Category Archives: Municipal issues

State Capitals Recycling

Alaska – Juneau – Has curbside pickup and multiple dropoff centers

Arizona – Phoenix – multiple kinds of curbside pickup and the city of Phoenix has a goal to divert 40 percent of trash from the landfill by 2020; and to achieve zero waste by the year 2050.

Arkansas – Little Rock – has curbside recycling

California – Sacramento – has curbside recycling

Colorado – Denver – you don’t even have to ask

Connecticut – Hartford – small city, free curbside pickup

Delaware – Dover – website sucks, but they offer recycling

Florida – Tallahassee – Yes. Garbage and recycling containers can be placed at the curb (no earlier than) the day before your scheduled pickup and need to be returned to the storage area near your home no later than the day following your service.

Georgia – Atlanta – curbside in a cart

Hawaii – Honolulu – mobile and permanent dropoff centers

Idaho – Boise – they pick it up, nice “CurbIt” campaign and branding

Illinois – Springfield – Abraham Lincoln does it personally. Just kidding. Curbside, but they charge for it. “Residents living in single family homes of 3 units or less in addition to residents who live in multi-unit buildings may now obtain recycling service on site from their waste hauler at the monthly rate of $3 per unit.”

Indiana – Indianapolis – curbside and drop-off

Iowa – Des Moines – Another “Curb It!” program covering municipal Des Moines and Central Iowa curbside pickup.

Kansas – Topeka – The county does it. Forty tons a day.

Kentucky – Frankfort – Even Franklin. “Franklin County incurs the cost of residential curbside trash and recycling collection. This service is provided by Legacy Carting.”

Louisiana – Baton Rouge – Yes. And it’s surprisingly robust.

Maine – Augusta – Their website is ironically itself rubbish. Appears they stopped curbside recycling pickup on May 1, 2017. But there are still four city-maintained drop-off sites.

Maryland – Annapolis – It is MANDATORY.

Massachusetts – Boston – “You can mix recyclable materials together and place them on the curb outside of your home on your recycling day.” Great website.

Michigan – Lansing – Curbside. Funded by a fee. With virtual tour of their MRF.

Minnesota – St. Paul – Weekly collection. As if you had to ask.

Mississippi – Jackson – Even Jackson has curbside. Mississippi.

Missouri – Jefferson City – Yes.

Montana – Helena – Even Helena.

Nebraska – Lincoln – Seems like the city provides 23 drop-off sites and a bunch of companies offer curbside pickup. Doesn’t seem efficient to have a bunch of companies competing to do the pickup.

Nevada – Carson City – Curbside recycling is available through Waste Management. They can be reached at (775) 882-3380.

New Hampshire – Concord – Live Free or Die … and curbside recycle.

New Jersey – Trenton – Even this place has it.

New Mexico – Santa Fe – This is hilarious and on-point. Of course they have rolling curbside.

New York – Albany – Manages one of the region’s largest single stream recycling programs with a 50.1% diversion rate.

North Carolina – Raleigh – Raleigh’s Solid Waste Services launched its first downtown recycling program in 2006. Today more than 130 downtown businesses recycle materials with Solid Waste Services. The City’s residential curbside recycling program began as a pilot program in 1989.

North Dakota – Bismarck – Even North Dakota. Curbside.

Ohio – Columbus – Yes. RecyColumbus is really cool.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma City – They have Russell Westbrook. And curbside recycling bin pickup.

Oregon – Salem – Duh.

Pennsylvania – Harrisburg – Yes. And they want to do more.

Rhode Island – Providence – Cubrside bins in the capital of the nation’s smallest state.

South Carolina – Columbia – Strange wizard. They have curbside bins.

South Dakota – Pierre – Both Dakotas have curbside recycling in their capital cities.

Tennessee – Nashville – Curbside pickup and a well-designed site.

Texas – Austin – Duh.

Utah – Salt Lake City – Bins and drop-offs and landfill tours.

Vermont – Montpelier – Recycleables have been banned from the landfill in Vermont since July 1, 2015 as part of Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law. So … yeah.

Virginia – Richmond – Yes. Curbside covering 13 cities.

Washington – Olympia – Obviously. Curbside carts.

West Virginia – Charleston – Even West Virginia’s capital. Curbside.

Wisconsin – Madison – They publish a “Recyclopedia.” So, obviously.

Wyoming – Cheyenne – curbside recycling program was first implemented as a pilot program in January 2008. Service was first provided to 1500 residents in the Sun Valley area. The results were extremely favorable and city-wide recycling began in August 2010.

That means that we are the only state capital with no program. This is the link on the city-run site, that says that you can drive to one of two sites in the city to leave your recyclable materials with one of two private for-profit entities. So, just let those jugs and bottles pile up in your house for the weeks at a time that it will take you to have the time to drive to one of the two locations in this city that can recycle. We are the only state capital in this entire nation that is this pathetic at recycling. The only one. Every single other capital city has figured something out, whether they are larger than us, smaller than us, richer than us, or poorer than us. Everybody has figured it out except for us, and we have a giant empty shuttered recycling plant that was a bad idea before it was ever built and we just keep pumping our landfills more and more full every single day that goes by. All links current as of early May 2017.

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Montgomery Recycling: FAQ

Recycling! It’s been a favorite topic of ours here at Lost in Montgomery since the city’s curbside pickup program was discontinued years ago.

