ARKANSAS BY Richard Mason The Curb Appeal of Downtown Pine Bluff “You have got to be kidding.” Of course, even if you haven’t been to Pine Bluff lately, you have an opinion from reading about buildings falling in the street, streets closed, and the appalling condition of their downtown. Yes, it’s really sad, but the reason I’m writing about Pine Bluff is not to rub their noses in the mess, but to alert the citizens of Pine Bluff and the rest of the state to the seriousness of this situation. This is it in a nutshell: When the center of a town is considered to be a failure, the whole town is perceived to be a failure. Yes, Pine Bluff, as a town, is considered a failure primarily because of a failed downtown. Their downtown has reverse curb appeal. Well, what is curb appeal, and how does it work, and would it help thousands of ugly Arkansas cities and towns? Yes, they all can be helped, and for a lot less money than it takes to bribe a Chinese Pulp Mill into setting up shop. I really think you have to see curb appeal to understand how it works. Oh, we plan a vacation to Europe or Santa Fe without even considering that our choice was very likely determined by curb appeal. I know, when you consider visiting Switzerland, you think you will be taking in all those wonderful mountain views, but you won’t. Yes, you will see the majestic mountains, but you’ll spend the majority of your time in the small towns and cities, and when you return home you will rave about the great vacation in the Alps. Yes, you did vacation in the Alps, but those mountains were just the backdrop for the quaint, charming towns and villages in the country. What really made your vacation pop was curb appeal. Of course, here in Arkansas we tend to think of curb appeal as a planter of flowers in front of a business or a token tree. But curb appeal is so much more than that. It’s underground utilities, a strict sign ordinance, it’s preserving historic buildings, and yes it is planting thousands of trees along with more flowering plants than you can count. I think most reasonable people will agree that all of the above recommendations sound pretty good, but the question is why do these positive ideas sit on the back burner of our economic development program? Huh? Yep, those recommendations are considered fluff. What we actually do is give the Chinese another 100 million to put in a polluting pulp mill. However, curb appeal costs only a fraction of what we regularly dole out to entice industrial development, and the benefits are multigenerational lasting. Those ideas should be on the top of every town’s economic development program, but of course they aren’t even on the list. Why? Well to be brutally honest we’re stupidly stuck in 50s with the concept that adding or creating jobs at any cost is the best way to improve the quality of life, and to hell with the environment. We live in a capitalistic society, and that means our driving focus is based on an economic model. Well, I’m okay with that, but when we ignore things like beautification thinking we shouldn’t waste money on those items, we’re missing some of the core values of commerce. The curb appeal that sells houses sells towns. We have ignored our towns, especially our downtowns in the state until we have bricks in the street. Yes, it is a terrible indictment for a community to sink to the level where buildings actually fall in the street. That is curb appeal in reverse. Bricks in the street drive nails in the coffin. That anti-curb appeal will slowly eat away at a town until the community is a former skeleton of what it once was, and the remaining civic leaders will still be saying, “We need more jobs, jobs, jobs …” If Pine Bluff had a beautiful, thriving downtown would their still be a flood of people saying, “Goodbye, Pine Bluff?” Pine Bluff can make a comeback, but if their city essentially ignores their Downtown, it’s is going to be an uphill battle. What Pine Bluff should do is pass a one cent sales tax and dedicate a goodly portion of that money to creating a quality downtown. Yes, spend money rather than blowing hot air moaning about how terrible things are. And a word to the Pine Bluff City Council. Don’t try to pass the buck and blame the mess on the property owners. Gut up and pass ordinances that will either make the property owner maintain their property or sell it. But for God’s sake! Do something! Unless, the center of Pine Bluff regains its stature as a symbol of quality, the goal to bring back this community from the edge of total failure is going to be an impossible job. The Curb Appeal of Downtown Pine Bluff