Experts weigh in on Laney-Walker design

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Three consultants used by Augusta-Richmond County to develop master plans say closing part of Laney-Walker Boulevard might not be the best urban design for Augusta as a whole.

A larger strategy, combining the ambitions of both the Georgia Health Sciences University and the Laney-Walker neighborhood as partners, should be considered.

"It's fine for someone to make a proposal in isolation," said John Shields, the author of the Augusta Sustainable Development Agenda, which addresses Richmond County redevelopment. "But now we have an opportunity for everyone to work up a solution in combination with one another."

Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz in December told an Augusta subcommittee he would like to turn the portion of Laney-Walker Boulevard that cuts through the campus into a pedestrian mall. The street closing would unify the campus and improve safety, making it more attractive to prospective students and teachers, Azziz said.

The proposal ignited a firestorm of criticism from neighbors, who said it would cut off a major traffic artery through the surrounding black neighborhood. The Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods are in the midst of their own $37.5 million urban revitalization.

Martin Melaver, a marketing consultant for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment, said disconnecting neighborhoods goes against city planning best practices.

"Usually you want to create bike lanes and more types of transportation throughways to improve vitality and connectivity," he said. "There's not a lot to be gained by cordoning the neighborhood off and creating even more boundaries."

A possible compromise might be to convert Laney-Walker from a four- to a two-lane street, Melaver said. Doing so would calm traffic and open up areas for bike paths, enlarged pedestrian walkways and beautification.

Melaver pointed to Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University as one example of where a medical college and surrounding inner-city neighborhood effectively partnered to further the interests of both.

Jesse Wiles, an urban planning consultant for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem project, said he hadn't yet focused on the Laney-Walker closing as a development issue, but did say both parties could benefit if the issue is handled properly.

"Georgia Health Sciences University is a neighbor and important to Laney-Walker's revitalization. But the integration between the two is not that well-defined," Wiles said. "It may be that what will come out of this is a better understanding of how that integration is going to work."

Shields said the challenges Azziz faces trying to keep the university competitive are very real. In recent years Charleston's Medical University of South Carolina, for example, has outpaced GHSU in growth, he said.

"Dr. Azziz is looking for a paradigm shift. He's got to attract research dollars and really brilliant researchers from places with better facilities and environments," Shields said. "It's very clear to me they need to move somewhere quickly and they see (the street closing) as the 'quickly somewhere.' "

Still, Shields said, the university needs a more comprehensive solution, designed in context with the city's master plan. There are obsolete buildings at the university that need to be torn down and university traffic patterns need to be studied, too.

He said there are several ways the university could create green space besides closing Laney-Walker.

Commissioner Matt Aitken, whose district includes the university and the Laney-Walker neighborhood, said he sees both parties moving toward a healthy conversation and he asked people to be open to change for the area's betterment.

Azziz also said a conversation with the community is under way.

"Right now, we are in the process of speaking to many community leaders, we're in the process of engaging additional individuals to hear their ideas, we're in the process of trying to craft plans that may respond to some of the concerns of the community," he said. "We're also waiting for the city to finish their engineering report, which will help guide us. And also to have the open hearings that were promised."

Azziz characterized the proposed Laney-Walker Boulevard pedestrian area as "one of many strategies" to improve the university's competitiveness and improve the community.

Staff Writer Tom Corwin contributed to this article.

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Crime Reports and Rewards TV
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Crime Reports and Rewards TV 02/16/11 - 01:13 pm
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Put walk unders, under these

Put walk unders, under these roads that need them. If you guys don't know how to dig give U.S. the permit and we'll show you how it's done. In the Natonal Guard i was so good at putting these things in so quick they used to walk by me and say, It's a Bird, it's a Plane.... he's a mole... ha ha ah

crossyourarms
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crossyourarms 02/16/11 - 01:20 pm
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Quoted: "The proposal ignited

Quoted: "The proposal ignited a firestorm of criticism from neighbors, who said it would cut off a major traffic artery through the surrounding black neighborhood."

The surrounding BLACK neighborhood? Really? Must we make it about RACE?!?! I'm sure MCG can't help where it's located. That aside...

Closing a street to plant grass and flowers WILL NOT attract better students, research dollars or faculty. Good facilities, incentives, and research policies will. Hiring attractive faculty will-- and not the kind that use MCG/GHSU for a temporary stepping stone to a better position elsewhere as many of the hotshot faculty hired in the last 7-8 years have done. Yep, they're all gona... and I bet you the new Dental School it has nothing do with Laney-Walker Blvd traffic and the lack of green space.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/16/11 - 01:26 pm
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Let's be honest here. It's in

Let's be honest here. It's in the best interests of GHSU (trying to start using that) to create a barrier with the Laney Walker neighborhood. But keep in mind many current and future employees live in that area and what's good for GHSU is good for them too and the community.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/16/11 - 01:25 pm
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I've posted these links

I've posted these links before, but there are surveys done of medical students on various aspects of a medical school. One of the main factors examined is the campus environment. Ours ranks almost dead last. It's a major problem and something has to be done. Closing Laney Walker would be a major improvement.

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
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Crime Reports and Rewards TV 02/16/11 - 08:28 pm
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Or we could do as most major

Or we could do as most major cities have done; tunnel under the road way, keep everybody happy and Laney Walker open. But that would be too easy wouldn't it? ha haha

crossyourarms
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crossyourarms 02/16/11 - 03:48 pm
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Let's be honest? I

Let's be honest? I am.

Closing a road to create green space does nothing to improve the training of health professionals and the attraction top quality faculty, whose primary focus is research and medicine. All it does it make things appear nicer, but that won't change the ultimate reason why MCG/GHSU is not a top tier institution. Would a prospective student really want to spend thousands more on private or out of state tuition because of a lack of grass on campus? But if wasting tax dollars, as if we don't have enough of that already, on irrelevant appearances is what the leaders need to say they've done something... then what's a little common sense going to do?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/16/11 - 08:16 pm
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Crossyourarms, all I can say

Crossyourarms, all I can say is that "campus environment/safety" is one of the few major categories that medical students rate and GHSU came in last. Something has to be done to fix that.

Let's go over something. There are approximately 10 applicants for every student accepted. Students will come, but it comes down to a question of attracting the best students. Those are the ones that will be the leaders in medicine one day perpetuating the influence of GSHU.

I'm not only in favor of closing Laney Walker, but I'd also build a wall there to increase the safety factor. Remember, as I keep saying, the residents of Laney Walker depend on GHSU for their jobs and they want to see it strong, too. GHSU is a billion dollar entity for Augusta with thousands of jobs. Let's do all we can to help it.

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