In case you’re new to the story/city, a brief recap: Time was, you’d put your recycling (paper, metal, low-number plastics only) out on the curb in special bags. Those would get picked up and the contents recycled. In theory. Turns out that not many people participated and what waste was submitted didn’t much actually get recycled, plus the operation cost a lot of money.

This was a time of fragile orange bags and frustration that the city (for some reason) couldn’t recycle our glass and high-numbered plastics. The burden for sorting the recyclables of our state’s capital city was literally handed to developmentally disabled people, who, over-matched by the volume, sent most of the stuff to the landfill anyway. Little did we know that this would be our city’s most progressive era of recycling.

bildeMayor Strange, seen above posing with what we can only assume is his environmental adviser, cancelled that inefficient curbside pickup program and promised a fancy new plant that would ionize our waste, or something like that. A very expensive feasibility study concluded that this was in fact science fiction, as we’d all suspected. Back to the drawing board!

Meanwhile, the small microscopic percentage of Montgomery residents who cared enough/had the time would save and haul their recyclables to a set of bins scattered around the city. These bins were often overflowing and meant that recyclers would devote a corner of their house or apartment to vast heaps of newspapers, magazines, Amazon boxes and milk jugs.

Then, lo, it was announced that a new facility was completed that would allow everyone to mix their recyclables into the trash, as they’d be sorted before they went into the dump. This was supposed to help the environment while making money for the city (and, not incidentally, the company running the $37 million facility). We’ve got a more in-depth summary of that project here. Click the exhaustive links in that post for a multi-year history of us blogging about this subject with increasing dismay.

Things started to unravel a bit once the facility was opened. We waited anxiously for some kind of mailing, door hanger or other municipal announcement about what to do with our recycling. And waited. Then a slow trickle of information began to leak out like garbage juice from the bottom corner of a cheap trash bag. You can click here to see the comments on our previous post and get a flavor for the confusion. To clarify the new status quo for our readers, we’ve produced a helpful FAQ based on information we’ve received so far:

Q: So, we can just put our recyclables into the plastic green trash can now, leave it by the curb and they’ll be sorted out by Infinitus, right?

A: Well, no, not exactly. There are some things that the company doesn’t want thrown into your “regular” trash because it gums up the works of their pristine new magical recycling sorting plant.

Q: Wait, I can’t just throw everything away? What can’t go in the trash?

A: Well, here’s a list on a city website. Among the things you might be surprised to learn that you can’t put in your trash can anymore: dirty baby diapers, used cat litter, insulin syringes, and the sacks of dog poop you collect on dog walks because you are a responsible and good person.

Q: Wait, what? I get that you can’t throw a tire or a laptop into the trash can because those are a lot closer to very rare examples of hazardous waste. But we generate a lot of diapers, cat and dog poop, and needles … all for legal and sane reasons. What are we going to do with all that stuff?

A: “All of these items should be bagged and put in a box or other container and placed on your curb for pick up on your regular yard waste collection day.”

Q: Bagged and boxed? In what? Is the city issuing unique bags and boxes?

A: No.

Q: So I’m just going to put a cardboard box or plastic trash bag full of dirty diapers on the curb and wait for “yard waste collection day?” I don’t even know when that is!

A: Weekly yard waste collection days vary by neighborhood.

Q: I usually just leave my limbs and leaves by the curb and they take them away and I don’t think more about it. Now I’m going to leave these bags of pet turds and baby doo doo out by the curb overnight until the city comes to get them?

A: That’s right.

Q: Whose idea was it that a “clean city” involved packs of wild dogs ransacking piles of dirty diapers, strewing them all over the neighborhood?

A: Um, Florida?

The future of Capitol Heights?

The future of Capitol Heights?

Q: Wait, what if people aren’t actively reading the city’s website as part of their daily life routines? What if they keep throwing tires and diapers in the trash?

A: Well, then the magic new recycling sorting plant will break. And we’ll never see the day when all of the solid waste will be fed to magic bacteria that will break it all down and turn it into the fuel that will be used in the city’s garbage trucks. You know, like the company told us all when they built this amazing one-of-a-kind facility. (That link is a PDF).

Q: So a special space amoeba is going to eat all of our garbage and turn it into fuel for city trash trucks and other “private vehicles?”

A: ….. Um, yes — only if you have no further questions on this subject.

Q: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s go back. So we can’t throw dead animals in the trash either?

A: No.

Q: Didn’t the city just tell people last year that they COULD put dead animals up to 50 pounds in the trash?

A: Those were the old days.

Q: So if there’s a stinking, reeking, maggot-filled smashed possum on the road in front of my house, I need to pick it up and bring it inside until my weekly “yard waste collection day?”

A: Yes. We suggest wrapping it in fabric softener sheets and spraying it with Febreze™ to help with the stench.

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 12.49.54 PM

Finally, a use for those horse-drawn carriages! Downtown living!

Q: And if the family pet dies and I have an apartment and don’t have a place to bury it, I can’t put it in the trash, I have to leave it on the curb in a special bag or box that I provide until the city comes around some time next week to get branches and limbs and leaves?

A: We are sorry for the loss of your family pet. Hopefully your children will not be traumatized when roaming packs of dogs spread its ichor and bloody remains across your welcome mat.

Q: So, again, the rules are changing about solid waste collection, but the city didn’t do any kind of brochure or series of commercials? Did they just send out a passive press release and assume that a city of hundreds of thousands of people would just understand the new rules?

