Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gender Neutral Bathrooms, Public Prayer, Trails, and Urban Planning, All Topics at ABS Meetings

At the last Monday’s ABS meeting, Loren Demerath, Maurice Loridans, Lani Duke, and Feico Kempff discussed the construction around Coates Bluff, refinements to the new larger loop of the Coates Bluff trail, how Shreveport’s new unified development code may need to be different from that of other nearby cities, the next dog park fundraiser, and gender neutral bathrooms.

At the next meeting on Monday the 4th, the following topics are on the docket (though anyone is free to add to the agenda):
  • Sara Whittington will speak to the group about Centenary’s gender neutral bathroom project, and ABS’s potential for helping make it city-wide.
  • Loren Demerath will suggest that ABS propose to the City Council that it use a universally inclusive prayer format.  The form that is now typically used is not inclusive, often being: “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”  (Loren wonders if the invocation performed at President Obama’s recent inauguration might provide a model: “In Jesus’ name, and the name of all who are holy and right we pray. Amen.”  Or, maybe just “In the name of all that we hold sacred, Amen.”)
Other likely topics:
  • reports on bicycling parade route as improvised “Cyclovias,”
  • news on downtown development or the dog park
  • opportunities for trail development--Coates Bluff and elsewhere
  • strategies for shaping the unified development code.

Feico brought his ma.and described the new Magnolia Charter School, and the apartments at Riverscape (its Phase 1 of construction), and the Coates Bluff apartments also has slabs down and apartments.  

Maurice has repaired the bridge at “Monte Carlo”.  Over two weekends he worked to repair it.  He said the problems were probably caused by too many people on it at one time, but it’s now stronger than it was.

Lani asked if people can help.  Maurice said trails always need maintenance and beseeched us all to groom as we go and clear things that have fallen.  He customarily carries clippers...

Later in the week Loren ran into Jon Soul who said that day he’d taken out a whole class of his early elementary aged students on the whole larger loop of the trail for the first time.  He said the kids loved it, one saying something like, “This is like a whole amusement park out here!”  Loren remarked that children are often better bellwethers of the beauty of nature than adults, who are less accustomed to being outside, without creature comforts, and enjoying things that aren’t marketed to them as entertaining.

The group described to Lani how the Coates Bluff trail emerged as a product of the leadership of Jon Soul, Montessori Director of Outdoor Education and ABetterShreveport member, s, and Montessori parents under the leadership of Jon Soul, and more recently Centenary students during last year’s “Big Event”.  Lani then talked about Pinehill Park (.org) in Rutland, Vermont.  She said it started out by people making their own trail, and as folks used it, it got better and now there are several races up there annually, it’s adjacent to ballfields, and used quite a lot.  We told Lani about Shreveport’s beautiful Stoner boat launch area bike trails complete with carpeting to prevent erosion and set up with obstacles on the inland trails.  The trails go all the way down to the Jimmy Davis bridge.  Meaux rode them the other day.  (He actually used a car to get his bike there.  M. noted that every three times he starts his car he needs a new inspection sticker!)  Maurice said most of those trails were made before mountain bikes by dirt bikes, and he used to drive a dune buggy in there.  They’re more narrow now.

The group discussed the project of Centenary’s living learning community, “Node” to facilitate gender neutral bathrooms.

Symbols indicating unisex toilet
Maurice said he wouldn’t be comfortable using a stall next to someone else of a different sex.  Loren described how he wasn’t either when he first used that style of bathroom in college, but said he got used to.  Loren mentioned how they seemed to work as depicted in the recent series “Battlestar Gallactica”.  Nonetheless others described how they thought they’d be uncomfortable too in side by side stalls that are gender neutral.

When asked why this is an issue, Loren explained how people can get harassed and feel uncomfortable in bathrooms if they aren’t expressing the right kind of gender.  This may not be a problem for most people, most of the time, but small adjustments can eliminate the problem altogether.  

It was noted that now many family bathrooms would qualify as gender neutral.  Parents and grandparents can be in awkward situations, worrying about kidnappings, abuse, etc., and want to accompany their charges.

Plus, Loren noted, it’s more efficient.  Lani noted how when Denver International was being built there was a movement to make twice as many bathrooms for women because they take more time.  A move to more gender neutral bathrooms would reduce that inequity.  Maurice noted how portalets used to be labeled male and female, but that changed once we realized it was basically the same, and women ended up waiting longer than men.  Now, portalets tend to be gender neutral.

