Monday, June 13, 2011

We Should All Be Like Shirley James

A few days ago, construction crews placed one of the main and final bridges at Lamasco Park which will connect our entire Pigeon Creek Greenway from the Heidelbach canoe launch to the Evansville riverfront later this year.

There is no doubt that this success would not be possible without the heroic and passionate efforts from Shirley James. Very few people do I feel have the same views I do towards urban planning, the environment, and progress, but Shirley James bucks this trend as well.

Who is Shirley James?

"This community and its environment became her passion. She helped organize the West Side Improvement Association in 1976 and served as its president for all but two of the next 20 years, waging wars against urban sprawl, drainage problems, litter and junk yards, creek debris and other pollution.

She led development of the Howell Wetlands, was a force behind restoration of the Pagoda and volunteered her time and expertise in many other projects. But it was her tireless commitment to the Pigeon Creek Greenway for which she was best known. She served as chairman of the advisory committee for the past 18 years, as a volunteer working often full time to help plan and gain funding for the Greenway Trail, that she was convinced would add tremendously to the quality of life in Evansville.

She received many honors for her leadership, including the prestigious Rotary Club Civic Award in 2000. Shirley once told a newspaper reporter that her life had been filled with adventures similar to those in novels she read by flashlight beneath the covers late at night as a child.

She became a student of urban planning, zoning, drainage, sewage, grant-writing and other such topics, and she became known for her persistence. She was a formidable foe of commercial developments and rezoning that she believed would damage the environment. Although she often disagreed with politicians, her approach was to offer assistance rather than criticize. Glenn Boberg, chief planner for the Evansville Department of Parks and Recreation, said of Shirley, "She influences the quality of life. It can be felt.""

There are 4 core beliefs that Shirley held that I myself try to replicate in my own political, business, and urban planning career...

1. Respect the environment.

2. Encourage Smart Growth where downtown development is strongly supported while urban sprawl is strongly opposed.

3. Form your own beliefs no matter how popular or unpopular they may be with local residents, politicians, or city officials. Don't let others influence you.

4. Always promote ideas that you feel are right and always make sure you give a counter proposal against ideas you oppose.

Shirley didn't just preach these beliefs, she didn't just practice them when it was convenient, she lived by these beliefs.

Shirley James Taught Us To Respect The Environment.

Shirley was a fierce defender for our environment, and we ALL have benefited from it. One of the areas Shirley especially fought for was Garvin Park and Pigeon Creek. Back in 1995, she stood strong against a developer who wanted to put an auto salvage yard next in the area to go with the already nasty, dirty, and ugly salvage yards we already have there...

Shirley stood strong against this project, and we are still reaping the benefits today. As walkers, bikers, and joggers take a stroll down the Pigeon Creek Greenway, they will not have to look at this development and they will not have to look at a Pigeon Creek being polluted by this development.

Shirley James Introduced Us To Smart Growth

While most politicians here in Evansville couldn't care any less that we have an out of control urban sprawl with a dying downtown at the same time, Shirley fought against these problems.

In a 1981 article in the Evansville Press, Shirley laid out the vision we must have for the west side if we are going to be success in developing it while not destroying our environment...

Unfortunately, city hall hasn't been practicing the vision Shirley gave us and know we have out of control urban sprawl with a damaged environment on our west side.

Shirley James Formed Her Own Views

As most of you remember, we made a terrible mistake in Evansville by developing the land that is south of the Lloyd Expressway and west of Red Bank Road. The worst thing about it is that many politicians and city leaders who were truly against it caved in to peer pressure. Not only was Shirley against it, she also strongly believed that at least 25 acres of the land should be set aside for the Greenway. Shirley stood firmly behind her beliefs in a zoning hearing about the project...

The ironic thing about it is that if Gene Hahn would have listened to the vision Shirley gave him 17 years before about Smart Growth, the problem wouldn't even have existed. Instead, he insisted on building an urban sprawl nightmare we know as Pearl Drive which resulted in a tight land design. Luckily, there is still room to build our Greenway out to USI thanks to Shirley James!

Shirley James Stood Up For Her Beliefs

For those who live on the west side, Shirley James went to battle for you many, many times over the years. After forming the West Side Improvement Association in 1976, she made sure the west side had sufficient representation at city hall. You can read about all of her west side efforts in this article...

There's not one single person on the west side, or in the city of Evansville for that matter, who hasn't benefited from Shirley James' leadership. Today, we all enjoy our parks, our trails, our environment, and our community fellowship thanks to Shirley. She fought hard for these ideas, and when she opposed something, she always made sure she gave a counter proposal.

Unfortunately, Shirley lost her battle with cancer in 2007. To honor her, the Shirley James Gateway Plaza, which is the Pigeon Creek Greenway trail head, pays tribute to her and the history of transportation in Evansville. While I don't believe that city hall had to sacrifice our historic Robert Orr Building to get the monument, nonetheless, I am THRILLED TO DEATH that our city built this monument and placed her name on it.

Shirley is the kind of person I want to be like as I fight to get Evansville moving forward. Shirley had several beliefs that I am committed to fighting for today. Some of these beliefs are...

1. Preservation of historic buildings
2. Preservation and respect for our environment
3. Standing up for Smart Growth
4. Volunteering for anything and everything that I can to promote Evansville
5. Working fiercely and tirelessly to get new projects built in Evansville
6. Introducing you the residents of Evansville to new progressive ideas and technology
7. Always giving a counter proposal when I oppose something
8. Making sure all Evansville residents get a fair chance to participate in government
9. Making sure Evansville is on the same page and united
10. Forming my own beliefs based on my own core values rather than what is popular at the time

While I could go on and on about all the great beliefs Shirley held throughout her entire life, the important thing to take from this post is the fact that we are blessed to have had a living legend among us all these years.

In an era of political corruption, incompetence, and apathy, one person stood up to fight for what is right, what is just, and what is fair. That one person is Shirley James.

We should ALL be like Shirley James!

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