Sidewalks

What Makes a Great City?

 We thought you all might like to look through this check list. While we have a lot of things to work on , we all agree that YES, Belmont is very good already, and is “becoming” a great city.

This a reprinted article from Project for Public Spaces (PPS):

Is Your City a Great City?

Take a look around your town with this checklist, to see how it measures up.

By Ethan Kent and Kathy Madden

In Great Cities…

Community goals are a top priority in city planning

·  Citizens regularly participate in making their public spaces better and local leaders and planning professionals routinely seek the wisdom and practical experience of community residents.

·  Residents feel they have responsibility and a sense of ownership for their public spaces.

·  Neighborhoods are respected, fostered and have unique identities. There is a sense of “pride of place.”

·  Public spaces are planned and managed in a way that highlights and strengthens the culture of a particular community.

The emphasis is on pedestrians, not cars

·  Pedestrians and bicyclists are more numerous than vehicles (on at least some streets).

·  Streets function as “places” and have numerous attractive destinations along them.

·  Transit options are available to get to places where people want to go and are used by all kinds of people.

·  Parking does not occupy most of the public space; free parking is difficult to find.

·  There is a walkable commercial center convenient to every neighborhood that provides everyday needs and services (grocery store, pharmacy, library, medical services, coffee shop etc.)

New development projects enhance existing communities

·  New developments, both public and private, are designed to include mixed uses and to be easily reached without using a private vehicle.

·  Developments are human scale and connect with places to cut through rather than mega scale, internalized and islands unto themselves.

·  There is a mix of new housing types and layouts that allows and encourages people to grow old there.  

Public spaces are accessible and well-used

·  There are public places within both neighborhoods and downtowns where people can gather informally and regularly.

·  Parks feature attractions for people of different ages and are used at different times of day; they are more than simply recreation facilities.

·  The waterfront allows people to actually reach the ocean, lake or river.

·  Amenities (benches, transit waiting areas, etc) are comfortable, conveniently located and designed to support the intended use.

·  Negative uses or users do not dominate the public spaces.

·  Both children and seniors can easily and safely walk to where they want to go (e.g. children can walk to school, seniors can walk to movies, grocery stores).

Civic institutions are catalysts for public life.

·  Schools are centrally located to support other neighborhood activity.

·  The library is a multi-purpose and popular place where people go for many different types of activities. ·  Civic institutions (museums, community centers, hospitals, government buildings, etc.) have resources and activities that appeal to people of all ages and all cultures in the community.

Local economic development is encouraged

·  There are many locally owned businesses-markets, mom-and-pop stores, street vendors, and larger independent stores; these local businesses are encouraged by the city; people know their retailers by name.

·  The mix of locally owned businesses is such that at least some of them are “third places” -places where people can just spend time.

·  Local businesses work with schools to provide internships or part time jobs.

Public spaces are managed, programmed and continually improved.

·  The public realm is managed to maximize community interaction and to facilitate public outcomes.

·  Spaces are managed to provide opportunities for generations to mix.


North Belmont Elementary students learn about air pollution

Keep Belmont Beautiful continues to serve the community through education and involvement.

kbb-sly.jpg (Gazette Photo submission by KBB)

A recent Gazette “submitted” article talked about a program delivered at North Belmont elementary school that was funded by a grant called, Planting the Seeds of Learning.  

We applaud the efforts of the small group of volunteers, all neighbors and friends, who give their time to help KBB in its education and prevention efforts throughout Belmont.

Volunteers can help, and they don’t have to wait for designated “cleanup” dates to get involved.

When walking through town, take a paper bag or a recycled plastic (ok, Walmart, yeah) bag and pick up bits of trash as you walk. You can call Keep Belmont Beautiful to report your time walking and trash-pickup efforts and receive volunteer “credit”. KBB also receives recognition from the Keep America Beautiful for the number of volunteers who become engaged in beautification efforts.

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So, how about it Belmont? Pick up a bit of trash as you gain fitness benefits by walking, and help keep this community we love clean and welcoming.

Belmont becomes Berkeley

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Belmont Middle School students, evoking memories of a past era of protests by young people, held their own rally at Stowe Park on January 15. A peaceful protest rally seeking to be heard in the town-wide discussion of behavior in the park and downtown area.

Spurred on by a growing animosity between hundreds of adolescents in the downtown area immediately after school and downtown merchants, Belmont police addressed all the parents via a letter.

The word got out that the city wanted the park emptied of young teens and that the kids were ‘banned from the park”.

As the BannerNews reported, albeit delayed by its posting on this site, the students were not “banned”, but were definitely given the message to “go elsewhere”.

Parks and Recreation opinion — set up surveillance systems to track troublemakers — not a good option.

Downtown Merchants opinion — get them out, or get them supervised — not particularly good, but better.

Belmont Police — we need more officers, we need more money — SOP response, also not productive.

Gaston County Schools’ — once the students leave our campus, they are no longer our responsibility — oooh-kaay, how productive is that?  

