Seriously. Am I ever going to learn not to pull out the “Mary, Joseph and the Wee Donkey” epithet when scrolling through Facebook? Heaven forbid I couple it with “crikey.” Because when I do, it’s tantamount to lobbing a flash bang, running for cover and leaving the mess to someone else. I did that this week. Dragged out the Wee Donkey on a social media post about the coming process that will lead to revitalization of Duval Street. It’s a project and process I support. But, the (pretentious term to follow) “artist rendering” of a possible (another pretentious term to follow) “vision” of what Duval might someday perhaps look like triggered the Wee Donkey’s escape. Here’s what I wrote when I shared a story about the upcoming community process:
“Mary, Joseph and the Wee Donkey! That is one horrific “rendering.” If that’s what’s in their imagination, if they think it’s OK to use a conceptual drawing that has no charm, no connection to the island, Key West’s mystique is gone. That they couldn’t be bothered to come up with something illustrative of Key West is unprofessional at best. Not exactly a good start.”
The City of Key West completed its contract recently with KCI Technologies, the consulting firm team that will guide the community input process and design a comprehensive plan that, according to the city, will “… renovate and revitalize Duval Street to increase opportunities for public use as an iconic civic space for leisure, commerce and tourism; address the infrastructure which will allow for reasonable maintenance frequency and reduce costs to businesses and taxpayers; improve safety for pedestrians and vehicles; and maintain mobility for desired transit operations for all users.”
Worthy goals. And, here’s the “but.” But, the consulting firm included several “artist’s renderings” of what the new-and-improved Duval look might be. Key West was not amused. Neither were the thousands of off-island visitors who flock here for their fix of Key West Mystique. Pretty much the sentiment across various social media groups was “Uh. No.” Or in my case, the Wee Donkey. A couple of cooler heads reminded us outraged that these were just drawings; not the real deal. That the process of gathering community input hadn’t even started. That one should read the whole proposal (I did) before drawing conclusions. Chris Hamilton’s blog, CarFreeCities does a great job of wrapping up the details with lots of links to understand the project. Look. I get that. I do. Downtown revitalizing, like sausage making and legislation building, are nasty things. But someone in that consulting firm thought those drawings were apt illustrations of what they could do for Key West and Duval. Careless or tone deaf. Either way, their inclusion shows a remarkable failure to understand how Key West would react when historically shabby Duval Street gets tarted up like a Miami pedestrian mall. Tucked among the hundreds of comments are five consistent threads. Let’s see if I can summarize them:
- Keep Key West’s shabby-chic, historic look-and-feel. We love our mismatched Duval Street architecture, store fronts and low-rise buildings. Don’t turn Old Town Duval into downtown South Beach. We’re 1888, 1928; we’re not a glitzed-up 1958.
- Add green stuff. That’s my catch-all for trees, plants and flowers. I’m all in for adding trees and planters to help with shade and pretty. Though I do warn the shade tree peeps that what you’re envisioning is better suited for temperate climates than subtropical Duval.
- Fix the flooding. If that’s not top of the list, I can’t wait to see what happens to all that proposed “green stuff” when we get the next downpour coupled with King Tides.
- Make real room for pedestrians, but don’t close Duval. Widen sidewalks. Make them street grade level. Give folks room to spread out. Let restaurants and retail places spill out of doors. But there was no consistent love for closing Duval permanently to bikes, scooters and cars.
- Clean things, paint things, repair things. Just enough for some welcoming sparkle — but not so much as Disney World. We are a working city and we want that to continue. We aren’t a “destination.” You want destination? Disney World in Orlando has just the place for you.
I hope the design firm and the city folks pay attention to the social media comments. Misplaced outrage though some of them are, the comments are a decent cross section of the locals and off-islanders who want the best for the Key West they call home — whether for a week or a lifetime. Dismissing that outrage as just so many knee-jerk, NIMBY naysayers with no class or culture isn’t going to be helpful.