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Welcome, everyone.  What a joyous and awe-inspiring day in Bloomington!  After more than two decades of vision and hard work on the part of four administrations, it is a sincere honor to be the mayor who gets to stand in front of you today, as our city’s most ambitious parks project comes into being.  

Switchyard Park is becoming a reality during this bicentennial year thanks to all of those public servants, business and civic leaders and individual residents past and present who have had the imagination to recognize what makes a great city -- many of you are here today. 

Imagination is essential when it comes to seeing something that doesn’t yet exist.  And it’s especially key in keeping up the momentum, political will, and the funding for something that is intangible in the face of pressing everyday concerns, years of everyday concerns.  It’s hard to look twenty and fifty and a hundred years down the line when potholes need to be filled and payroll needs to be met.

But in Bloomington, enough folks have had the bandwidth to take that long view required to create a city that is as livable as it is workable, for all of us who call it home.  It’s because of people with that long perspective that our city is anchored around dedicated green space -- around 40 parks in all -- some of which -- like the Griffy Lake Nature Preserve and Lower Cascades Park -- are nearing their centennial -- others like Bryan Park having closed out its first six decades.  And a new community anchor on the way. If we think about our city as a body, these spaces might be considered the lungs -- giving us a chance to breathe deeply and restore our sense of calm.  Breathe deep in our parks. Our community breathes in our parks. Or maybe it’s beyond lungs, maybe we should say our parks are the heart of our city.

When, in the mid-19th-century, Central Park was being dedicated on 800 acres of precious real estate on the island of Manhattan, it was a radical idea.  Frederick Law Olmsted, the park’s designer, anticipated that the city would become a metropolis of millions, but he also “prioritized the value that unborn generations would gain from his designs over immediate effects.” (The Atlantic, Sept 2016)

For Olmsted the designer, parks were not luxuries; they were necessities.  And not just for those with discretionary time and income, but for everyone.  His goal, in designing urban green spaces, was nothing short of social advancement.  Everyone, whether well-off or struggling, needed a place to escape the daily grind, restore their sanity, and reconnect to a shared sense of community.  

As it turns out, Olmstead’s “radical” park was a very very good thing for New York City. And just as it’s hard for New Yorkers to imagine their city without the relief that park provides, so it is hard for us Bloomingtonians to imagine life today without the Lower Cascades, Lake Griffy, or Bryan Park.  But at one time, let’s recall, it was hard to imagine just how much value these parks would add to our quality of life. 

Today’s Switchyard Park groundbreaking is another one of those inflection points -- from the years of imagining to this moment of realizing a great asset to our city, the scope of which is probably still beyond our imagining. Today we can picture the beautifully designed park, with the great lawns, the multi-use pavilion, the shade-covered playgrounds, the skatepark, the gardens and sports courts, the trails and the water features. But honestly we should realize we’re only dimly able to see the magical times that future generations will create here, the new community bonds that will be forged here, the uses and programming that will grow in the decades to come in this spectacular new setting.  

We cannot truly calculate the value of the millions of moments and activities and events and memories that will happen in this land in the coming decades. But we know something about the effect of a major amenity like Switchyard Park on a city’s desirability and success.  People want to locate and live in cities with green space, trees and trails, with the kind of robust cultural and recreational programming this park will foster.  Many people in Bloomington and around the country value using alternative transportation for health and environmental reasons --  Switchyard Park, with its many intentionally designed access points for bicycles and pedestrians, will encourage folks to leave their cars at home, and walk, jog, bike or skate or otherwise roll here.  

Businesses and neighborhoods along the park’s edges will flourish, and the park -- along with the programming it will be able to accommodate -- will become a destination, raising Bloomington’s profile and tourism revenues.  At the same time, we are committed to raising the quality of life for everyone in our city with this improvement, so we have dedicated property adjacent to the park to the development of permanently affordable housing.  And we are looking for other opportunities to create more housing solutions for low- to middle-income families and individuals.  It has been and continues to be my commitment that as housing develops and more people live nearby, we assure that we are preserving and creating affordable options and not reducing the availability of this park to people from all walks of life. 

Switchyard Park is born of the same spirit as several other exciting projects underway, designed with our city’s vibrancy and sustainability in mind.  This bicentennial year finds us at a watershed moment when several major opportunities have simultaneously entered the queue.  Whether this project, the Dimension Mill/Trades District, the Convention Center, or the current hospital site, we are in a position to shape the Bloomington of twenty, fifty, and a hundred years from now.   In all of these endeavors, we are proceeding with the goals of enhancing Bloomington’s economy and quality of life for future generations. 

And so, we’re here in this former Railroad switchyard, once so full of the sounds of diesel engines, and metal hitches, hydraulic turntables and hammers, and clanking and clacking and metal-on-metal screeching, full of the smells of industry and petroleum and sweat and machinery, and full of the commerce and labor that helped build Bloomington over a 100 years. Soon, this place will be full of the sounds of music and and concerts and celebrations, of bicycles and skateboards, of basketballs and pickleballs, of family picnics and community gatherings, of couples chatting and dogs barking, and full of the smells of cook-outs and gardens and coffee and yes, some sweat and exertion too. We are here to break ground on a transformation of this area into a new destination, a special place in our community’s future, a heart and lungs for our next generations of Bloomington.
 
Thank you all for being here, and being part of this breaking of new ground. 
 

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