The kids took matters into their own hands, and, voila’, a meeting occurs on January 16.

Way to go Teens! 

We still stand by our original opinion, that all the groups need to dialogue/plan better afterschool options so that “bad apples” don’t spoil the adolescent need to “hang out” in public areas — and feel safe while growing up.

It does require the entire community to monitor. It does require individual families with children in this age group and school group to have open communication and supervision of the kids. It does require cooperation.  

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Belmont Police try to rid Stowe Park of children

Sorta anyway,                                   belmont-pd-logo.jpg

Just wrote an inflammatory headline to see if ya’ll were paying attention.

But, there is an issue brewing with the popularity of the downtown area with young and old alike.

Stowe Park has long been a gathering place for students from the junior high/now, middle school, immediately after school each day from about 3:05 to almost 6:00 PM.

After the Central Avenue bridge was renovated in 1992-1993, the Belmont Public Library saw a huge increase in the after school “attendance”. The library created a policy for behavior and time limits for this new attendance pattern.

Successive Belmont Middle School principals have had varying levels of success with afterschool clubs and activities, all pretty much completing by 4:00 PM each day.

With the opening of the Belmont General Store and Caravan Coffee Shop, students began flocking to these venues as well as the library and park area.

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Parents began “allowing” the children to go to these places afterschool. Many of the children getting “freedom” after years of afterschool child-care type programs aged them out of their licensing focus. Parents saw this freedom as also freedom from the financial burden of child-care.

So, the community must now bear the added cost of more police officers patrolling downtown Belmont and Stowe Park. As Chief James claimed in a letter to Middle School families, patrolling the park is taking away an officer from [more important] other duties during their shifts.

Caravan Coffee and the Belmont General Store, for all the goodwill that is done by these businesses, have had to call in the police to deal with the behavior of more than just a few kids at times.

The opening of the pavilion at the top of the hill in Stowe Park has contributed to a growing crowd of kids, particularly on nice days.

So, what can be done? The BannerNews did an article about the issue in last Thursday’s paper:

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We are suggesting that the school take a more proactive approach toward afterschool “latchkey” children. “Latchkey” is a terminolgy for children who carry their housekey to let themselves in at home while the parents or guardians are away. It was also used by some political elements to stigmatize children of families who have both parents in the away-from-home workforce.

Community groups such as the the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and others have offered programs for years, specifically designed and geared to the ‘tweens and early adolescents of a community. Many times these programs meet until 5:30 or 6, but not every day. The school itself offers many clubs that meet from 3:15 to 4:00 PM, only closing down when the teacher-advisors vacate the buildings around 4’ish. Team sports generally take place from 3:15 to 5:00 PM and when games are held, large student crowds are present.

Grants are available to offer teachers incentives to stay longer to develop interesting programs and activities.

We agree, this is a particularly difficult age of student to engage. Chief James singles out the skateboarders for example, as a negative impact.

The negativeness of skateboarding and inline skating (called “boarding, or “skaters” respectively) is because the community doesn’t generally take kindly to young (mostly) boys who like individual challenges as opposed to the traditional ‘team sports” approach of engagement.

Girls like to gather in small groups to socialize, and where would that be? Close to where boys hang out – be it on the ball field or in a park area.

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The Belmont Parks and Recreation director’s comments about setting up surveillance cameras in all the parks is short-sighted and not going to accomplish a P & R goal of engagement. It will just send the students “somewhere else”.

One of the Belmont P& R department’s long term goals was to develop and operate a skate park. Now that the bond referendum has passed, it is time to move this project forward rapidly. Of course, if the placement of such a park is farther away from the prospective user group — middle school aged children– the less impactful it will be in the long run. We have long recommended that the lower (unused) tennis courts at Davis Park be the site.

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(Davis Park photo)

It is time for the elements to match up and get a comprehensive series of goals and action steps into place. We suggest that the four main groups — the school, downtown merchants, parks and recreation, and students (along with their parents) — develop this plan. It would be wise to include the police department after there is consensus on the “self-policing” process before the law enforcement brings its heavy hand to bear on the result.  

  

Can Walk Score Improve the Value of Your Home?

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We previously reported that Belmont has the best “Walk Score” in Gaston County, (10/29/07), here is another take on the impact of sidewalks and walkable community values from Realty Times:

Just imagine, your real estate agent is showing you a print out from the Multiple Listing Service of a home you might want to buy. On the sheet is something you’ve never seen before.

“Our hope would be that eventually it’s something that is in the MLS, where it says ‘Two bedroom, two bathroom, 1,000 square feet, Walk Score of: 80,'” says Matt Lerner, co-developer of a website called Walk Score.

While the MLS doesn’t yet offer this feature, creating a Walk Score for a particular property is a concept that Lerner and a couple of other technology colleagues (Jesse Kocher and Mike Mathieu) developed after realizing that how walkable an area is, rates high for consumers.

“We got interested in the benefits of walkable neighborhoods partially due to a nonprofit in Seattle called the Sightline Institute which had done so much writing on all the benefits of walking,” says Lerner.

