Omaha World-Herald. Nov. 15, 2020

Omaha area is laying the foundation for post-COVID progress

The Omaha area is moving forward in important ways, even amid this awful COVID crisis. The downtown/riverfront revitalization provides a key example, among several more. In the wake of the virus emergency and its challenges that must be addressed, it’s also important to appreciate positive factors that will help our metro area achieve post-virus growth and progress.

Consider the recently released illustrations of greenspaces and civic spaces for the Omaha riverfront project. Those images point to encouraging opportunities, not that far in the future, for people to enjoy recreation, fellowship and public performances in a variety of redesigned public spaces. This will be a remarkable transformation of the downtown area, creating new energy and excitement. And the richness of the greenspaces will be a particularly welcome improvement.

For example, the portion of Gene Leahy Mall between 10th and 13th Streets will feature an art plaza, social areas with pingpong tables, a promenade where 11th Street would cut through, a dog park and a playground. A large event lawn will connect to a plaza with a pavilion for concerts and events.

Meanwhile, directly along the riverfront at Lewis & Clark Landing, visitors will be able to enjoy sand volleyball courts, an urban beach, a “destination playground” for kids — plus a $101 million science museum.

This multifaceted revitalization project shows a city on the move, building toward the future in focused, coordinated fashion, at a time when many U.S. cities seem stymied by the terrible difficulties of 2020.

Among other examples for the metro area:

» Revival of Central Park Plaza. The purchase of the downtown twin-tower office complex by Omaha-based City Venture, with plans for a physical transformation, is an encouraging example of civic vision. “If you have the ability to take action, and keep our community growing, you have a responsibility to do that,” said Chris Erickson, co-founder of City Ventures. “No one local has ever owned this ... and realized the role it plays in downtown Omaha.”

» Kiewit headquarters in the north downtown. With this project, Kiewit is making a major civic-focused investment in downtown Omaha and adding to the ferment in north downtown.

» West Omaha gateway project at 192nd Street and West Dodge Road. This ambitious $1.5 billion project by two separate real estate developments will include office, commercial and residential venues on a 250-acre expanse.

» Dollar General project in Blair. The $85 million Dollar General distribution center will bring some 400 jobs to Blair. That Washington County city continues to diversify its economy, already strengthened by the vibrant biomanufacturing complex that includes Cargill and other companies. Economists at the Greater Omaha Chamber project that the distribution center will boost the metro area’s economy by $106 million annually, with $53.5 million specific to Washington County.

» Amazon project in Sarpy County. This 700,000-square-foot distribution center is expected to employ 1,000 full-time workers and add some $203 million annually to the metro area’s economy. Success in landing this project showed how Nebraska is benefiting from the coordinated business recruitment efforts of government and private-sector entities in the state.

We’re living in a stressful, uncertain time, and many challenges must be met. At the same time, it’s important to recognize the many ways in which the Omaha area is laying the foundation for future progress. Let’s work together to maximize these promising opportunities.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Nov. 15, 2020

Urban-rural divide need not be this size chasm

A glance at a county-by-county map of the 2020 presidential election results instantly conveys a stark division across the country.

In nearly every state, tightly compacted blue counties that voted for President-elect Joe Biden are surrounded by fields of red, the counties that voted for President Donald Trump.

The blue counties are cities. The red, some suburbs and vast swaths of rural America, areas with few population centers of greater than 100,000 people.

In Nebraska, that red-blue division is even more striking -- and instructive. Just two of the state’s 93 counties show up in blue. But those two counties are Douglas and Lancaster, essentially Omaha and Lincoln

The Nebraska divide is far from surprising and is nothing close to new. For decades, it’s been designated as “the rural-urban split” and has manifested in the Legislature in seemingly intractable conflicts over, to select perhaps the biggest one, property taxes and school funding.

The split, however, is about more than tax policy. The divide revealed itself two years ago when voters in only eight counties supported expanding Medicaid. That initiative passed with 53% of the vote, with the two urban counties more than 60% in favor.

It even emerged, in disturbing fashion when in 26 counties, 21 of them west of Kearney and five mostly in the north-central part of the state, voted against forbidding the use of prisoners as slave labor.

Those results indicate a cultural split, a divide that has been much analyzed.

Some, primarily from the urban view, argue that it’s driven by white resentment and a rural fear of being ignored and left behind, creating a progress-impeding desire to return to the way things never were.

On the other side, analysts see an untrammeled growing majority paying little to no attention to rural problems and culture, imposing its values and agenda on the deeply held, more traditional life outside the city.

That gap, which has been growing for a century since the country became majority urban, will likely never fully close. And, as election results have shown over the last four decades, voters will almost certainly continue to cast their ballots in a manner that reflects where they live.

But in a place like Nebraska, where many of the urban dwellers have rural roots and the economy depends on agriculture, it can, with some effort, rural and urban can come closer together.

That effort starts with developing some understanding of and empathy for the “other side,” dialing down the demonization and degradation of those with whom you disagree on political and cultural issues, and respecting their viewpoints and positions -- a difficult task in the highly social-media driven world.

At some level, people will act and vote based on where they live, rural and urban.

But then, on the political level, policies and programs could be developed through compromise based on that respect as could cultural cooperation and change.

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North Platte Telegraph. Nov. 15, 2020

What happens next with COVID-19 is up to us.

We’ve heard our health professionals’ recommendations and pleas regarding COVID-19 many times now:

Stay at least 6 feet apart. Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds. Stay home if sick. Avoid crowded places, close contact, confined spaces. Work from home if you can.

And, yes, wear a mask to limit how much of the virus travels between you and others (and vice versa).

Now Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has never imposed a statewide mask mandate but effectively shut down the state for six weeks when COVID-19 arrived, has raised the stakes.

About 20% of Nebraska’s staffed hospital beds statewide were occupied by COVID-19 patients as of Friday. (As of Thursday, more than 38% of Great Plains Health’s staffed beds were so occupied.)

If that percentage reaches 25%, Ricketts said, he’ll reimpose most of the legal health restrictions he did in April so long as it stays that high.

Most indoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people. Outdoor gatherings couldn’t exceed 25. Bars would be closed except for delivery, takeout and drive-thru. Only licensed restaurants could offer dine-in meals (an improvement from last spring).

You know the drill.

There’s still a chance to avoid this fate, Ricketts said (from his own COVID-19 quarantine): “Please get engaged with our non-pharmaceutical interventions.”

Right. Social distancing. Hand-washing. And masks.

No one can deny that Ricketts has repeatedly called for Nebraskans to do all that, all year long, without a statewide mask mandate.

He’s called upon Nebraskans’ common sense and desire to protect loved ones and neighbors from unnecessary harm.

Our health professionals have had two unchanging goals: Restrain the virus’ spread 1) to buy time for a vaccine and 2) to avoid overwhelming hospitals and their staffs.

It was good news last week to learn the first COVID-19 vaccines are on their way. But they’re still a few weeks off at best.

With few exceptions, Nebraska’s hospitals have had enough room all along to take care of the worst COVID-19 patients and people with other serious illnesses or injuries.

Now it’s a matter of making sure that remains true. And deciding what our holidays look like.

That said, the choice remains yours.

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