HAMILTON: The Courthouse Analysis

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The Courthouse Analysis: to Change Outcomes we Must First Change Our Way of Thinking


By: Ken Hamilton

I am told that there’s an old Arab saying that the camel was a racehorse that was designed by a committee, and so it is with so many things that we do in our fair city.  The Main Street Courthouse is one such case study, and here is the logical, though irrational reasoning of how it came to be on Main Street.

The state court system had determined that the city’s Pine Avenue-area courthouse at 520 Hyde Park Blvd had become too archaic and overcrowded, and a newer larger one was necessary.  State court administrators logically expand to meet demand, but was it a rational business solution to the supply of overcrowding?

No; and as was long asserted, rational minds thought the solution that the shrinking city needed was to do the things that reduced and abated the creation of crime.  Therefore, fewer cases and people would need to be processed in the courts. But logic prevailed over rationality, and the state saying nothing about the need of a new police station, the city moved forward on the state’s mandate, but decided that as a money-saving factor that would reduce the cost of prisoner transport between the two that it was logical to also integrate a new police station into the plans.

So now the question, where should we place the new municipal safety building?

Many citizens wanted it at the site of the then-closed 39th Street Elementary School, citing that it was centrally located in the very small and easily traveled city and that police cars could be quickly dispatched anywhere in an emergency; even though due to sector patrols, no cars are ever dispatched from the station in an emergency – all of them are already on the streets. 

Others thought that a new station at the foot of John Daly Blvd on downtown’s Niagara Street would be best to impress visitors as they entered the area.

Still others thought that the site where Legends Park is located would be best for the courthouse, and if and when the county abandons the former Trott Vocational High School bldg it could be retrofitted into a police station with an over-the-road bridge connecting the two. But the idea was pooh-poohed for fear that its proximity to Abate Elementary School would bring criminals too close by. I countered that given the crime statistics already in the area, the criminals would be the ones dropping the kids off to school before they went to court! 

The spot chosen was on Main St between Cleveland and South avenues, which actually put the jail but a block further from the school. But more ironical still is that the site was chosen based upon the illogical head-shaking thought that a police station would attract more businesses to the area based upon the connotation of safety that it would bring and the crime that already existed in the area.

But now that the powers that be had succumbed to the irrationality, here’s how the dialog then went.

Me: “Okay. So if moving the police station on Main to attract businesses would it not them take away businesses from Pine Avenue?”

Them: “No, it won’t hurt Pine Avenue.”

Me: “If it won’t hurt Pine, then how can it help Main?”

Them: “You don’t understand.”

Me: “Okay, but why on Main between Cleveland and South — the only block on Main that is already filled with businesses — if you want to attract businesses?”

Them: “Because we will need the parking lot behind the new building for police vehicles and employee parking.”

Me: “So then, what happens to the businesses that are already there?”

Them: “They’ll have to move elsewhere.”

Me: “So then, you are moving pre-existing businesses to attract new business?”

Them: “Yes.”

Me: “To where would they then move?”

Them: “We don’t know.”

Me: “So then; if this great experiment actually works, and you do actually manage to attract businesses to Main Street – and you are also using the parking lot for police vehicles and employee parking, where then will the businesses’ customers actually park?”

Them: “Kenny, you don’t understand.”

And the conglomerate of leaders was right, I didn’t understand; nor did any rational person understand.  What we do understand is that it just didn’t work, because what they did isn’t the way that modern police agencies or business work; nor did they understand why Main failed, Pine still survives., and Military Rd and NF Blvd prospers.  But Frank Amendola and Nate Benderson understood – it was the “age of the automobile”, and if not for the misapplication of urban renewal, Falls Street was destined for the same fate.

When cars proliferated, there was not enough parking for shoppers on Main, and the city tore down the homes of the walk-up shoppers behind the stores to make room for municipal parking lots for those who drove there.  All the while, Lasalle’s then-Pine Av and Military Rd. built strip plazas and box stores with ample parking in front – where shoppers felt safe.  Pine maintained their the neighborhood walk-up shoppers that supported the stores that many of them lived over, and is the forerunner of the model that became nations smart-growth walking communities.

In order to improve the “how” of the future, we must understand the “why” of the past.

Do you want to know how the train station and Center Court’s HOPE VI debacle used similar mindsets to break the city?

Stay tuned!

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