A: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The Clean City Commission actually said on its Facebook page that it isn’t the city’s fault if the media chooses not to make a huge deal out of the press releases that were emailed out, so let’s all shrug our shoulders and blame the local newspaper and TV stations for not doing a multi-part breaking news all points bulletin on how to throw away trash. Clearly, it can’t be a leadership fail or a PR lapse on the part of the city. Clearly. Surprisingly, the company running the new sorting plant had to go to the media after the fact due to confusion and tell everyone to please stop putting tires and microwaves in the trash because they are “clogging” the new center. If the city and the media and Infinitus all point fingers at each other for the public’s ignorance, the garbage piling up on the curb will probably turn into special fuels that you can put in your car. Just be patient.

Q: You realize this makes us look like idiots, right? That we kill curbside pickup instead of improving it, and replace with with some kind of corporate sweetheart deal for fantasyland tech we may never see, and now are telling the public to fundamentally change their waste disposal practices in nonsensical and seemingly arbitrary ways? You know that people will look at our city as if it were run by a bunch of backwards morons who can’t figure out simple municipal services like recycling? That this company’s sorting plant is probably less amazing than anticipated if it can’t handle an initial level of “sorting” that removes dead animals, tires and appliances from the waste stream? You know this is why people say that cities like Nashville and Atlanta represent the new South and cities like Montgomery and Jackson are seen as backwards, primitive provinces run by old people, where smart and progressive people flee at their first opportunity, and what are we really going to do about the diapers and cat litter all over the street?

A: We’d be happy to offer you a tour of the new sorting facility and you can see it in action. Just kidding. You can’t do that. It’s private property. Please keep producing trash though. Just kidding. You don’t have any choice.

Montgomery Alabama Recycling 2014

We moved to Montgomery in 2008. Our then-mayor, Bobby Bright, was immediately elected to represent our district in Congress and he was replaced by Todd Strange. Mayor Strange took office in 2009 and took only a few months to cancel our curbside recycling program.

Under Mayor Bright, we’d separate recyclable household materials from our solid waste. Trash went in the familiar wheeled green plastic cans (like we use now), and recycling went in a special orange bag that you’d set out on the curb. When you were running out of orange bags, you’d tie one to the handle of your trash bin, a special silent communication between you and the sanitation workers. They’d see your gesture and leave you a new roll of bags. The cycle would begin anew.

Mayor Bright interacts with recycling. All mayors need coloring books.

Mayor Bright interacts with recycling. All mayors need coloring books.

Mayor Strange had some good arguments for ending the curbside pickup. Public education and enthusiasm levels were low, so not enough Montgomery households were separating their trash and using the system. Also, gas prices make it expensive to run a citywide network of curbside pickup service. Worse, despite low participation, they were still picking up more recyclable materials than they could handle. For whatever reason, the recyclables were being taken to mentally-challenged workers who could only handle a fraction of what they were getting. What couldn’t be sorted was sent to the landfill.

Rather than fix this idiotic system, Strange cancelled the whole thing and started talking about a special magical plasma facility that would burn all solid waste, regardless of whether it could be recycled. No more time-consuming sorting. No more environmental consciousness by consumers and households. Just throw it all in the green bin, Strange told us, and this amazing new technology would “gasify” everything and turn it into electricity and the city could sell the electricity back to the power grid and we’d all get free jetpacks and hoverboots.

We were skeptical.

We wrote about the end of curbside recycling. We looked into why we could only recycle certain kinds of plastic, never glass, and complained about the new “dropoff” system. We wrote about what’s involved with driving recyclables to Birmingham. We made fun of fake civic environmentalism efforts. We hoped that City Councilor Arch Lee would continue to carry the recycling policy torch of Martha Roby after she went to Congress. We continued to look at landfill policies.

The plasma plant fell through. The city’s money spent to study the project only confirmed what we knew. It wasn’t feasible.

Then, another ray of sunlight. We were told in July of last year that a “revolutionary” new facility was coming to Montgomery (1551 Louisville St). The company’s press release said we were looking at a $35 million new facility to be open about four months from now. 110 jobs. 85 percent of the stuff headed to the landfill will go to this factory. 95 percent of recyclables will be recovered.

We are told that our trash:

will be separated using the latest in screening, air and optical separation technologies.  The system sorts and recovers commodities such as cardboard, mixed paper, metals, aluminum cans, plastics and wood based on density, size, shape and material composition.  Additional sorting will be done by hand at the site.

Organic waste will allegedly be turned into compressed natural gas. The company’s materials about the project can be found here. Another press release (with video from an unfathomably smarmy-looking corporate exec!) can be consumed here.

Other than driving plastic (and glass, and newspaper, and cardboard, etc.) to Birmingham or Auburn, what have the people of Montgomery been doing? Some have been taking things to Target, out in the Hellscape. This is not really an option. The Target has tiny little bins at the front of the store, the kind that someone might put a single Coke bottle in after shopping. This is not designed for a carload of materials. We subscribe to newspapers, the actual printed kind. We order things from Amazon that come in recyclable cardboard boxes. We generate large volumes of recyclable waste — and we don’t even have any kids. Taking stuff to Target is not an option.

Stuff that doesn't have to go to the landfill.

Stuff that doesn’t have to go to the landfill. We generate this volume regularly.

Some people take stuff to Mt. Scrap (824 N. Decatur St). This is something of an option, especially if you’re into helping a private company generate materials it can sell for profit — with no oversight as to whether they do or don’t just dump everything into the landfill.

