Around two dozen Juneau residents, many in rubber boots and ice cleats, turned out last weekend for Blueprint Downtown’s second public walking tour. A collaboration between the City and Borough of Juneau’s Community Development Department, MRV Architects, Lucid Reverie, and Sheinberg Associates, Blueprint’s goal is to create a “community vision” for downtown Juneau.
The walking tours build off a public survey and community meetings last fall to gauge what’s working well downtown, and what could be improved.
Leading the way was Paul Voelckers, president of MRV Architects and vice chairman of the Juneau Planning Commission. This tour was meant to focus on vehicles, parking and pedestrians. But along with some talk of confusing crosswalks, Voelckers let the conversation return to a touchier subject broached the week before: what he called “the reality and the perception of vagrancy and risk.”
The group stopped at the intersection of South Franklin Street and Admiral Way, an unofficial border between year-round businesses and shops that cater to tourists in the warmer months and stay shuttered through the winter.
Juneau police officer Ken Colón was along for the tour. He said that part of town is considered unsafe by some, in part due to the homeless population that tends to gather there.
Colón said many downtown shop owners do their part to be good neighbors — when they’re around. The problem, as he sees it, is the lack of business outside tourist season.
“We do have owners who will sometimes go out of their way and work with those individuals, knowing they’re down on their luck. So if that existed, that 12-month period existed where you had every establishment functioning as it ought to be, we wouldn’t have that problem or eyesore that I hear (about) on a habitual basis,” said Colón.
M.J. Grande has lived in Juneau since 1983 and works downtown, along the route of the walking tour. She called for compassion.
“These people that we’re afraid of are our neighbors,” Grande said. “They are deserving of respect, of recognition, of interaction. Hiding away or spreading the little, ‘Ooh it’s scary, it’s scary,’ serves no benefit to our community in any aspect.”
The group continued on its way, and so will the conversation.
Blueprint Downtown will hold one more walking tour on Saturday, Jan. 19, meeting at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center at 1 p.m. The theme is cultural identity, sustainability and the environment.