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KEVIN LEININGER: Yellow Brick Road comes downtown; mediocrity can be a wonderful thing

The north plaza at the Rousseau Center will be rebuilt next year, creating a clear and accessible path between the Arts United campus to the east and the newly renovated Landing to the west, visible in the background. The planters will be converted into spaces for public art. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger
Chris Cloud
Kevin Leininger

The Yellow Brick Road showed the way from Munchkinland to Oz. A similar project will connect the Arts United campus to the newly renovated Landing in downtown Fort Wayne.

At an estimated cost of between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, the northern plaza of the county-owned Rousseau Center at 1 E. Main St. will be reconstructed next year to prevent storm water from leaking into the underground parking garage. But the County Commissioners will wisely turn the necessity into a virtue by creating a clearly marked and accessible path between the arts campus and the Landing, the historic block of Columbia Street between Calhoun and Harrison streets that is in the final stages of a $32 million facelift.

“The idea is to increase connectivity downtown,” said Chris Cloud, chief of staff for the Allen County Commissioners. The plaza is elevated, creating a barrier between the Landing, the art museum, Arts United Center and other attractions. But ramps will make the plaza more accessible, and colored pavers will create a sort of path across the plaza, guiding pedestrians from one side to the other.

The artistic theme will be reinforced by converting existing planters into exhibit spaces for sculptures and other forms of art.

The Rousseau Center was erected in 1969 as the City-County Building and is home to police and other offices. The attached 900-space parking garage is close to not only the Landing and arts campus but also the riverfront, so the project will include installation of new signs to guide visitors. The city and county will split the cost of the project, Cloud said.

Increased visibility for the arts campus could become even more important in the years to come. As The News-Sentinel first reported last year, Arts United is planning a multimillion-dollar upgrade and expansion of the Arts United Center, which opened in 1973 and was designed by renowned architect Louis Kahn.

The Rousseau Center’s south plaza was rebuilt last year at a cost of about $2 million, which included restoration of fountains that had been inactive for years.

This isn’t a huge project, true, but officials deserve credit for realizing an otherwise routine repair job could be turned into something more at little or no additional cost. Such insight should be recognized, and repeated wherever possible.

Not so dumb

In early 2005 USA Today published a story headlined “Looking for signs of intelligent life in Fort Wayne” — a piece that was slightly condescending but hardly gratuitous. After all, Men’s Health Magazine had just named Fort Wayne the dumbest city in America.

According to new survey by SafeHome.org, nearly 15 years of remediation (or shame, take your pick) may be paying off. Although the report doesn’t look at individual cities, Indiana’s place in the ranking of smartest and dumbest states (read it at https://www.safehome.org/smartest-americans/) is decidedly, blessedly average.

Indiana is the 38th smartest state in the nation, just behind Rhode Island and ahead of West Virginia. According to SafeHome, 17 percent of Hoosiers 25 and over have bachelor’s degrees, the public high school graduation rate is 84 percent, the median SAT score is 1,080 and the average composite ACT score is 22.5 (21 is considered average).

Is New Jersey really the smartest state? Is Idaho the dumbest? Who knows?

But, so long as we’re not at the bottom, who really cares? I feel smarter already, and can’t wait to read what USA Today has to say about Boise.

Whoops

I was never very good with numbers and proved it again this past week in my column on immigration. I wrote that nearly 80,000 participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have an arrest record according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That’s correct, but in the print and early online version of the story the total number of DACA participants wasn’t. There are about 765,000 “Dreamers.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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