We have been taking stuff out to McInnis Recycling Center (4341 Norman Bridge Rd.), which is one of the city’s official “drop off locations.” This isn’t ideal. On Sundays, you have to compete with the traffic from the Fresh Anointing International Church, which sounds like a pretty fresh location that is full of anointed folks and one rented cop trying to direct an armada of cars spilling out onto Norman Bridge Road. Also, bin size is relatively small.

McInnis Recycling.

McInnis Recycling

These are your only two options. For whatever reason, the place at Huntingdon we once used has closed up shop. We don’t know why. In Montgomery, information about recycling is hard to come by — just fragments from rumors and dreams. Maybe that’s why we blog about it all the time. We’re just citizens grasping at straws, wishing our city could help us to minimize our impact on the environment.

Look, we accept the fact that a lot of people in Montgomery probably think of recycling as some kind of Maoist lifestyle plot that goes hand-in-hand with yoga, vegetarian cults and Obama’s “War on Coal.” But conservation has a long tradition and ought to make sense when resources are finite.

Maybe one day we will get a tour of the Infinitus Renewable Energy Park at Montgomery (also known to insiders as IREP at Montgomery). And maybe there’ll be some kind of oversight to ensure that the landfill-bound materials end up where Infinitus says they will. We don’t need to invoke the specter of the Downtown Plume to underscore the importance of not letting companies (and state agencies) have a free hand when it comes to discharging toxins.

We’ll check back on this issue in June, which is the date that the new plant is scheduled to open. Surely the company will issue some sort of press release and the city will have some sort of ceremony. A ribbon may be cut and the Montgomery Advertiser will republish some magniloquent press release. And people will keep filling their trash cans just like nothing ever happened. No sorting, no thinking.

Primitive. Hopefully, soon a thing of the past.

Primitive. Hopefully, soon a thing of the past.

Is Retail Dead?

Grandma Advertiser told us this week that Foshee Management is going to start in earnest on mixed-use properties on Dexter. They’re calling it the Montgomery Market District, which is a little odd because a) Dexter Avenue is a name known around the world and b) there’s no market there, unless they mean the slave market, which was right there, and they can’t possibly mean that, can they? Anyway, they’ve bought a domain name and set up a website for this part of town. This website informs us that Dexter used to be called Market Street. Perhaps it was renamed for a reason.

Quibbles about the name aside, the idea of retail returning to downtown is pretty exciting — especially given that it’s struggling around the city right now. The Look left Five Points for Zelda Road and is now shuttered. Talbots closed over there too, and there’s been no replacement for some time. M. Bagwell’s been closed so long we’ve forgotten what it looked like inside. Locally-owned hardware stores are vanishing. Ciao Bella moved down to that trailer/incubator down by the Alley; the Mulberry Street businesses seem to be in a constant state of turmoil with a few exceptions, perhaps because it’s hard to park over there. The Dandy Lion seemed so promising and is now suddenly closed. There’s a weird absence of retail in the Alley development itself. And although there are some bright spots (the Herb Chateau is a welcome new business, as is Hue Studio over in the A&P lofts, and Fairview Homebrew seems to be doing fine; of course we can’t mention everyone here, please don’t write), there’s just not a lot of places to buy interesting stuff around here. Which is weird.

Except that it’s not. This week The Atlantic ran a piece called “Radio Shack is Doomed (and So Is Retail)” that delivered some sobering facts about shopping. Amazon, it turns out, is more than three times more efficient at selling products than the competition. That’s part of the reason this chart (from the article) looks the way it does:

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 1.25.58 PM

This is part of why Zelda Road looks the way it does – tons of tutoring businesses, health places, food options, but not a lot of shops.

Ever since a trusted local business owner told us that retail was dead, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this matter. Driving around our town and others, we’ve asked each other: What store would you put there? What makes this street so cool and this other street not so cool? The answer seems to be a mix of establishments. Bars and restaurants are cool and all, but they’re generally more hopping at night. What about daytime options? What about contributing to the arts and culture vibe of a city? As much as we’re not into rank consumption, tangible things remain important to our lives, just like everyone else.

I know Montgomery’s not New Orleans, but one of the things that makes the French Quarter so fun is its abundance of awesome used bookstores. And other shops – not the big tourist/gator head/hot sauce emporiums, but places like the store where they hand loom rugs. We were in Memphis a year ago and visited a cool neighborhood with a great record store and a few other shops worth wandering into after we ate a great vegan meal and picked up an awesome cup of coffee. Down in Mobile, they’ve opened a big cavernous vintage/antique/junk shop type place downtown – it doesn’t seem like it would work, but it does. Birmingham’s Five Points has a great eyewear store, a shop with strange gifts, a health food market which covers all of your incense-and-hippie needs and an amazing record shop. The Second Avenue development has What’s On Second (highly, highly recommend) and a few other places to complement the bars, restaurants and cafes there. Albuquerque’s Central Avenue has an amazing mix of one-of-a-kind retail, food, bars and cafes, even with the recent addition of an Urban Outfitters.

There’s something about a well-curated shop or two that makes a neighborhood special. We’re not talking about a chain store; we’re talking about someone who lives in your neighborhood picking out things for sale that they think other people in the neighborhood might like. When you transact with this person, you’re not just buying a thing. You’re transacting with your neighborhood, engaging in a conversation whose currency is nominally monetary but even more important than mere coins and bills.

