A modest proposal: an even merrier more

(3rd in a series of modest proposals)

It’s the new year. And it’s an election year. A time to be proposing things.

The Gadfly project is all about participation of, interaction with, and communication to the public.

(It’s a bit distant but mark your calendars for the March 26 launch of the City Communication Survey led by CM Reynolds. 3:30 Town Hall. Gadfly will remind you.)

In his previous modest proposal Gadfly asked us to think about City Council meetings in terms of two metaphors.

The City Council meeting is the public face of City government and should be the hub of the wheel of City governance.

And he suggested that Council invite certain Authorities and Boards and so forth to “visit” the meeting twice a year to talk with/to Council and the public.

This next proposal is similar.

Gadfly didn’t always understand the finances at the series of budget meetings at the end of last year, but he very much appreciated “meeting” the department heads, who were pretty much unknown to him beforehand, and hearing them talk expertly about what they were doing or planning to do in their areas.

Now that was interesting and enlightening. And humanizing.

Could these department heads be brought in to enliven the Council meetings with discussion of real work affecting residents in process or planned?

The City organization chart shows 7 departments under the Mayor. (There’s a link to the chart on the Gadfly sidebar.)

Gadfly would imagine that in conjunction with formulating a budget each department has a set of goals – an annual plan of some sort – for the year that is the subject of periodic review with the Mayor and is the point of reference for the department’s performance evaluation.

Similar to the previous modest proposal, Gadfly is suggesting that each department head come to a meeting twice a year, once in the first half and once in the second, and briefly tell “us” what’s happening in that department. Highlights.

Our Council meetings are “live” and on video now. We could announce a schedule of such guest appearances – “coming attractions” — and promote them in a modest way. People with interest in certain areas could be alerted to attend or tune in or catch up later.

Gadfly likes to say that he hungers for information. He wants to know as much as possible about what is going on in his town.

Newsletters and other mechanisms and tools to push out information to the public that will come out of the Communication Survey are good things.

But Gadfly modestly proposes modest personal interaction that would spice up the necessary and important business and busy-ness of necessary Council routine.

And give the public a reason to be involved.

(“Modest Proposals.” Things – even really small things – that we’d like to see happen. Gadfly invites you to contribute your modest proposals. If you favor a modest proposal, let the Mayor and Council know – email links are on the Gadfly sidebar.)

A modest proposal: the more the merrier

(2nd in a series of modest proposals)

Gadfly has been reading back through distant past meeting minutes and newspaper archives and has noted in passing that there seemed to be a time when, for instance, the executive director of the Bethlehem Parking Authority attended Council meetings.

Gadfly’s not sure if that was on a regular basis or just special occasions.

But it struck him that some such attendance and reporting would be a good idea.

And not just the Parking Authority but all the “independent” authorities: Redevelopment Authority, Housing Authority, Bethlehem Authority. Maybe even the Environmental Advisory Council and Backyards for Wildlife that are identified under “Authorities and Boards” on the City web site. Maybe even important players like BRIA.

As the unofficial official representative of the public, Gadfly hungers for information.

Maybe Council needs information too. Council members might receive minutes from meetings of these groups, and that is good if so. But some personal contact would be better. There is a Council liaison to the Parking Authority (there may be liaisons to other Authorities, not sure), for instance, but he has not attended a meeting as far back as the publicly available minutes December 2017, though he has said he keeps in phone contact with the Board chair. A couple months ago there was some question about an action by the Redevelopment Authority when “no one” from Council was there.

The City Council meeting is “our” only regular, centralized, top-level meeting. It is the public face of city government.

Gadfly wonders if the City Council meeting could be thought of (to change the metaphor)bicycle wheel as the hub of the wheel of City governance – the one place at which if a resident paid regular attention (now via tv!), he or she could have a reasonable understanding of what’s happening along the various spokes.

Hence, a modest proposal:

that the half-dozen or so “independent” Authorities be requested to attend at least two City Council meetings per year, once in the first six months and once in the second, to report on current activities and future plans and to receive comments and questions from both Council members and the general public.

(As the new year begins, Gadfly has been thinking of adding some new occasional yet regular features, such as this one called “Modest Proposals.” Things – even really small things – that we’d like to see happen. Gadfly invites you to contribute your modest proposals.)

“Developers, leave this park alone”

We don’t need no office building
We don’t need no more congestion
No money grubbing on the Southside
Developers, leave this park alone
Hey, Developers, leave this park alone

sing to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”

I know a beautiful vantage point in our town. And I usually have it all to myself.

You know it too.

That open area above Perkins, between Perkins and Wyandotte.

I’ve seen it called Triangle Park. And the Hub Tract.

Some sensitive City planner (whose decision was it? I need to know. I want to high-five!)  put three benches there.

Looking right down the spine of the Southside.

The view is beautiful.

Straight ahead you might not be able to see forever but certainly as far as the Antalics homestead on the Ridge.

But it’s the Cityscape you want to look at.

The Banana Factory is dead ahead.

And in one sweep from right to left, you can pick out all our major landmarks from the slender Packer Chapel spire through the grimy nest of stacks to the hulking Hotel B.

And you are in the town, can sense it throb, not ethereally disconnected like you are at the Lehigh Lookout or Mountaintop Tower vantages.

The thunder of the traffic running but a few feet behind you becomes as natural as waves crashing on a vacation beach.

I love to sit there and take in the hustle and bustle flowing in and out of our Southside.

I even look forward to stalled traffic on Wyandotte offering a moment of urban voyeurism when I am driving.

There used to be a park there. The monument for the 14 Bethlehem draftee “boys” whose lives were snuffed in one demonic swoop on the way to their first military assignment used to mourn there. Like an archaeologist, you can find the embedded stony ruins left when the monument packed up and migrated to the Rose Garden.

There’s still an inviting grove of trees, with a rock-stool inviting you to pause, lean back against a sturdy trunk, and let the rest of the world race by, Rip Van Winkle-like.

There’s a developer’s sign. Two actually. One is knocked down, facing the heavens instead of 3rd St.. I’d leave it there. Let it be for the birds to poop on and the space aliens to ponder over.

I fear the developer’s appetite for open space. Will a dentist’s window frame this view for root-canal’d patients? Will green eyeshades color the view for accountants pausing from stacks and spires of calculations?

When I sit there I hear the ominous, haunting lyric of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” that I have recast above in the epigraph.

I find myself silently screeching to Pink Floyd’s dark rhythm, “Developers, leave this park alone.”

The park, a news reporter casually concluded twenty years ago, is “too hazardous for pedestrians to reach.”

I guess that’s why I am usually there alone.

But I get there.

Whatever.

A modest proposal.

Can this space be made into a more welcoming strip of land in this gateway corridor? Instead of, on the mid and lower sections, like it was mauled by an angry back-hoe.

That same news story reported on ideas to make that area a park “intended for the enjoyment of passing motorists.”

Now that sounds like at best an oxymoron, at worst an absurdity.

On the other hand, it also sounds like a provocative challenge to our imagination.

Intriguing. What would a park there meant for the enjoyment of motorists look like?

It is open space valuable in ways developers never seem to know.

“Developers, leave this park alone.”

Written on-site on a recent, vibrant fall day