Ahh, the last post before the New Year. One last chance to look back at my 2011 new urbanism travels. Although the subject today would perhaps be more appropriate for April Fool’s Day. Or perhaps Halloween.
Each summer, I join friends for a week of minor league baseball and male bonding. It’s an easy-going group. We’re willing to indulge the particular interests of everyone in the group, including my interest in how downtowns work and don’t work.
As a result, we found ourselves in Morristown, Tennessee early one Tuesday last July, looking at probably the worst downtown redevelopment project I’ve ever seen.
It’s hard to imagine how badly wrong the planning went. How could no one object to a structure being built over a street without a plan for connecting to anything? How could no one notice that character-filled historical buildings were being obscured by mind-numbing and uninspired concrete work?
|Bridge to Nowhere|
Even with construction underway, it was clear that the vision remained muddy. Looking at the structural section under a portion of the walkway, there appear to have been two or perhaps three attempts, all of them by undoubtedly expensive change orders, to remedy the concept after the original construction. And yet the walkway remained unusable.
|Multiple Failed Redesigns|
It is hard to describe how complete the disaster was. I can’t imagine a single phase, from concept through schematic design, public input, funding, construction documents, construction, and construction management in which the failures weren’t profound and tragic. And yet, an internet search doesn’t yield a single site talking about the damage wrought on historic Morristown, no citizens crying “What have we done to ourselves?”
Instead, I came across a site extolling northeastern Tennessee as an American Tuscany, where a number of picturesque downtowns, including historic Morristown, thrive in the absence of a big city. If historic downtown Morristown is anyone’s idea of Tuscany, I beg that we keep them away from Florence and Siena.
Another website described the improvements as “SkyMart” and explains that the walkway was patterned after Chester Rows in England and yet includes no photos, an omission that speaks volumes.
I’m fair-minded. If any reader has good insights, I’d be willing to accept an explanation for this profound mishap. But I’ll exclude two justifications. Neither “It was Federal money so didn’t cost us anything” nor “It provided jobs during a slow economy” will be accepted. One doesn’t mutilate a charming downtown for either of those reasons.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)