Up in Decatur (Morgan County), we wandered into a cool shop that combined a performance space with records, comics, vintage clothing and a few arcade games. This was perfect – the kind of place where you want to chat with the owner, spend some money, and even meet some people you might like to know. We think RAD! Vinyl Records Shop over on the Atlanta Highway is promising. Why didn’t that shop get tax credits invited downtown to make the Alley a more interesting place? As it is, it’s a drive-to destination, rather than someplace you  might shop before meeting friends for a drink or a meal. Retail is social; this is a major thing the big boxes miss and something Amazon will never capture. Sure, your trash bags or dishwashing detergent may not be a social purchase, but buying a well-made shirt or a vintage mirror might be. Or could be, which is the point here. Retail should be aspirational, not merely (only) transactional. As much as some of us make fun of the artisanal facial hair boutiques of Brooklyn, they do provide a particular retail experience not offered in the current market – these folks should be celebrated as entrepreneurs even as their sideburns are relentlessly mocked.

We’re not merchants and have never run a retail shop, but we keep asking ourselves what we would sell, given the chance. Sure, we’d love to run a bookstore – not to compete with Capitol Book & News, but to complement them. We know that record stores are having a hard time right now, but they have an awesome one down at the planned Seaside community in Florida. And we know Montgomery’s not the richest place in the world, but there are folks here with disposable income, especially if you give them well-priced stuff and a good shopping experience. We need more antidotes to Wal-Mart, something different and more human-scaled than Eastchase. It’s probably only a matter of time until Eastdale goes under too, then the city’s going to have another dead mall on its hands with no schools willing to move in. Is retail dead, or does it just suck?

Maybe people shop online not just because it’s convenient, but also because shopping is pretty unpleasant at the big box stores. Maybe the chain stores are too predictable, and you can find something more interesting online at Mod Cloth than you can at Ann Taylor. These are not insurmountable obstacles. Painted Pink over on Mulberry does it right, even if their clothes aren’t for you. They have outstanding customer service and great communication with the outside world (they post pictures of new clothing regularly on their Facebook page). When you go in there, even if it’s just to browse, you feel like you’re being let into the closet of someone with very specific taste. A great store is like a great museum: It’s specifically organized, with rotating exhibits and leaves you feeling good afterward, even if you didn’t buy anything.

But of course, you need to buy stuff. If you don’t, retail operations fail. We could set up a couture gowns store in the Alley, and everyone would come in and coo over the merch, and we’d be out of business before we could even make a single rent payment. So it’s clear that shops need to offer a mix of the affordable and the aspirational – heck, even Wal-Mart knows that. You might admire the new lawnmower but walk out with a deeply discounted pack of Axe Body Spray – still, they got you in the door and relieved you of some of your monthly paycheck.

For starters, the city should invest in supporting a store for local artists like the Christmas pop-up shop downtown. Except it should be permanent. On a recent long layover in the Minneapolis airport, I was delighted to find a store specializing in local products. This was evidently the product of a special initiative. It makes the airport about a million times better (that, and they have pinball machines on every concourse). It’s too much to ask for something similar at Montgomery’s tiny airport, but it should certainly be part of the Market District, if not the Alley. You could say that there’s not enough local craftwork to fill a permanent store, but I’m sure that’s false. Even if it’s true, that’s a chicken-egg problem. Artists are encouraged to produce when there’s an actual place to sell their stuff, not clawing for attention on Etsy.

Also there should be a store that sells weird stuff. A mix of vintage and new, like the Tip Top Atomic Shop in Milwaukee would be cool, even if rockabilly’s not your thing. One key will be not to poach other retailers, even though I just said we think RAD! Records should be in a different place. Maybe Montgomery can’t support two record stores just yet, but if you want to build a vibe downtown where young people want to live and work, you need to give them places that sell cool things to spend money on. Definitely a junk shop should be high on the list – lofts need interesting furniture, and paying top dollar for loft living means that you might need a slightly cheaper coffee table.

Obviously, there should be a cool coffee shop. It should also sell stuff, like books and stationary and cards. It should also have a performance space and a pinball machine or two, while we’re dreaming. Chris’ Hot Dogs shouldn’t have a pinball monopoly in this town any longer! The Standard up in Birmingham is awfully nice as a model for using old space, but could be combined with a little retail for added interest here.

Most importantly, there needs to be some kind of grocery store — one kind of retail that will never go out of style and isn’t likely to be eroded by online buying. The lack of one stymied downtown living in Los Angeles for many years. Sure, there’s not going to be a Publix downtown anytime soon, but there needs to be a functional market where people can get milk and eggs and canned goods without paying a fortune. The mayor should do everything in his power to get a Trader Joe’s downtown. That would bring people in from all over town, lifting the boats of other retails shops there.

On Dexter Avenue, which seems like an improvement over Market Street even as you can learn (as we did) how Andrew Dexter got the street named after him. This guy, in an alternative future a Apex Predator-level Goldman Sachs employee, was a Rhode Island banker who bought sight unseen land in Alabama and moved in aggressively to found New Philadelphia, across the fountain from Alabama Town. If you’ve ever wondered why downtown streets meet at weird angles, Dexter’s partly to blame. At first, Montgomery was two cities that merged around an Artesian well (also the slave market site) – read Who Was Dexter Avenue, Anyhow for more. In any case, this guy was kind of a swindler. He ran a bank that failed its shareholders in spectacular fashion in the early 1800s, even as he set aside land for what would become our state capitol. He gave some of his land to be used as a burial ground, but himself ended up in an unmarked grave somewhere on the way to Mobile, not even 50 years old.

