When I lived in Sitka I grew to like Anchorage. OK, when I first moved to Southeast I made all the normal jokes about “Los Anchorage” or “the best thing about Anchorage was that it was 20 minutes from Alaska.” But after many visits I began to appreciate the city. If I hadn’t I would not have moved here for four years in 2004.
When I lived in Anchorage my opinion changed. I thought it was a city with great civic boosterism but little civic pride. I based this on the way people treated the city. Anchorage had nice buildings built by oil companies, Native corporations and the government, (one office building looks like it is crowned by flickering aurora) great parks and a fine trail network, mostly built by the state or the feds. But with all this nice infrastructure no one shoveled walks, even Downtown was treacherous for walking and Midtown, where I lived, was a total mess. There were great arts events but I was wary of walking from the parking garage to the venue in winter. When spring came and storm drains clogged with ice no one came out with a pick and shovel to unclog the streets and drain the icy “lakes.” In other places I’ve lived neighbors take care of this before the city gets to it. With some important exceptions there was not the sense of community I’ve seen in other places. There was the core of civic Anchorage-ites, but many people were just passing through and didn’t really care.
Coming back this winter to visit Kevin and Shannon I have a feeling things have improved. Downtown sidewalks are shoveled (with a few notable exceptions, like the Holy Family Cathedral block.) When someone broke the torch and the head spikes off the Statue of Liberty ice carving from New Year’s Eve, volunteers found them and kept them frozen until they could be reattached. Volunteers from the Downtown Alliance stood guard over the ice sculptures overnight. The Alliance sponsored the “Crystal Gallery of Ice” competition in Town Square Park on Jan 4. This winter several businesses have their own ice carvings. There is a wonderful Musk Ox carved in front of the Qiviut (Musk Ox) wool store and Snow City Café has an ice Snowman. One of the carvers was continuing to work in Town Square Park after his carving was finished. He was carving one on commission for the Hilton.
The Downtown Alliance also deploys “Downtown Ambassadors,” equipped with radios. They have day glow vests identifying them. They answer questions and radio in problems and provide security. The Alliance is also responsible for shoveling walks downtown for its members. At the ice sculptures judging in Town Square Park I spoke with a member of the Downtown Alliance and complemented him on their work. I’ve also taken to going up to the “Downtown Ambassadors” shaking their hands and thanking them. The Bars have taken action to improve downtown. Anchorage requires carding of EVERYONE. (Yes, even a 67 year old couple like Suzi and me.) The bars have a list of people who have been trouble and refuses service to them.
Midtown and South Anchorage are still a mess. Snow berms are pushed up from the roads onto the sidewalks obliterating them and making walking dangerous. This week a family was hit by a motorist while walking along a snow berm on a street where sidewalks were not cleared. When I lived in Midtown I tried to get people to take action. I went to my condo association meetings asking them not only to plow the walks within the development but also those on the perimeter of the block. I editorialized on KUDO about the problem, but no one seemed to care. Looking at Midtown today, no one still seems to care. However I did see one favorable sign of Midtown civic engagement.
Arctic – Benson Park along Bering Street across from our old condo used to be the hangout for hookers and drug deals. Many nights when stopped at a stop sign, even in freezing weather, a hooker would tap on my car window trying to turn a trick. And this is not a bad neighborhood. The neighborhood got together and asked the city to make part of Arctic – Benson a dog park. People with big dogs tend to discourage hookers and drug dealers, and it is working in my old neighborhood. Now if we could get the sidewalks clear so you could safely walk to the park…