I happened upon a Facebook post today from a longtime family friend. He posted about the East Ninth Project asking “how many homeless families would that money wasted on this project for Hipsters help?” After my expected initial confusion at this question (I definitely don’t consider myself a Hipster), I had time to reflect on some of the really positive outcomes this project will have on the community.
1) The East Ninth Project benefits families with children. When our nephew was born, my husband and I would take him for walks to Downtown Lawrence in his stroller. When you’re pushing a sleeping one-month-old, you notice every single crack and bump. Some parts of the sidewalk between Delaware and Massachusetts Streets are completely reduced to rubble, and we were forced to walk with him in the street.
2) The East Ninth Project benefits those on bikes. It provides a safe route from Delaware to Downtown Lawrence for adults and children at any skill level to ride their bikes without having to be on the street with cars. This is an important benefit, as it means that a five-year-old who just graduated from training wheels won’t have to bike down the street, shared with delivery trucks and other vehicles. And when that 5-year-old inevitably falls off his or her bike, they’re not going to be met with a face full of gravel from the deteriorated sidewalks.
3) The East Ninth Project benefits people with disabilities. Right now, I don’t believe there are any ADA accessible sidewalks or paths along this stretch of 9th Street until you get all the way Downtown. Neighbors in wheelchairs have no safe way to get Downtown without a car. This project will provide a fully ADA accessible path.
4) The East Ninth Project benefits the environment and health. Reducing the carbon footprint of East Ninth Street by providing safe walking and biking routes improves the air quality in the neighborhood and encourages healthy lifestyles. With each connecting path and riding option in Lawrence, individuals are much more likely to choose to bike, and yes, walk, versus choosing the car default.
These are only a few of the numerous benefits this project has. . . I’d say those benefits impact far more than just “the Hipsters” in the neighborhood.
To speak to the comparison my friend brought up, transitional and affordable housing is important to me. One of our good friends found permanent housing with the support of the homeless shelter and other local organizations. Previous City Commissions approved tax breaks for developers, sacrificing revenue, which could have otherwise been contributed to a budget that would have provided greater resources for affordable housing. Reversing these type of decisions will help. We also need to support efforts as part of the budget process to make sure that careful planning and consideration is given to housing. But that is the thing, we have budgets, we have planning around priorities, and every issue can’t be all or nothing. Thankfully we seem to have a commission who has taken the housing issue seriously while understanding that there has to be a balance and process.
After attending 15 months of meetings revolving around the East Ninth project (which is literally in my front yard), it is my belief that this is the best plan for the area and will provide a benefit to the largest population of people, both inside East Lawrence and outside. When my husband and I moved to our house in East Lawrence nearly 10 years ago, I was disappointed with the minimal maintenance of city infrastructure in our neighborhood. East Lawrence streets have been left with pot holes far after those in other parts of the city have been fixed. New York Street in particular north of 9th is one of the roughest bike and car rides in city.
I have lived in Lawrence my entire life and for the first time in my memory, aside from re-bricking a street that is now also in poor shape, the City is investing a large sum of money in East Lawrence infrastructure improvements. This is long overdue.