This is the global brand we embrace? Fairly you might ask after the costs of remaking it into the Market District. But Dexter is the one that took us to the dance. He performed in a predictably clumsy way at first but warmed up later, surprising us with his innovative footwork much later on, dipping us in ways we hadn’t expected until our whole world changed. Why are we ditching him? Andrew Dexter was our city’s first failed retail experiment. We should still embrace his inadvertent and lasting legacy, at least when it comes to the delightful narcissism of branding.

Maybe you’re of the Olive Garden school, where it’s commonplace so guaranteed; maybe you’re of the Chipotle school, where it’s known and therefore good; maybe you’re of the El Rey school where people you know know it so it’s good. Wouldn’t you rather be on Dexter than in the Market District? Wouldn’t you rather say you’re a few blocks from the failed Subway or Dr. King’s church or close to the failed Winter Building with the alleged shackles in the basement? You don’t have to be Cayce Pollard to feel like something dangerous could be afoot here. We say to Montgomery: Make the right decision. As crazy as it might be, being a little more New Philadelphia than Alabama Town might be the right direction for our fair city right now. Minus the racism, and the oppression/appropriation of indigenous peoples. Is that even possible these days? And can we add charming well-priced gifts?

We’re doomed.

Free Magazine Review – Sort Of, But Not Really

Many of you know all about the Free Magazine Reviews that we do on this site. They are among our most popular features, and we get piles of emails about them. Many hands have been wrung about how cruel we are to poke fun at the crappy wastes of paper that we have picked up around town.

It has come to our attention that there is a new-ish entry onto the crowded free magazine scene. Perhaps you have seen “The Pride of Montgomery.” No, it’s not a gay pride magazine, although that joke has already been made by everyone.

What it is, dear reader, is actually something even more interesting. This “Pride” is a glossy free monthly magazine that appears to be published by a Prattville dentist, yet features a column from Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange at the start of every issue.

The issue we got today is certainly funny enough to merit the full “Free Magazine Review” treatment. Anytime a magazine publisher uses his own magazine’s pages to write a column titled “Toothpaste 101,” you know you’ve got some serious humor potential. However, this isn’t the column where we make fun of Pride’s font selection (which is atrocious) or the laughable so-called articles (“New Tips for Glam!”)

Rather, this is simply an opportunity to examine the details of Mayor Strange’s column in Pride, which can be found on page 4. In a world where we rarely hear these kinds of big picture perspectives from elected officials, it’s worth taking a look at our mayor’s vision for Montgomery in 2014.

Headline: Continued Growth, Prosperity for Montgomery in 2014

Is this really a headline? Is this Strange’s goal? Is it a bold prediction or merely aspirational? If it’s aspirational, well, duh, yes, who is against prosperity? I guess the pro-chaos and blight candidate didn’t win the election. I’m glad the mayor is willing to exert the leadership needed to say that he wants the same things as us everyone else ever. But if Mayor Strange is going on the record predicting joy, why not fold that into a snappy headline like, “Mayor Forecasts Good Things, Doubts Prospects For Evil?”

Here’s the text of the mayor’s column (in bold) followed by some reactions:

“Many of us use the month of January to review the previous year and anticipate the 12 months ahead.”

So very wise. Go on …

“Both exercises reveal good news for Montgomery, the Capital of Dreams, and perhaps a challenge or two.”

So, 2013 was good. 2014 will also be good. Audacious stuff. And way to work in the Official Branding™. Much better than “Cradle of the Confederacy,” which remains emblazoned on countless public buildings and signs.

“We can be proud of the stabilization of the City’s finances accomplished in 2013. The retirement plan for City employees was revised to ensure new employees will have a fund that is solvent without burdening taxpayers or taking resources from other needs.”

Oh, so we “revised” the retirement plans for city workers? That means “cut,” right? Or “slashed?” Did we “decimate” them, or merely “reduce” them? Were city employees becoming big time fatcats with gold watches and cars made out of diamonds? Why did we have to “revise” their retirements? Do they not need as much money to live on when they retire? Do they plan to eat catfood when they get old? What flavors? It better not be Fancy Feast because if it is, we might need to “revise” those retirement plans some more.

How much did we make from this “revision” of city worker retirements? Enough to start a citywide curbside recycling program? Oh. I guess not. OK, go on …

“The City’s reserves, which were depleted during the Great Recession, are now up to $15 million. Ratings agencies view healthy reserves as an indicator of sound management. Standard and Poor’s awarded Montgomery with an “AA” rating.”

Let’s be clear, AA rating isn’t the highest, but it’s good. Government entities often get good ratings because they can, say, raise taxes and are often seen as likely to pay back their debts. Cities can issue bonds to pay for projects, so bragging about credit ratings is fine (“Hey, we’re not Jefferson County!”) but it isn’t the key measure of economic health. The City of Calera also has AA rated credit and nobody ever says, “Hey, let’s be more like Calera.”

How about the fact that the City of Montgomery is tied (with Birmingham) for the single highest sales taxes in the United States? We (and Birmingham) pay TEN PERCENT SALES TAX on pretty much everything we buy, including groceries. The next highest in the nation is a tie between Chicago, Glendale (Arizona), and Seattle. I’ve never been to Glendale, but I know we are not getting as much cool stuff for our astronomical sales taxes as the people that live in Chicago and Seattle. Look, I understand that nobody wants to raise property taxes, so we’re stuck relying on regressive sales taxes that punish poor people, but I’m embarrassed to admit that no city in American has higher sales taxes than mine. That says a lot more about our city’s economic health than the fact that S&P rated us AA.

