"A continuity between generations"

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I found this item on the Fort Worth Architecture forum, on a topic about the Trinity River Vision, a project that involves Bing Thom of The Channels fame. This item has nothing to do with the project specifically, but it says so many things so well that I'm going to quote it in full. It's by Kip Wright, and it's in response to someone who wants Fort Worth to be a city of towers, just like Dallas. If this applies to Fort Worth, it applies even more so to Tulsa. (I've added emphasis in a few places.)

O.K., Jonny, at the risk of sounding anti-progress or, at worst, a sentimental old geezer, I'm gonna tell you a story about a little boy. (This is also for some others of you out there who yearn for the tall, glass towers of Dallas.)

This little boy grew up in Atlanta, Ga., and he was VERY proud of his town: The Big Peach, Capital of the Empire State of the South, Hotlanta, site of one of the most decisive battles of the War Between the States, home to "Gone with the Wind." And home to the 2nd Six Flags! The sports teams sucked, but he is, to this day a big Falcon-Braves fan. He loved Atlanta for what it was, but he wanted MORE!

When National Geographic did a cover story about his town, ca. 1976, he was very excited. He dreamed of his city getting REALLY BIG with tall glass towers -- a mecca to which many would come, from far and near.

In 1978 he watched the historic old Henry Grady Hotel on Peachtree Street emploded. Not only was it cool to watch, it was to replaced by the 79-story Westin Peachtree Center Hotel! WOW! But his grandmother had quite another take. As her eyes filled up with tears, she said "I can't believe they've demolished the Henry Grady!" (And there was nothing wrong with it either!) It had been the site of many important Atlanta events, not to mention the site of proms, when Atlanta had only three or four high schools. She had been upset, too, when, a few years earlier, Atlanta's landmark Terminal Station (with Morrocan influence) had been demolished for a pitifully unremarkable 30-story federal building.

Shortly thereafter, the Loew's Grand, site of the world premiere of "Gone with the Wind" was slightly damaged by arson. It was soon "decided" that it was not salvagable and would have to be replaced by the 53-story world headquarters for Georgia Pacific. Then, like a falling domino, came the demand by Georgia Pacific that the landmark Coca-Cola sign, gigantic and resplendent with red and white neon lights that swirled at varying speeds, would have to go, too. They could not have this "eyesore" across the street from THEIR building! An icon of over 50 years was removed.

The little boy went away to college in the 1980s. It seemed like every time he went home, another old landmark had been eradicated for "progress." The 1890s dairy farm with dwellings and outbuildings, at the intersection of Briarcliff and LaVista, was removed, with over 100 gigantic oaks, for a strip shopping center, as Atlanta sprawled, far and wide. A ca. 1920 brick gas station, with porte cochere, was removed for a parking deck next to Emory University. The list went on and on . . .

In the early 1990s, just before his grandmother passed away, the little boy took his grandmother downtown to see the changes. She mostly just said, "Ooooooh, would you look at that." Her city was almost unrecognizable. And saddest of all, to them, was the replacement of the old S&W Cafeteria and the old Woolworth's (site of many of their lunchtimes) by (guess what?) a 60-story office tower.

The little boy moved away from his beloved home town because he got his wish. Atlanta is now a super big city with lots of gleaming glass towers, 16-lane interstate highways, and umpteen gazillion corporate headquarters. Everyone is now going to Atlanta -- but him. The city is TOO BIG, there are TOO MANY glass towered office complexes, there are TOO MANY Damn Yankees who have moved to that mecca. Development, cars, and pollution now dominate his town.

Now, I suppose I'd live there again . . . if a really good reason to do so appeared. I still have a lot of friends there. I love the big trees and green everywhere.

But there is a disconnect -- many, many of the landmarks that made Atlanta what it was to me are there no longer. It is now something else to me, in many ways. (Not to mention all the Damn Yankees who live there!) It's not Atlanta to me any more.

Old buildings create a continuity between generations, they give a city an identity and a soul.

Atlanta had a hell of a time during the Olympics in deciding on an identity. Its mascot was the blue thing, "Whatizit." How can one have an identity when one scorns the past and tradition? Everything about Atlanta was "looking to the future." But everything we are today is a result of what's happened in the past. This is what makes different parts of America unique, even as we speed on towards a goal of homogeneity.

It is a given that cities are going to change, but how will they do it? Growing with a seriously-planned eye to the past, improving upon what exists? Or wipe-the-slate-clean with cost-effectiveness, highest-and-best-use, biggest-bidder-take-all, and the-bottom-line? Flirt like a whore for the developer's dollar? Sit-up and roll-over like a dog, begging for a bone?

Some of you will smirk at me as a sentimental fool, but it is you whom I pity. With your eyes only on the bank ledger you will miss texture, lines, the patina of age, the walls that can't talk, the structures that connect us with our past.

As I live here in Fort Worth, I connect to it through people and places. People die, but it gives me hope that some of the buildings will live. I hope Fort Worth wakes up before it does more to destroy its legacy. Very few landmarks have even nominal protection in this town.

So, my good Jonny, you want your city to be like Dallas? This little boy says don't wish that on Cowtown (Dallas only WISHES it were "Cowtown," so its football team mascot would make sense!) I think "Cowtown" is good like it is. Sure, progress is good, but at what cost? If you want Dallas or Atlanta, then go there -- I think you'll eventually come home.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 8, 2006 7:50 PM.

Coburn statement on the election results was the previous entry in this blog.

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