Lerner says some of the benefits were obvious, such as walking is good exercise and helps to reduce environmental pollution.

“But then there were some non-obvious benefits, such as walking is really good for communities because you’re out in your neighborhood, you’re talking to people, you’re meeting people. Walkable neighborhoods are also good for local businesses because, rather than driving to one place, you can stop and walk around and look at all the little stores. So it’s a good way to support local businesses and local culture too,” says Lerner.

So the developers set out to create a website that measures the walking score for home locations. Walk Score.com launched in the summer and in just four weeks got one million visitors wanting to know a property’s Walk Score. Using Google Maps and business listings, the site computes a Walk Score for any address in the United States and Canada. It bases the points assigned on the distance to local amenities and then averages the score. Then for the fun of it, visitors can compare their scores to that of famous locations and people such as Bill Gate’s house, Fenway Park or Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt’s (pre-divorce) home.

Lerner says that since the site launched they have received lots of emails from users saying that walkability is the number one priority they focus on when buying a house.

“I know in Seattle, for example, a lot of people work at Microsoft, which is in Redmond, so they commute to work but, for where they live, especially if they have kids or a family, having things they can walk to is really important and then for younger folks being able to walk to a bar or a coffee shop is important. Walk Score is a really simple way to see what’s in the neighborhood near the property you’re looking at,” says Lerner.

However, Walk Score doesn’t take into account things such as lakes or other roadblocks that might force someone to take a different route to get to the destination.

“What Walk Score does is fairly simple. We measure whether you can get to the types of businesses that consumers want and then we base a score on that,” says Lerner.

Lerner says creative real estate agents and homeowners are using it to help sell homes.

“One of the really fun things on the Internet has been that people are comparing their scores and bragging about them. A big, new condo in Seattle put up a huge Walk Score banner on the front that said Walk Score 100 and they used that banner as a marketing tool because they think that, for urban condos, walkability is one of the selling points,” says Lerner.

Buyers are using Walk Score to help determine which house better suits their needs.

“We’re seeing people actually comparing different properties and if a place gets a low Walk Score, someone can say, ‘Oh, wow I didn’t realize I couldn’t actually walk to the grocery store if I bought this house but if I buy this other one, I can walk to all these amenities,'” says Lerner.

Lerner says real estate agents see Walk Score as another way to help sell a property and, “in a down-real-estate market you need all the selling points you can get.”

Bullets hit Nichols Food Store in Belmont

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Ok, so the Topix folks and the Gazette broke this story yesterday. However, on Sunday morning one of our editors was purchasing papers about 9:00 AM and overheard the police and Nichol’s staff talking about the shooting. Kinda sounded like Alice’s Restaurant type of discussion. You know, “…27 8×10 color glossies, with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each on …”, etc.

Since it happened in the walking neighborhood of our fair town, it is news, just like the vandalism that occurred this fall over in Hawthorne.

Seems that our Po-lice have themselves a real-lyfe inve-stig-a-shun a goin’. It appears that the fancy crime scene van finally got to have some work rather than bein’ parked in the shiny lot over on Chronicle Street.

Good luck officers. You broke the summer vandalism thingy. You can do this one too!

Seriously though,

We are happy that nobody was injured, and we are sorry for the Nichols folks for the damage. May the shooters were angry that they were closed for the night… who knows?

More On Belmont’s Council Candidates

Two websites, Topix.com and GastonPolitics.com have had some interesting discussions about the Belmont City Council elections.

Many of the same commentary that has been found here, just repeated across the different blog sites. These are both in forum style and are in real-time whereas, this site has screened responses (called, moderation) according to the “rules of civility” found on another page here.

To review, the city council election has three incumbents and 5 challenging candidates for 3 slots on council. This is a 4-year position. The new council will be sworn in at the December meeting of the City Council.

How this election impacts the citizens of Belmont:

  • Planning & Zoning concerns are on the table with a need for teeth in the regulations and ordinances
  • Strategic Growth Planning is crucial to a patterned response to the needs of the existing community, which includes roads, water, utilities, etc.
  • Quality of Life issues such as parks, workforce housing, and recreation are focal points
  • The other issues that always present themselves, such as jobs, taxes, etc.

The Belmont Banner published a special on-line page, which surprised us here on the Front Porch. The BannerNews website must be in development stages… anyway, we are glad that this page was set up to be viewed by the public. Please review that page as well.

Encourage our neighbors and friends to get out on Tuesday to vote. With the paving project going on along Central Avenue, some people may be discouraged  by the traffic issues in the morning or later in the day. Plan out your Tuesday to take time to vote.

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Pictures of the Challenger Candidates:

richard-turner.jpg  martha-stowe.jpg  curtis-gaston.jpg  ron-foulk.jpg dennis-boyce.jpg

Pictures of the Incumbents standing for Reelection:

irl-dixon.jpg      charlie-flowers.jpg      becky-burch.jpg

YOUR CHOICE – YOUR FUTURE