Loren described’s effort to identify gender neutral bathrooms by location, such that people can enter the zip code and find the nearest bathroom that’s gender neutral.  Many single toilet handicapped bathrooms would qualify as gender neutral; and, many single toilet bathrooms in gas stations could also easily be relabeled as gender neutral, i.e., “unisex”.

(Sad you missed this interesting discussion? We’ll continue it this week for the first 15 minutes of the meeting. Sara Whittington will have to get to class at that point, but until then she’ll be telling us the project at Centenary, and we can ask her about how we can help identify bathrooms city-wide.)

Maurice noted that there may be bathrooms behind the bandshell, and if those bathrooms are open, we could have meetings there.  It was noted it could also be a great place for drum circle or yoga.

In discussing Centenary student Amanda Hock’s proposal for rennovating the shell, it was noted that the benches are old and the concrete has worn down over time and become rougher.  

Maurice wishes they’d do the band series in the milder months because it’s got thermal mass that soaks up sun.  If they were sprayed with something “albedo” (white) it would be less hot; stadium seats or yoga mats could be used too.

The group de-briefed on our meeting with Dara Sanders.

It was noted and if they give Dara the reins we’d be happy for her to have them; but will the good ol’ boy groups give those reins.  To this point the city’s development has been largely at the whim of developers who are able to negotiate a zoning decision making process that is based on a minimalist, outdated Master Plan.  Hence, our sprawl, neglected downtown, abandoned properties, and lack of walkability and bikeability.  (The Caddo Parish Commission, though, has made admirable strides recently; witness the various steps described by Commissioner Matthew Linn on that day’s “Time for ABetterShreveport” radio show with Carolyn Manning.)  

Here’s hoping the one person in city government who is professionally trained and experienced in urban planning will be given the power by city officials to help us.  It’s promising.  Members of the City Council have been as suitably impressed with Dara as ABS has.  And the rest of the city is getting a chance to see that too.  In a recent article in the paper Dara was quoted on the priorities of the unified development code and what it can do for the city.

It does seem as if the code is a chance to influence the city’s decision makers and residents, and increase awareness about what’s possible for Shreveport.

Maurice asked if they want the new development code to be unique, why go outside to get a consultant?  Lani and Cynthia noted that a consultant would be neutral, and Maurice agreed, also saying they’d be persuasive.  The uniqueness comes any city’s unique topography, industries, college town nature (or not--as in our case), the kind of river or water bodies it has (the Red River ain’t the Mississippi, etc.).  

It was noted that ABS has consistently been energized by people who’ve arrived or returned to Shreveport from outside and have brought fresh ideas.  The dog park came from a women from Austin, Lani’s noted on Rutland, Vermont, Maurice describing Cyclovia in Bogata, Colombia, Garrett Johnson on bicycle coops in Boulder Colorado, Loren on linear parks in Quito, Ian Webb on greenways in Roanoke, Kathryn Brandl on trails in Minneapolis, Jon on trails in Los Angeles, Carolyn Manning on downtown revitalization in Grapevine, Texas... we could go on and on!

Matthew Linn was a guest on the radio show that night.  He’s told Cynthia that the money that the Parish received from Red River Waterway Commission is being held in a trust fund by the Parish.  Cynthia will follow up with Michael Corbin and pursue the issue again.  The council has taken action, as has the Mayor, so if nothing happens it seems like we have to wait now.

ABS has long noted the importance of “the public realm” in creating a sense of community, increasing the quality of life by providing opportunities for socializing, public performances, and civic discourse.  Coffee shops and cafes (not to mention bars, barber shops, beauty salons, dog parks, swimming pools, or any place where people can come together and socialize) are often mentioned as important for that.  Many cities that rank high in quality of life have active “scenes” in that regard.  And so, ABS has always rooted for places like the Naked Bean.  One special feature it has is a performance space.  Their new location, near the corner of Highland and Kings, features more space than they’ve had previously.

March 8th, a Friday, will be the date of the next Dog Park fundraiser.  It’s entitled “Throw Me A Bone,” taking off on the name of the band that will be playing, “The Bone Diggers”.  It will be at Mojo’s, which is catty corner from The Blind Tiger.  The dog park fund will gets whatever people donate at the door.  (There are some PG rated games that will be played, btw, with bones as a theme--now you know.  Come to the next meeting and Cynthia will hilariously describe them for you!)  Doors open at 7:30, band starts at 8:00.

Join us for our next weekly meeting, Monday the 4th, 6:00-7:00 p.m., at the Wright Math Building on Centenary’s campus.  All are welcome!

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