Another one bites the dust...

There were no winners in last week's competition. Hell, there were no entries in last week's competition. It appears that either you lot are lazy or I was right about the intersections. Perhaps next time I will either choose an easier challenge or increase the value of the prize. Keep your eyes peeled for the next one.

If I am perfectly honest with myself (and you), this blog is a selfish exercise. If I had to put a percentage on it, I would say it's 60% for me and 40% for you. The writing process is my pressure release valve, a tool to understand the city better, my contribution to the community dialogue about urban issues, and a vehicle to talk about Alabama football. The blog's greatest value to me is the element of self-discovery.  The writing process has, on more than one occasion, caused me to challenge my philosophies and positions. This week is one of those occasions.

In case you forgot....Touch that thang 4!
 A few weeks ago I wrote about the demolition of the back portion of the St. George. The demolition is complete. The front building stands alone, waiting for the man or woman that will put her back to use or put her out of her misery. As historic preservation goes, the case for saving the St. George is self-evident: It's a handsome building, of a certain age, in a visible location. If the means and technique to preserve our old friend have proven to be elusive, the fact that it should it be preserved can be easily grasped by anyone. Unfortunately, not all preservation cases are so straightforward.

Will she or won't she?

Before we press on, allow me to first say that I'm not a hardcore preservationist. In fact, my interest in the topic is really only an extension of a consideration of the long term disposition of the city. As I once mentioned, my favorite metaphor for the city came from Stroud: "Cities, like forests are in a constant state of renewal. While forests recycle in rhythm with natural laws, the city is recycled by the collective will & conscience of its citizens". The city was here before any of us were, and it will be here long after we are gone (unless the Mayans were right). It is our job to be stewards of what we have inherited, and to try to leave something better for the generations that are to come. So it is for us, as it was for past generations, to decide what we value and to act accordingly. 

In the fifties and sixties the community valued personal mobility (for a segment of the population) and (untested) modern approaches to city building. Inner city freeways throughout the country displaced entire neighborhoods in the drive to get people into and out of downtown as rapidly as possible.  History has been a harsh judge of the unintended consequences of those decisions. We are now left to clean up the messes of those philosophies. Cities around the country, and indeed the globe, have begun the arduous task of removing or otherwise mitigating these dinosaurs. 

There is an architecture that accompanies that mindset, it is (unsurprisingly) called Modernism. The link between the architectures of mid-century urban freeways and mid-century buildings can be seen very clearly in our community. The prime example can be found around the community topic du jour, US-27 (and other Westside traffic interventions). In downtown, on the city side of 27, we have a fair representation of the historic architecture that witnesses the development and growth of our city. On the Westside (and some adjacent parcels on the city side) we see a "alien" architecture that has replaced the historic structures that were razed. Consider the row of buildings on Carter between MLKing and Main, the Golden Gateway properties, or the buildings that front Riverfront Parkway. You find there the expression of the sub-urban mindset of mid-century modern design- all of the buildings are objects in space unto themselves, they are all set back from the street, most feature parking prominently, and they are all single story.

Some of the Mid-Century Mods on Carter St.
(or any first ring suburb)

Those modernist buildings are just as bad (if not more so due to sheer number) than Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings. They do the same things that destroy the DNA of downtown- they are not dense, they do not contribute to the public realm, and their visual expression is generic rather than being unique to our community. My personal dilemma is that I love Modern buildings and find them beautiful. The other dilemma is that through the sheer passage of time, they have become an ingrained portion of the urban fabric. The modern buildings that were modern in the 50's are now 60 years old and qualify as being "historic" by American preservation standards.

The architecture of Riverfront Parkway.
(or any first ring suburb)

The modernist preservation dilemma hit home for me last week as I was cruising along Cherokee. The former Regions Bank branch has been put to the track hoe. I loved that building. It was a guilty pleasure for sure, as it was a one-story, drive thru bank with a parking lot. To it's urbanistic credit however, it did address the street and corner. I suppose I was most seduced by materiality- smoothly polished rose stone, white marble, and quality brick work. The quality of natural light in the interior was also very nice. Having seen what's been happening on Cherokee and understanding the players involved, I have been under no illusion that anything other demolition was in the cards. Seeing it actually happen, however, made me sad. That a noble building, built of fine materials, into which serious thought and attention was put, would be razed for the purpose of providing parking for a generic EIFS apartment building somehow seems wrong.

That's a shame.
(But I suppose if I get nostalgic, I can just drive to the 'burbs)

That is the larger question I'm grappling with. What is better for the city: a handsome historic structure with questionable urbanistic qualities, or a good urbanistic project with questionable execution? If you were forced to pick, would you have a beautiful city that doesn't work or a functioning urban core devoid of soul? Of course this is a false question, but understanding the issues at the core can help us when considering the real-world applications.

Be warned that I'll likely take next week off- down to ATL to see Noel.

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