“Montgomerians can also take pride in the many key projects that took place in 2013. The Wright Flyer replica and park salute our notable history in civilian aviation. Maxwell Boulevard has been upgraded and is primed for further development. The demolition of the State House Inn will lead to an improved Madison Avenue corridor. Genetta Park in West Montgomery is protecting our watershed and will soon be a spot for recreation and education. The former Steve and Barry’s store at the Montgomery Mall has been converted into a Public Safety center for Police and Fire & Rescue services.”

Wow, that’s quite a list. Slow down! That’s five things! Projects! Let’s take them one at a time.

1) Seriously. Who is into that Wright Brothers statue? Anyone? Anyone? The park is great, yes. But that was true when it was Overlook Park. Now that it is named Wright Brothers Park and has a metal plane in it? It’s about the same. Does anyone look at that hyper-literal model of a glider and feel pride? It’s OK, I guess. I might have opted for something a little more artistic and evocative of the transcendentally beautiful human aspiration for flight, something suggesting innovation and soaring. But if it’s a large metal THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE replica that we get, I guess that’s OK too. I just don’t see showing that thing off to visitors or putting it on postcards. But yes, we should be proud of our history and stuff. For sure. Agreed.

2) Maxwell Boulevard has been upgraded. Wooo! Let’s get fired up for some medians! Wooo! New striping on roads! Ya’ll feeling that surge in civic pride?

3) State House Inn has been torn down. Good. It was a disgusting eyesore. But can we at least all agree that this happened because “Evil Big Government” interfered in the private free market and “rewarded failure” by purchasing private property and using PUBLIC MONEY to “bail out” a “failed investment” and turn it into something else? For all the talk about tea party this and capitalism that, for the “I’m just a businessman” mayor to tout these kinds of projects, it’s pretty mind boggling.

4) Genetta Park: Let’s be clear. This area has been called “Genetta Ditch” for years. That’s not the most appetizing branding, but it has always been a ditch and it still looks like a ditch. If they stick a park between McDonald’s and the Interstate, great. Parks are awesome. But this thing appears to be on a 10-year timeframe and it’s a bit too early to share the enthusiasm about whatever the heck this thing is going to become.

5) They’re sticking a police station and fire station in the bombed out abandoned husk of Montgomery Mall. OK. Cool. See above regarding Issue #3. They took a failed investment and a bad business plan from a businessman who allowed his giant building to fall into decay. He let his investment deteriorate and then sold it to the city. We like police stations and fire stations (unless those fatcat city employees are getting too much money in their retirement plans … see above). And we are glad something is being done about the depressing spectacle of Montgomery Mall. Certainly police and fire stations will be immune to the market forces that dragged an entire mall into oblivion and caused tax payers to purchase it with Socialism disguised as “we’re just free market loving businesspeople.”

“We will devote attention in 2014 to exploring other occupants at the former mall, encouraging the Board of Education as it reviews plans for the LAMP and MTEC programs, as well as the Central Office consolidation. Special attention will also focus on avoiding the inordinate increase in homicides we sustained in 2013.”

We’re blurring three issues into this paragraph. First is “we’re trying to find other tenants for the mall.” Good. Fine. See above about Uncle Strange’s Big Government Real Estate Bonanza seeking to make sweetheart deals with potential tenants. Book stores and video game arcades and shoe stores aren’t coming back to that side of town any time soon. Second, we have a glancing mention of the school system, which experienced a catastrophic grade changing scandal in 2013, resulting in the firing of the Superintendent and the quasi-takeover of the entire system by the State Board of Education. Funny how that didn’t rate a mention in the ol’ year end wrap-up. Third, the murders. Yes, we agree that we’d like to have fewer of the murders please.

Sidebar: How great is the mayor’s use of the word “inordinate?” As if having 25 murders instead of 50 would be a totally ordinate number.

Update: Since I wrote this, we have learned that the schools aren’t moving into the old mall. That is dumb. How could the city and the school system not get on the same page about this? I bet the mayor is mad.

“2014 will be marked with continued progress. The improvement to the Dexter Avenue streetscape is already underway. To meet the demand for living spaces downtown, developers have plans to build apartments on Maxwell Boulevard East and the Frank Leu site at Bibb and Commerce. Questplex, the home for the Children’s Museum of Alabama and the Library of the 21st Century will revitalize Court Square.”

Again, there’s a lot going on here. First, Dexter: Yes. Good. It’s horrible how merchants have fled downtown. A once-thriving retail scene is now a sorry collection of faded storefronts. Also, the Internet has murdered retail everywhere. We look forward to hearing what will be purchased on Dexter that can’t be ordered cheaper from Amazon. Also, see above about Municipal Socialism rewarding holdout building owners by using public funds to buy decrepit buildings at above-market cost. We support this, of course, but it’s good to be clear about what we’re talking about. Maybe the city should buy that stuff and just keep it and open some restaurants and bars. Bet the local economic developers would love that.

Second, downtown living: Good. Build nice lofts. Someone should do it. But it’s funny how this gets a single sentence and not a word about, say bicycles or a downtown grocery store. People don’t want to live where there is no commercial ecosystem. Downtowns with residential living all need drug stores and places to buy food and maybe a place to throw a frisbee.

Questplex? Sure. Do your thing. The city needed to buy more real estate from the market failure known as Colonial Bank. So put a museum there for kids or whatever.

“Like many agencies, the City will find a way to stabilize increasing health care costs. It’s the right thing to do for the health of our employees and as custodians of taxpayer dollars.”

