7 big ideas for little rock

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Saturday, January 9th, 2010

7 big ideas for little rock

a couple days ago, i picked up the current issue of the arkansas times, which is their annual natives guide to pulaski county. the cover story was a series of “big ideas” written by various people of (quasi-) prominence in little rock and surrounding areas. the list included some ideas i love (bringing a nice independent movie theater downtown, churches without barriers), some good ideas that could use some tweaking/fleshing out (creating a light rail system, increased revenue sources for parks) and ideas that are just plain unfeasible (tearing down i-630, which is an excessive solution to a real problem). after reading their list, i put myself to the task of coming up with my own list of “big ideas” for little rock. here’s what i came up with.

1. pr/ad campaign for historic little rock
i work in advertising and have regularly seen/engaged in advertising for or related to our city. one of the common themes—in terms of little rock imagery—is photos of chenal valley or west little rock, in general. of course, there’s the occasional photo from the heights and maybe if it’s “hip”, a photo from hillcrest. what i’d like to see, both from the city and advertising agencies alike, is a concerted effort to change the perception of the rest of the city. namely, the areas in downtown and midtown little rock—the river market district (residential), quapaw quarter, university park, capital view, stift station and others. i think i’ve blogged before about the constant frustration of people thinking we live in gangland (we live in the quapaw quarter) and our kids spend 23 hours of the day in a panic room. we have a beautiful city beyond west little rock that’s a great place to raise a family and enjoy life.

2. church consolidation
here’s one i see happening soon (please note my intensely thick sarcasm…). several months ago, i was doing some research about churches in little rock. i discovered that there are approximately 225 self-identified “established” churches (though i suspect there are actually many more). that equates to over 2 churches per square mile. that’s a whole lotta churches. so, one might think it’s strange that, as a pastor/church planter, i’m calling for church consolidation. the lynchpin of my decision to start a church was based on offering something relatively unique to a disconnected/disinterested segment of our city. so, with church consolidation, my point is that we need to 1.) reduce redundancy of exact sameness and 2.) pool resources to have a greater impact. there are so many small churches (or even large-ish) that are making little impact either because of apathy, lack of sufficient resources or irrelevance to their community. let’s say 2 or 3 churches that were very similar (and there are more than plenty that fit in that category) became 1 and pooled their resources. think about the potential impact. of course, my sarcasm is well-founded. the church notoriously refuses to work with each other and holds firmly to what’s “theirs”. so indeed, this is certainly a “big idea.”

3. ban smoking in all public spaces
i’m glad the state has taken steps to greatly reduce smoking in public places. still, though, i wish the city (or business owners, collectively) would ban smoking from all public places: bars included. i get it, i get it…people like to smoke, especially when they drink. there’s a greater health concern, though, that should compel everyone to allow a place for smoking until people’s lungs literally go on strike…and that place is outside. i certainly thoroughly enjoy a good cigar, but addictive, habitual smoking is literally one of the most senseless things to do and no one should have their right stripped to not smoke. obviously, part of the argument is that nonsmokers can make a decision not to go in a place that allows smoking, but nonsmoking should be the impetus for the standard, not smoking.

4. get rid of private schools
alright, now we’re getting juicy… 🙂 i haven’t been too secretive with the fact that i dislike private schools. i have a sizable list of reasons why that is, including racial and social segregation, perpetuation of elitism, lack of financial “care” for public schools and unrealistic social preparation for life after school. while i could go into greater detail, my overarching point is that i simply don’t think private schools offer a good alternative to public schools. generally speaking, i’m just a big proponent of public schools for all the opposite reasons that i listed for private schools. while i believe that the little rock school district offers a perfectly adequate (a.k.a. good) education (exhibit a: regular national merit finalists at LRSD schools), i believe it could be dramatically improved without the resource drain that is caused by private schools. private schools pull away financial resources, talented people and citizen awareness.

5. axe the local fox news & 1 other news station
alright, this is more of a personal nagging than a pressing social crisis in little rock. 🙂 first of all, can we all agree that the local fox news (not as in the evil empire fox news…) is horrendous? it’s just bad. so, let’s axe them. then, we have the competition of news on 4, 7 & 11. while i prefer and relatively enjoy channel 11’s news (mainly post-5 pm), i say we just get rid of them all and set up 2 power news programs. these 2 programs would be comprised of the best news people from the 3 stations. so, we keep dawn scott, craig o’neill and ed buckner from channel 11. we keep jancey sheats from channel 4 (mainly because her name is jancey). we keep steve sullivan, jessica dean, barry brandt and amanda manatt from channel 7. (we can keep others, but these are the ones to for sure keep.) but, we absolutely get rid of ned perme, roger susanin, brett cummins and mike francis (all these for reasons i feel i don’t need to state). we take the all-stars and set up 2 competing stations because we don’t need a monopoly of information. that would bring peace and goodness to our local news lineup.

6. offer incentives for restoration of historic downtown buildings
it greatly bothers me when i see beautiful historic buildings either sitting completely empty or, worse, being torn down. we have some beautiful old architecture in downtown little rock that could be used for so many great, revenue-generating purposes. the problem, of course, is that it costs an incredible amount of money to renovate many of those buildings. (the arkansas studies institute is a prime example of that.) as things stand, it just makes more sense to the bottom line to simply tear down and start over or just go to west little rock to build a new project. so what if the city gave substantial financial incentives for historic renovation? imagine the potential flood of business it would bring to downtown little rock? i’m really not sure what the hard numbers would look like, but i’m simply suggesting this as a viable option both for business and the long-term benefit of the downtown area (tourism, beautification efforts).

7. place an emphasis on public art acquisition
i really think cities are beautiful. i’m not much of a nature person, so i honestly find more beauty in the intricacies of a downtown skyline than i do a forest full of trees and bunny rabbits. 🙂 on a local level, i love downtown little rock. i love, at times, to just drive around a look at the architecture and the intricate layout of the buildings. but one thing is glaringly absent: intentional, creative public works of art. there is certainly public art in places downtown, but there’s just not an emphasis on it. we lived in lexington, kentucky for a couple years and its downtown was full of art. literally every corner in the heart of downtown had a substantial work of art that was a prominent aspect of its makeup. lexington, of course, isn’t unique. many cities place an emphasis on public art and little rock would do itself well to move that direction. in the midst of a lot of concrete and strictly business-oriented terrain, it would be incredibly inviting to have some kind of art piece(s) that served as a visual hub throughout the city.

so, these are my ideas. there are certainly many more and better ideas than these. what are yours? what big ideas would help to make little rock a better place to live, work and play?