In the midst of celebrating a rebirth of Kingsdale, a question came to my mind.

In the midst of celebrating a rebirth of Kingsdale, a question came to my mind.

What do we want the heart of Upper Arlington to look like in 10 years and how do we work together to make it happen?

A strip mall like Kingsdale has a lifecycle of 7-10 years, with most development companies scheduled to get their money back out in five years. Consider the Shops at Lane Avenue. That strip mall is now in its third incarnation since opening almost 30 years ago.

The master plan calls for mixed-use development at Kingsdale, which may have helped because mixed-use developments are easier to repurpose, don't usually rely on a single major financier (like an anchor store) and thus have a longer lifecycle. However, mixed-use developments often require greater participation from city funding sources.

Riding past Kingsdale and watching the tired old buildings coming down makes me excited about finally seeing the center of our city reborn. Along with that excitement I hold a mixed set of feelings about how we perceive Kingsdale in the context of our community, particularly as we move forward.

The newly redeveloped Kingsdale will be nice, even though it won't be a radical departure from the Kingsdale of old -- the one that ended up sitting mostly vacant and decrepit for nearly two decades. The new Kingsdale will remain a strip mall with a few added amenities that take small steps toward the vision of the current master plan.

I wonder if Kingsdale represents something more than just a shopping center to Upper Arlington. I wonder if Kingsdale has become a symbol of our city, or even a metaphor for our city.

There has been no lack of debate about what Kingsdale should be physically. The master plan provided a vision of Kingsdale as a town center, and the location is very much at the center of our community. Even as we see Kingsdale being reborn, the debate over its redevelopment rages on.

One side calls for closer adherence to the vision of the master plan: "more pedestrian friendly, more density," while the other side calls for less city involvement: "let the developer do what they want, don't spend any city money." At times the debate has taken on very ugly tones.

Is this debate purely about the physical redevelopment of a property or is it about the greater symbolism of Kingsdale?

What is at the heart of the debate is the heart of our city. Kingsdale is more than just at the physical center of our city. Kingsdale serves as a reflection of our city, and of how we view ourselves in the larger community of central Ohio.

In the midst of all of this debate, Kingsdale has served as a constant, highly visible reminder that our community could suffer decline just like any other community.

Citizens and leaders alike have drawn lines in the Kingsdale sand over the years as a way of staking claim to a position or opinion about the direction of our community: "We are a bedroom community" or "We need to diversify our tax base." Those lines create a basis for debate over the direction of our community in all questions that we face. We debate and debate and debate. Do we continue to invest in our community or is enough enough? Do we embrace change or discourage it?

Upper Arlington will hold city council elections in November and the candidates have all talked about Kingsdale in one way or another as a part of their campaign. Most of this talk has been about the positive impact that the Kingsdale redevelopment will have on our community. While the rebirth of Kingsdale is something to celebrate today it is not a panacea. It is only another step forward in the story of our community.

Instead of constant debate (which is a format that suggests there is somehow a victor and a defeated), why don't we have deeper and more meaningful conversations about where we want our community to go? Why don't we start from a basis of what we all want instead of a basis of what we can't seem to agree on?

I believe this is what the redevelopment of Kingsdale is offering us. Even with all of the unfulfilled desires for what Kingsdale could be (or should not be). Today is the opportunity to accept that Kingsdale is going to be alive again. Let's start fresh by starting a conversation instead of a debate.

Now I have a new question to ask myself.

How do our leaders create an environment where meaningful conversation can occur, where neighbors from across the community can sit down together and build the vision and the roadmap to Upper Arlington's future? A vision that is embraced equally: by residents, business and community leadership.

If we don't start having those conversations now there is a real chance that we'll return to the debating, standoffs and tenuous compromise that we've suffered once this brief celebration is over.

Andrew

Miller