It was brought to my attention that there is no such thing as the "Aquarium Plaza" as I referred to last week. The proper name of the place is "Ross's Landing Park and Plaza". This "was chosen to 1) honor the city's birth name, 2) acknowledge that the space was both park and plaza and, more implicitly, 3) send the message that the space was a public project separate and apart from the privately-funded aquarium." I can't believe I didn't know that. It is for me, however, a lesson that once learned will not be forgotten.
As for this post, it is one for my fellow conservatives. To all of my liberal friends, thanks for stopping by, but please feel free to take the week off (go treat yourself to a Michael Moore movie or something ;)
The big news this week was, of course, Mr. Obama’s visit to the scenic city. I loathe politics, but I will make a couple of observations. It is a shame that we couldn’t be a bit more civil when the POTUS comes to town. I do not care for his policies* and I think that he has largely failed in delivering on his promises**. His failures, however, cannot change me or change how I choose to respond to the world around me. In this particular case, as a Southerner, I believe it is proper to treat guests (great or small) with respect. Ever heard of Southern hospitality? The fantastic news was that Mr. Obama chose not to come downtown, which would have brought life here to a screeching halt. For that, I am thankful. I’m on shaky ground when talking politics, however, so lets get back to design…
Speaking of Southerners, we should be the best urban designers in the country. In essence, urban design is a mechanism to express the values of a community, to accommodate, and to make people feel comfortable. Is then urban design not the very essence of hospitality? Is hospitality not in the very DNA of the Southerner? When people visit our communities and homes do we not bend over backwards to be friendly and accommodating? If that is one of our shared values, it should then be expressed in our built environment.
When we choose to live in a place, to pay taxes there, to work there, to play there, we become part of that community. When we pay those taxes, we are providing for the common of the community. This includes the public realm- the streets, parks, sidewalks, plazas and open spaces that belong to us all. They are owned collectively, and as such the qualities of place describe to others what we as a community value. If we are proud of being friendly and hospitable, our public realm should reflect that. Our sidewalks should be wide, clean, and shaded and lined with elements of interest and activity. Our open spaces should provide for a range of activity and repose with sun and shade, natural and built design elements, and places to see and be seen. In all of these things, every piece of every element of the public realm should exude quality.
Unfortunately, our Southern cities do not always express the finer qualities of our personality. We have joined rest of the country in a wholehearted embrace of sprawl, and perhaps even led the way. Yet sprawl seems a profoundly un-Southern thing. We have a deep appreciation for the land that is perhaps a result of our agrarian past and present, and that is also expressed in our cherished leisure activities of hunting, fishing and camping. Our urban development patterns have, however, conspired to erode that way of life. If we look at the things we value- friendliness, hospitality, generosity, and connection to the earth- it is only logical that they should be combined in the physical embodiment of those values. Somewhere along the way, however, we got caught up in the notion that communal efforts are somehow nefarious. We’re now at a point where we perceive virtually any government expenditure as wasteful and socialist. Although there is an egregious amount of waste and malfeasance in government expenditure, there are obviously legitimate works. Expenditure on the public realm is legitimate. This is not a government hand-out, but represents an investment in a shared physical asset, it creates jobs, and it sets the stage for all of the broader economic activities that take place in our community. Beyond that, it is an expression of pride in who we are- bofth to ourselves and to others.
Look at the political maps and it's clear to see that the South has values and attitudes that set it apart from the rest of the country. Regardless of whether or not we see eye-to-eye with everyone else, we should work to set ourselves apart by expressing our values and attitudes through the excellence of our urban design. Roll Tide.
*I am having serious difficulties with this whole healthcare thing. I work very hard to provide for my family, to keep bread on the table and squirrel a bit away for the boys education. I also try to eat well, work out and otherwise live a (relatively) healthy life. Unfortunately, the reward of self-employment and clean living is the likely doubling of my health insurance premium. Wealth redistribution is all fun and games until it's your "wealth" that's being redistributed. That’s not exactly the change I was hoping for.
**After running on “change”, he has delivered precious little. In my estimation, things are exactly the same as they were before, only the party names have changed. For the record, I was just as displeased with Bush. If “change we can believe in” is a failure, so was “compassionate conservatism”.
…and while I’m on the subject, remember when the President said of successful small businesses “you didn’t build that”? I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was talking about the infrastructure necessary for any of us to conduct business. But even so, who did build that? The government? Where exactly did the government get the funds to build? Taxes. Those taxes are paid by businesses, the people who run them, and the people who find value in their goods and services. I would respectfully argue that they did build that.