Bradenton's picket-fence program one way to fight blight

While a picket fence may seem like a trifle -- a minor piece of landscaping whose value lies mostly as a decorative touch best appreciated by the property owner -- there's more there than meets the naked eye.

Such a subtle, simple sight creates an impression upon the brain, one far more warm and inviting than the cold, steely look of a chain-link fence.

Bradenton's 14th Street Community Redevelopment Agency will reimburse property owners 80 percent of the cost for replacing chain-link with a more aesthetically pleasing fence -- quite a bargain.

The 14th Street West corridor, an important southern gateway into downtown, is the focus of the 2005 Tamiami Trail Revitalization Strategy.

The thick document outlines a variety of strategies to create positive change and support reinvestment along the corridor and into nearby residential streets.

The Un-Chain My Fence program is one small part of that plan, with the goal of nurturing the "quaint character of the neighborhood." Chain-link fences send a strong negative signal, a warning to keep out. All that's missing is razor wire along the top.

The white picket fence is as iconic of America as apple pie. Classic old movies and television shows embrace that image as a way to create a warm community spirit. "It's A Wonderful Life" showcases picket fences in the many neighborhood street scenes.

Property owners within the boundaries of the 14th Street Community Redevelopment Agency can apply for fencing funds.

Surprisingly few have since Bradenton's City Council approved the program back in 2008 -- only five in all that time.

The development authority has a limited amount of money but encourages applications. We suggest a marketing campaign to alert property owners within the CRA about this fine program.

The grants only cover fencing between the building and the street, not in back yards. Material must be either aluminum or PVC. Colors must meet city code.

The Humane Society of Manatee County took advantage of the program and installed a six-foot-tall fence along 46 feet of street frontage. Now people visiting the animal shelter can walk dogs without fear of the canines bolting into the street.

Village of the Arts and the Historic Ballard Park neighborhoods would be enhanced with more attractive features even as both enjoy a measure of revitalization.

Bradenton continues to take steps toward creating a sharper sense of place. The Tamiami Trail Revitalization Strategy is but one vital effort.

Downtown by Design and the Realize Bradenton Cultural Master Plan are others. The Riverwalk project currently under construction along the banks of the Manatee River is a key piece in the city's redevelopment puzzle.

Thanks to the Downtown Development Authority's Public Art Program, Village of the Arts now features a grand entry with February's installation of a sculpture titled, "Chrysalis Launcher." The Catherine Woods artwork graces the corner of Ninth Street West and 12th Avenue West.

Aesthetics matter. People gravitate toward pleasant, welcoming and warm architecture and landscaping. Bradenton's new form-based code for zoning and architecture is designed to capture that spirit.

In the grand scheme of things, picket fences are quite small. But all the little things add up into big ones.