Oh, for real Todd Strange? We can’t stop a citywide murder spike nor provide curbside recycling, but we’re going to as a mid-sized municipal government going to DRIVE DOWN THE COST OF HEALTH CARE? Even the federal government, undertaking one of the most ambitious social and regulatory projects ever attempted in American history cannot do that. How is the City of Montgomery going to make MRI scans cost less? Oh, sure, we can cut health plans for city employees. That would certainly drive down health care costs … at least the costs borne by the city. It’s not like those people would stop getting sick. It’s just that we’ll be picking up the tab for those people when they go into emergency rooms because their city health plan no longer covers preventative kidney treatments or whatever. And didn’t you just brag up above about “revising” the retirements of city employees? Is this a threat to gash their health plans as well? Next time some bored city worker treats a resident like crap, I hope everybody remembers the good people that could have taken that city job but declined because they instead took a job that wasn’t hacking away at their benefits all the time.

So two of the main fiscal things Mayor Strange tells us to be proud of are the cutting of city retirement plans and the upcoming cutting of city health plans. Take that, you fatcat city workers! Our fiscal conservatism with your benefit plans is what allows us to buy failing businesses around town and sell them to motivated developers who want to open theme pubs and lofts. #FreeMarket

“Indeed in 2014, we will continue to pursue our vision of “sustaining a safe, vibrant and growing Montgomery in its entirety, that we are all proud to call home.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Montgomery’s Lightning Route

photo(1)Did you know that Montgomery was once home to the nation’s first electric trolley? It was a marvel of the times, a true wonder of science, technology and progress. We were envied by the rest of the world for our public transportation.

No more. Now, we only drive cars or trucks, burning fossil fuels and cutting off the poor from employment and health care. Out city buses became famous for racism and tactics deployed against it. We now incentivize sprawl, which is convenient for those looking to flee neighbors that don’t look like them or share their values.

This sign is still on display downtown, as poetic in decay as the discarded idea it represents. Here’s hoping that one day our city will again be on the cutting edge of something good.

Montgomery Airport, Continued

We once wrote about the charms of flying out of the Montgomery airport. But sometimes, it can be less than charming. And lately, it has been downright annoying, sliding into an experience that one might reasonably call “unpleasant.”

It is nearly Thanksgiving, and it is already the holiday corridor when our nation’s skies are full of the most people and our airports are most crowded. As such, consider the following concerns about the local airport experience.

The airport likely has little control over TSA agents, who are federal employees and obviously free to make travel as unpleasant as possible. The airport can’t control the situation in Montgomery when one agent says to hold your hat in your hand, while the other tells you to send it through the x-ray machine. The airport isn’t in control (we assume) of the irradiating machines and the surly, bored jerks that rifle through your stuff and march you around telling you to “hold your hands up higher.” The airport itself doesn’t do the hiring and firing or the training of the sad losers drunk with power, herding rubes through a bottleneck.

But the Montgomery airport does employ the cops circling the single paved loop out in front, wasting gasoline and enforcing the ludicrous 15 m.p.h. speed limit. The Montgomery airport police officers make campus cops look like FBI agents.

And the Montgomery airport is also responsible for the wireless network, which is free but inoperable at least a third of the time. We’re glad it’s free, but hate that it is poorly maintained. The airport’s local strategists are also behind the unavailability of a bar after you clear security, and the airport is responsible for the monopoly of the crazy Christian and militaristic cartel’s coffee shop that doesn’t seem to understand how to provide decent snacks to hungry travelers.

The airport is bereft of any art or humanity. It offers virtually no choice of airline carriers, and is astonishingly bad in the department of flight delays and even outright cancellations on the mandatory leg to and from Atlanta. Increasingly, we experience exhilaration and delight when we get wheels up leaving Montgomery in a timely manner. And although we are often glad to be coming home, it is often with a sense of looming regret that we’ll spend an additional half hour or 45 minutes waiting for the lethargic baggage crew to unload a single arriving plane onto the  single baggage carousel.

Nine times out of ten, I’ll take slow-moving laid back apathy over an aggressively hostile and militant efficiency. I’m just Southern like that. But sometimes, people getting on an airplane are going someplace laden with stress, and the loafing and gossiping of every employee in sight is maddening, especially when things are delayed and there seems to be no interest in crisply getting you where you’re going.

So, again, it’s not the fault of the Montgomery airport that the TSA decided to do a special secondary screen at the gate, demanding photo ID from the same people that had already passed through security 200 yards away. And it’s not the fault of the Montgomery airport that those agents are on pathetic power trips, making people take off sunglasses with unpleasant demands (“Let me see your eyeballs”). Those agents are clearly saving America from terrorism.

But again, unionized federal jobs aside, it’s important to focus on the accountability parts that we can control: It is the fault of the Montgomery airport that flight departure and gate information is not updated on the screens. With only six gates (and usually one flight leaving at a time), it’s not hard to walk up and down and try to figure out where you need to sit. But it’s also not hard to update a screen, especially if there aren’t going to be gate agents present to let people know what’s going on.

And the fault lies with either the airport or the airlines (or both) when the same plane that has been sitting empty on the tarmac for nearly an hour isn’t refueled until after everyone has boarded. Nothing adds frustration to a planeload of delayed passengers like seeing a fuel truck pull up next to the plane after the doors should have already closed.

These anecdotes are from a single recent outbound trip through Montgomery Regional Airport this week. May your future adventures be more enjoyable.