Paul Brown: Do you see what I see?

paul brown SQI remember being fascinated by my first exposure to visual illusions in a college textbook, but I also recall the slight sense of unease I experienced when the pictures helped to illustrate just how subjective our perceptions are and the implications of this subjectivity. When you realize that not everyone sees the same visual image in precisely the same way, it’s natural to think about which of our senses we can really trust to provide us with an accurate representation of what is happening ‘out there’ in the real world. Given that all the ‘real world’ stimuli are transformed from light, sound, pressure on the skin and molecules in the air into electrical signals, one wonders whether these ‘transducers’ of stimuli always work correctly. Considering that these electrical signals are then transmitted along miles of nerves and across synapses to the grey matter and neurons of our brain, it’s a wonder any of us perceives anything the same way. Which brings me to a current land use planning issue in our community.

At last week’s New Paltz Town Planning Board meeting, the over 100 local residents present watched a slide and video presentation by representatives of the Mohonk Preserve on its Testimonial Gateway Foothills project. Two key issues raised by both supporters and detractors of the project had to do with whether all three phases of the project would be submitted to the Planning Board at the same time and whether the board would require a Full Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

As I listened to the presentation and viewed the slides, I believed I had clearly heard Peter Karis, the landscape architect who helped create the plan, state that the SEQRA review the board conducts will involve all three phases of the project. I also believed I saw words to this effect projected on the screen. Nevertheless, several critics of this ‘segmentation’ issue repeated basically the same comments they had made a week earlier, before the Preserve had officially made the commitment to include all three phases. The presentation also called for a Full Environmental Impact Statement, yet the remarks of some audience members gave the impression that the Preserve’s application did not support such an exhaustive review. This provides a cautionary note that people exposed to the same facts may perceive them quite differently. It also underscores the importance of really listening.


Encouraging was what took place after the presentation in the parking lot outside. I saw Ron Knapp, a 45-year resident of New Paltz who has served on the Preserve’s board of directors for 21 years, approach several vocal critics of Mohonk’s application and engage them in conversation. Ron was joined at one point by Peter Karis, and all parties appeared to be communicating effectively and treating one another with respect. As I drove home I reflected on the fact that our community is off to a good start. My perception.


Traffic in New Paltz…does anybody really care?

Last year I wrote in this column about the traffic congestion we all experience in New Paltz, particularly on Main Street, and traffic will undoubtedly be an issue under consideration by the Planning Board when it deliberates on the Mohonk Preserve’s application for its Testimonial Gateway project. A year ago I wrote, “You cannot live in New Paltz for long without hearing several complaints about the “horrendous traffic” and “terrible parking.” The downtown parking meter debacle is only the most recent in a series of flawed plans put into operation in an attempt to solve this problem.” I then went on to talk about my vision of the town, village, school district, SUNY and local business owners working together to solve the problem, perhaps by utilizing the high school and SUNY parking lots and instituting a system of electric buses and trolleys to shuttle visitors into the village. I hoped my words would at least spark some interest, even if only to give me ten reasons why my ideas would never work. More importantly, though, I hoped it would provide a platform for brainstorming other possible solutions.

Well, another year has passed and I can report that absolutely nothing has happened in the meanwhile regarding a long-term strategic plan to deal with traffic and parking in New Paltz. Since there has been no sustained attempt on the part of our government officials to address this issue, I think it is now time for local businesses and private citizens to get involved. Until that happens I do not believe real change will ever occur. Again, only my perception.