Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Alaska Then And Now

If you've looked around Barnes & Noble or other book stores these last few years, you've probably seen this awesome collection of books known as "Then And Now". Seattle, Portland, St. Louis, New York, etc, etc have all had their own Then And Now books made, and now Alaska's number has apparently been called. If anything, I'm probably just showing my lack of awareness, because this new book from Thunder Bay Press was released way back in April of this year. My bad. I did however find it in time so as to make it a Christmas gift for the parents. For those not in the know, the Then And Now series puts a side by side comparison of urban streetscapes from past and present together for whichever city the book is on. While previous editions of the series focus on one city only, the Alaska edition looks at our big three (Juneau, ANC, Fairbanks). Images from the Anchorage portion of the book include a then and now look at the present sites of the PAC, Egan Center, Hotel Anchorage, 4th Avenue Theater, Kimball Building, and even the White Spot Cafe among others. While the book is definitely a keeper, there are a couple clumsy factual errors made by the authors when writing captions for the images that make you think twice before realizing that the error is on their part and not some sort of new revelation on Anchorage history. Nothing major though.

Anyways all this before and after talk reminds me of a couple years ago when I scanned an old postcard I had of Anchorage circa late 1970s and matched it with a shot I took in 2005 from the same location (that being Gov. Hill, of course):

(click to view larger)

Obvious difference: A/C Couplet added not too long after the first photo was taken linking Downtown with the port and Government Hill. Also note the expansion to the Hilton (then Westward Hotel) which blocks off the view we formally had of the Key Bank, Westmark Hotel (formally Sheffeild Inn) and First National Building as well as the top of the 4th Avenue Theater sign. The Marriott Anchorage however looms behind as a new architecturally welcomed addition in the 2005 photo.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spenard transformation controversy continues

I know it may start to become repetitive to our local readers whenever I post an article from the ADN that many of you may have already read earlier in the day, but I like to keep this blog as sort of a record/archive on all things urban related that even I myself can refer to when needed. Besides that, most of our readers actually come from outside. Ex-Anchoragites? Probably. Regardless, the holidays have been keeping me busy, but no I did not miss the extensive Sunday article 2 weeks ago on the long continuing controversy surrounding the transformation of a stretch of Spenard Road. Nothing really new in the article other than some new specifics on what will happen to an arterial road as well as the T-intersection of Fireweed and Spenard. Read the article and graphs here.

As for the Joop editorial, well I'm optimistic that the city learned from the nightmare that was the Arctic project. As a resident of West Anchorage and growing up attending West High, I can tell you that the span of Spenard from Fireweed all the way to Minnesota is indeed a disaster. Many seem to have a hard time believing that a two or three lane Spenard will be good for business, but look at the stretch of Spenard from Northwood to Airport Road in which Spenard goes from four lanes to two. Harley Davidson, Puffin Inn, and Gwennies(sp) Restaurant appear to be doing fine these last 20 years or so since the improvement while numerous new businesses such as hotels, dine-in restaurants, and a couple of coffeeshop trailers have sprung up in that stretch of Spenard over the last 10 years. Unlike lower Spenard however, the area of Spenard currently in question has something going for it that no other part of town has. Call it "hipster paradise" or whatever you want, but there's no question that Spenard has become what the city has long wanted Mountain View to become -- a bohemian district. From the numerous cafes, to the bicycle shops, to the ultra popular (and crowded) Bears Tooth Theater, Upper Spenard is culturally blossoming. What's hindering this new identity however is the 1960s era planning philosophy that puts cars and concrete as priority #1. Bicycle lanes, less surface parking, and mix-use buildings are some of the many solutions that will not get in the way of this new community as demonstrated in cities like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver BC, and other places that are taking smart growth seriously. Check out the visions had for Mountain View within the next 20 years as posted by Clark at his blog. Like 4th Avenue, Spenard and Mountain View can have their own hotdog vendors on the streets along with musical acts playing in a park. Lets not forget that west 4th Avenue itself was at one time a four lane road.

Bottom Line: Enough with the complacency. The Muni needs to reach out and be proactive in building its case for this great road improvement.