Wheel of Fortune

The ole C.Rushing blog may be in it's death throes. The author finds it exceedingly difficult to come by those once easy hours of free writing time each week. His goal, however, is to make it to the four year anniversary of the page (January 1), and reassess then. Will he make it? Time will tell.

With minutes left before the weekly deadline, I will acknowledge THE urban design issue of the day. Yes, I speak of the riverfront Ferris Wheel. A group of citizens has made a push to install a Ferris Wheel somewhere on the Chattanooga riverfront. Unsurprisingly, the idea seems to be unpopular with many (just read the comment sections of any of the wheel articles).

I see both sides of the argument. On the positive side it is an active public realm improvement that draws people, action and activity to the city. At best, the wheel can be a beautifully designed piece of engineering. Face it, the wheel is fun, and frankly there can't be too much fun in a city.

On the negative side, a lot can go wrong with this one. As one commenter opined, "Ferris wheels are the world record holders for 'most depressing objects once dilapidated'". Unfortunately, cheap traveling carnivals have stigmatized the noble Ferris wheel. When we think Ferris wheel, it conjures images of such places as Panama City, Gatlinburg, and the Northgate Mall parking lot.

Wheel or no wheel, I love the conversation. A group of non-designers thinking about big design moves that have the ability to change the face of the city. Big ideas, big plans, big thoughts- bring it on! Regardless of whether this happens or not, I hope these types of discussions continue.

So, where do I come down? Hmm, it's a tough call. If I had to pick a side, I would probably roll with The Wheel. Although it's probably more fair to say that I'm in favor of something big, vertical and well-designed at the riverfront. If we do go with a wheel, let's just be sure to think more London Eye than Lake Winnie.

Lest you think that there is no conceivable way that I can connect a Ferris Wheel with Louis Sullivan, think again. The original Ferris Wheel was constructed for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1892. The Beaux-Art veneer of the fair derailed budding American architectural expression, and effectively ended Sullivan's career. Later in life,  Sullivan reflected on the Exposition: "Meanwhile the virus of the World's Fair, after a period of incubation ... began to show unmistakable signs of the nature of the contagion. There came a violent outbreak of the Classic and the Renaissance in the East, which slowly spread Westward, contaminating all that it touched, both at its source and outward.... By the time the market had been saturated, all sense of reality was gone. In its place, had come deep seated illusions, hallucinations, absence of pupillary reaction to light, absence of knee-reaction-symptoms all of progressive cerebral meningitis; the blanketing of the brain. Thus Architecture died in the land of the free and the home of the brave.... The damage wrought by the World's Fair will last for half a century from its date, if not longer."

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