Sunday, March 12, 2006

Tucson issue: downtown, 4th Avenue, and progress

So our neighborhood sits to the south of an enormous empty lot (total blight in my opinion), which itself is south of Broadway across the street from the now-abandoned Greyhound Bus Station. For years, the city has planned to raze the station (it may even happen this decade!) and renovate the existing underpass to the north that allows bikes, pedestrians, and cars to reach North 4th Avenue from downtown. At the same time, the city's plan involved building a new underpass adjacent to the historic one - the new one was to carry bikes, pedestrians, cars, and the new streetcar, while the historic one was to carry pedestrians and...oh wait, just pedestrians. Right.

Along comes a developer (immediately making many people suspicious), and he's got a proposal to develop the land on which the Greyhound Bus Station currently sits. This plan was quite interesting and innovative, though one of the thorny issues it produced was a reduction in the number of underpasses from two to one. It also rerouted some downtown traffic in order to make reasonable use of land that otherwise would have been bisected by this street and that street, so the proposal actually enabled that land to be more productively used as a gateway to exciting downtown Tucson.

I sit on the board of our neighborhood association, and recently at a general meeting of the neighborhood, with about 60 people in attendance, the city transportation people presented this proposal. The reaction from about 90% of the neighborhood was vocally opposed to the proposal. Here are some of the reasons that were given:

(1) The proposal will cut Armory Park off from the rest of downtown.

(2) I won't be able to drive to downtown in under 20 minutes.

(3) This developer thinks we're all brown and poor and that he can take advantage of us because of that.

(4) The city spent years developing the original plan, so how can it be changed now?

Let me try to address each of these. Here is how my brain responded to each of these concerns:

(1) The proposal will NOT cut Armory Park off from the rest of downtown. There will still be access via Toole Ave to the underpass, as well as 6th Ave and Stone Ave (which will be become two-way streets).

(2) If you drive downtown instead of walking or biking there, you should consider moving into a gated community, from where you can drive everywhere you need to go. Get out of your cars, you morons!

(3) The racist presumption of reason (3) are too gross to dignify. Even if the majority of our neighborhood were poor and brown, I doubt this developer would be thinking he could walk all over us because of that.

(4) Even if the city did spend years developing the original plan, it has serious flaws. Who needs TWO underpasses, anyway?

Thankfully, several people in the meeting had the sense to point these things out, but the overwhelming attitude of the meeting shocked me: the level of contradiction, hypocrisy, and selfishness on the part of many participants was very unfortunate. Just because the developer's plan has some serious problems doesn't not require us to react so immaturely; the appropriate course of action is to ask for these troublesome elements of the proposal to be modified.

Ten days went by, during which some city council sub-committee met, and last Thursday, made a recommendation to the city council itself to adopt the developer's proposal with certain modifications. The modifications involve:

(1) A single underpass, created by renovating the existent one and widening it to accomodate all forms of traffic - yes, even bikes and pedestrians, who had been ignored in the developer's original proposal.

(2) Keeping Congress St open all the way through, thus avoiding a problem many people had with being "cut off".

(3) Turning Herbert Ave into a walkway between Broadway and Congress, making the site even more pedestrian friendly.

My reaction upon seeing this new plan was one of total relief, because it affirms my suspicion that the developer is a reasonable person who heard the concerns of the neighborhood and modified the plan accordingly. Apparently, city official also like the modified proposal and think it can be safely engineered. This is a win-win, folks! That awful Greyhound lot will become useful as a mixed-use space, with a very cool tall tower at the eastern edge of downtown - exactly the kind of landmark needed at a gateway interaction. I look forward to stepping out of my yard on South 4th Ave, looking north, and seeing this building (though I wish it were going to be much taller). I look forward to being able to safely cross Broadway and Congress on foot and on my bike, and I look forward to a wider, friendly 4th Ave underpass.

I really hope my neighbors feel the same way. There seems to be some bitter acrimony on the part of many people that I feel is unjustified. Get over it folks - you're getting just what you asked for! And please be nice to your hard-working city council members.


It's been months since my last post, but not for lack of energy or work, just haven't felt like blogging. But here I am - back, and we'll see how long this goes. So, much progress to report on two electronic dictionary projects:

(1) Hebrew dictionary: my very competent undergraduate independent study student has helped create a couple perl scripts that provide useful data from my electronic Hebrew dictionary. We can now type in a word, and get back all lexical neighbors of that word in the dictionary. This will be quite useful when fishing for experimental items if we want them to match in neighborhood density. Second, together with Andy W., he's written another perl script that will calculcate the uniqueness point for any word entered. What's nice about this script is that it accepts regular expressions, thus allowing me to calculate the average uniqueness point over any subset of the lexicon that can be described with a regular expression. Think of the possibilities! I have already calculates average uniqueness points for each of the seven binyanim (verbal classes) of Hebrew, and they all fall somewhere between the second and first segment from the right edge of the word. In other words, average uniqueness points are (as I have been predicting!) close to the end of the word. This has important consequences for lexical access which we can now begin to explore.

(2) Maltese dictionary: my hard-working graduate research assistant has been working on this for eight weeks now, and we now have a full text-editable Maltese-English dictionary! Nothing like this exists anywhere else for Maltese, so this feels very ground-breaking. Our next step is to turn the document into an xml database to be mined for all sorts of things, much like the Hebrew dictionary: we can calculate segment co-occurrence statistics, neighborhood densities, uniqueness points, etc. And since it's Maltese we can also do things like examine proportions of lexical sub-statra derived from different origins (most importantly, Semitic vs. non-Semitic). Also very exciting!

Meanwhile, a commentary on the somewhat larger picture: in many conversations lately with phonology colleagues worldwide, there seems to be a shared perception of an impending paradigm shift. "Watch out OT, your days seem to be numbered!" is what many of these colleagues are saying, and their voices are becoming louder and louder. It's been pretty clear for awhile now that the branches of linguistics outside of phonology have been awaiting this moment for awhile, and are keen to be able to start talking to phonologists once phonologists realize there's a bigger world out there than the world of formal constraints. In my own day-to-day life as a formally-trained phonologist, it's been exciting to connect with colleagues in psycholinguistics, language documentation and revitalization, computational linguistics, and phonetics, but much of the excitement doesn't involve OT anymore. My advice to those phonologists who are unsure of what to do in the face of this shift: be scientists! don't let your devotion to a particular approach or theory blind you to the reality that science involve progress, inevitably requiring the modification of extant theories, the creation of new theories (or - gasp! - looking back at old theories), or the exploration of data whose methodology and technology may be somewhat unfamiliar.

Some people ask me: Well, Adam, you can dish it out, but can you take it? Do I take my own advice? You bet! This semester, I have the extremely good fortune of not teaching (I could go on and on about how awesome that is!), and along with getting a bunch of papers finished and out there, I am auditing two classes, taught by two amazing colleagues here at the University of Arizona. Natasha Warner's "Statistics for Linguists" class rocks my world every Tuesday and Thursday - I can't believe I wasn't SPSS-literate before (not that I am quite the crack SPSS user yet, but I am working on it). The 2-factor within-subjects ANOVA is what's making me excited this week and next, and despite the streotypical attitude many people have toward statistics, I find it very stimulating. The other class is Ken Forster's seminar in Lexical Access, which is providing me with the opportunity to learn an almost overwhelming amount about different models of lexical access (including, of course, his own), as well as crucial information about experimental design and analysis (which we also cover in stats). So I am feeling a lot like I am being re-trained this semester, and it's terribly fun.

That's all for now, at least on the linguistics side of things. I may post something separately about various goings-on in the city.