejudices of their constituents to do so.

As much as I enjoy poking fun at them, Lane4 is simply doing what it’s been hired to do, and, aside from the conspicuous absence of a PR wizard to wrangle Ross, Harris, and its image, that’s something it does very well. It’s a mercenary in a suburban war. Lane4 has said that it’s too early to talk to local businesses about moving into the new space. If this project was meant to be completed amicably, it’s the very first thing that should have been done. The community should have been approached before Lane4 ever appeared in our lexicon.

That didn’t happen.

The city may be able to justify (to itself) what it’s doing because it knows that more expansive changes are in the works, that there’s going to be a lot more commercial space available in the area. Look at the map on Lane4′s brochure. Even if both blocks are completed, will the area really need that much parking? In addition to the new structure that’s already going up? I suspect that the first two phases of this project are only the beginning.

We may be left to answer some very unpalatable questions. Like, is it right to exploit an unrepresented group and take another person’s property because this city has so grossly mismanaged its own growth? Is it necessary? Is it just? And more importantly, would that be a place you could stand to live in?

But maybe I’m just a paranoid cynic. It wouldn’t be the first time. So let me give you something that’s true either way. There are differences that define and divide this community: between student and resident, government and business, neighbor and neighbor. The heart of a neighborhood isn’t building space or foot traffic. Lane4 can’t manufacture a community. That’s something that takes time and trust, both of which seem to be in short supply. It’s also something that simply can’t be done with the level of antagonism and miscommunication characterizing this venture.

There’s an unwillingness to commingle, a rift that can’t be closed by any building development. Demolishing Campustown treats only the symptom. A very simple truth needs to be reaffirmed by all parties, one which underlies every successful community and this nation as a whole: that things and people you don’t like have as much right to exist as you yourself.

“There’s no villains in this piece,” Rob told me. “No one’s wearing a white hat or a black hat. We’re all in gray. We all want a better Campustown. The idea of how we get there, that’s questionable.”

Tags: 2011 · AP Issues · Cover Stories · Lane4 · May 2011

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dylan B // Jun 13, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    I love that store. Last time I was in I bought Astro City and The Punisher Warzone and they hooked me up with a free issue of the relaunched Daredevil. I will continue to do business with them because they are friendly and they know what they are talking about over there. I will support them before ordering online anytime.
    Great article!

  • 2 Sam Reeve // Jul 4, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Certainly the best story on the Campustown debacle I’ve read thus far. Thanks.

  • 3 Art B // Sep 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Well said. Everyone who is interested in Campustown and its future should read this.

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