Friday, July 31, 2009

Why are some Memphians afraid of our heritage?

Reading what the RDC recently wrote about the Cobblestone Landing, you'd get the feeling that the Landing is just a big public nuisance:
The result is extremely unsafe walking conditions resulting in injuries, lawsuits and even one death from a fall. The current walking surface also creates a large barrier to pedestrian movement north and south along the Mississippi Riverfront at Memphis.

Other American cities aren't afraid of their historic cobblestones. They're proud of their heritage, and they encourage people to live, walk, play, and drive on the authentic cobblestone streets. Case in point: Fells Point in Baltimore.

Continues...While the 1980s-era Inner Harbor development may be more recognizable to outsiders, the Baltimore locals know that the real waterfront is actually one mile east. It's the historic Fells Point neighborhood, which was a major shipbuilding and commercial center from the 1700s until the Civil War.

Photo of a water taxi map showing both Fells Point (center) and the Inner Harbor (left).

In the early part of the 20th century Fells Point was a landing point for an influx of immigrants from all parts of the world, seeking jobs and a better life in America.

Now Fells Point is home to a diverse population of all income levels, and its picturesque streets are lined with rehabilitated row houses, restaurants, bars, galleries, and shops.
No wonder it has also been the filming location of popular TV series and movies.

And most of the streets are still cobblestoned, with hundreds of vehicles driving and parking on them every day.

Entrance to the huge City Recreation Pier on Thames Street at Fells Point. Fans of the TV show Homicide will recognize it as the police station in that series.

Directly opposite the Pier are row houses, shops, and cafes. This is only a sample -- the entire Fells Point area covers dozens of blocks.

While on a trip to DC, I visited Fells Point last week to take a closer look. The cobbles are similar in size, shape, and variety to our own Cobblestone Landing. Our cobbles are often butted up against each other. The Baltimore stones, however, are spaced farther apart (about a thumb's width), and the gaps are variously filled with either sand, dirt, or cement grouting. Here is a closeup:

In some sections, though, whatever had filled those gaps has evidently washed away. (The entire waterfront area, by the way, was severely flooded during Hurricane Isabella.) Here is an example of empty gaps:

Like any other type of city street, cobblestones do require periodic repair and maintenance. At some point I would expect the City of Baltimore to work on this patch.

But the City of Memphis has done nothing about our Cobblestone Landing for decades (except tear up two acres of cobblestones in 1994), even though the City long made promises, and has had the money since at least 1997.

I can understand if former Memphis public works officials and city engineers might have considered the cobblestones a nuisance, treating them as low priority, and avoiding doing anything for them until they completely ran out of excuses. I realize that not everyone enjoys a personal experience of history.

But I also know that that the current RDC officials have another reason to disrespect the Cobblestone Landing: It competes with their fake new Beale Street Landing.

That's the real reason they'd like to move people and boats off the authentic Memphis Landing for good. All the bluster about barriers and lawsuits is just bluster. It's intended to convince you, the Memphis public, to fear and disrespect your heritage, and to not be sorry when you no longer have the ability to enjoy it the way it's been used for over 150 years--as a riverboat landing.

Click here to see more of my photos of Fells Point and the Baltimore Harbor.

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