By Jeff Keeling
The lovely and talented Angela and I were due at the church, dinner materials in hand, at about 5:30 last night. I pulled into the driveway just as the birthday girl was calling me. I was sure it was in order to not-so-patiently ask where I was, since we had such little time left to get where we needed to be.
I was 20 steps from the back door, though she didn’t know it, so I decided to play a little joke on my youthful-looking bride on this her 49th. I entered one of the text replies available to put a caller off when you’re unavailable. I chose, “Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.” This was going to be fun.
I opened the door of my truck, stepped onto the grass, then reached back inside to grab my two aces in the hole. Had I delivered that message without being so close to the house, there would have been justifiable severity on my wife’s part. But I had more than just my immediate presence to make it right. I had not one, but two bouquets of flowers I had just stopped and picked up in honor of Angela’s birthday.
I walked through the back door into the kitchen. Sarcasm, harsh words, chiding or whatever well-deserved words about to be delivered on the phone call Angela had been about to make melted away into smiles, laughter and an admission that I had pulled off a good one. I even got a tender hug – always a bonus.
Nevertheless, we still had to pack up our materials for dinner lickety split and make the four-minute drive to Grandview Christian. Far too often, I seem to be cutting it close on time. Take this column, for instance. I was informed at exactly 9:12 a.m. (it’s Tuesday) that I have roughly 690 words available.
Our deadline for sending pages to the printer is 11 a.m. As I type this sentence it is precisely 10:27 a.m. I don’t always run up this closely against our deadline, but I must admit, perhaps unwisely, that I often awaken between 5 and 6 a.m. Tuesdays with little more than the general thoughts of what I’ll write about rolling around in my head.
As a result, I’m sure, quality is sacrificed occasionally if not often. In contrast, I think this morning of an arduous process on one of our neighboring Tree Streets that is yielding excellent results, at least from my perspective. Next door to 722 W. Pine St. there stood for several years a dilapidated rental house on a double lot.
Eventually, the last tenants moved out and the bank repossessed the property. Fortunately, the story didn’t end there. Johnson City’s community development coordinator, put his perseverance, experience and passion for this city to work. Over a period of well more than a year, Baldwin worked and worked to contact the right people at the bank, persuade them to sell the property at a reasonable price, and utilize community development funds to get the property into the city’s hands.
After the house was torn down, Baldwin worked with the private sector in hopes that the lot could be purchased and infill could occur there. I’m a big fan of infill, the construction of new or entirely renovated homes on existing city lots. It’s smart growth.
Fast forward another 18 months. As I run, ride, walk or drive past the property now, I see one new home already built and occupied and another nearly complete. If Steve Baldwin had not exhibited the patience and perseverance to turn one city block’s weak point into a showpiece of redevelopment, the little red dump I used to pass by might still be sitting there unoccupied today.
I’m grateful for Baldwin’s work and vision. I hope the city will choose to put significant energy into the many other opportunities for infill and urban redevelopment that present themselves throughout town. Those types of efforts may not be flashy, but they greatly enhance our quality of life and go a long way toward improving neighborhoods.