Sam Burnham, Curator
A waterfront can be one of the most important assets a city can possess. Be it the sea, a river, bay, or harbor, people are drawn to the point where the land touches the water. If wisely developed and maintained, such an area can be priceless for a municipality.
Norfolk, Virginia is an excellent example. The city was gifted custody of the Iowa class battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) and they have brilliantly transformed it into a centerpiece in one of the town’s waterfront districts. The ship is partnered with Nauticus, a museum that commemorates the amazing history of “Wisky” as well as the economy and ecology of the Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay region. A cruise ship port lies adjacent to the museum. That means tourists who tour the ship and the museum as well as the restaurants and stores that can be found along the neighboring blocks.
Norfolk is a modern city, much too busy for my taste, at least on a permanent basis. As a visitor, I really enjoyed this waterfront district. The streets and wide sidewalks were immaculately clean. There were people walking, biking, and riding those Lime scooters around. Get this, the scooters we saw not in use were all properly parked. People want to be in this part of town. There is a vibrant feel and there are jobs, homes, and entertainment all within walking distance of each other.
Some of the older architecture includes sites like the U.S. Customs House and the MacArthur Memorial. The latter serves as a repository, museum, and the final resting place of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur. The building is the former city hall and can be seen from the main deck of the Wisconsin.
While I’m sure this district is pricey, the condominiums and townhouses we saw are of tasteful design and construction. They all seemed to fit what was going on around them and are built to reasonable scale. While it has to be tempting to try to maximize profits with obnoxiously huge high rise housing units, the waterfront in this district has avoided that blight. With easy access to the parks, museums, attractions of the waterfront and the jobs and entertainment along the city streets, this is a highly desirable area.
A few weeks ago we published the article To Go Back, We Have To Go Forward. We got some great reader feedback and I wanted to share some of it.
I believe the state and local governments should give tax incentives for people to relocate to rural areas. There is no way that the Atlanta traffic issues will ever be cured with more asphalt.
The technology is already here—with the large number of jobs that can be worked from home with computers, conference calls and teleconferences.
With the Atlanta metro area stretching over 60 miles north to south and over 40 miles east to west, there are a lot of smaller rural towns within an hour driving radius of that perimeter that could be host to an influx of workers taking advantage of any tax incentives offered.
Trouble is, do the small towns really want to lose their identity? When we moved to the Kennesaw/Acworth area back in ‘87 both towns were still sleepy small towns on the far outer edges of the city. Now the old timers complain about all the condos, apartments, and high density zoning of homes. The influx changes the small town character drastically and the local governments are always 25 years behind on the road and other infrastructure improvements needs from the increased population.
While I’d like to see some revival further away from Atlanta, there are great points here. We have to walk a tightrope that brings opportunity to small towns without ruining them. We’ve seen some really great places like Kennesaw absolutely destroyed by overdevelopment, overpopulation, sprawl, and greed. We can’t make that the model of renaissance.
Here’s an idea throw out Walmart, Lowe's, and Home Depot and you would see your towns thrive.
Although we can’t just evict big box commercial stores without cause, we do need to approach our economies with more than just price in mind. I was in Home Depot the other day (my local hardware was closed) and I talked to four employees before I found one who even know what hardware cloth was. Customer service, community oriented business practices, and quality are hallmarks of strong local businesses. The big box places are probably cheaper but overall value is more than just price.
I can’t tell you, Sam, how many artists would love those storefronts as studios, large and inexpensive by most standards, and with solar too, wow. Artists aren’t picky, and they help to revitalize places and see opportunities in places where others don’t. That’s what happened to Newburyport, the artists came after the downtown had been rescued and then over the decades other’s followed.
Our friend Mary is right. She has seen her hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts awaken from the dead. If the conditions are created then artists, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs will come. They will set up shop and not only create commerce but also be inspired by their surroundings. Picturesque villages will spawn music, theatre, and visual arts. We’ve seen it happen in so many other places.
Yes, tax incentives can help, but so can rural broadband, community power, civic responsibility, a strong sense of place, and appropriate investment in infrastructure.
Ideas are good. Conversation is good. This is how change comes. This is how problems are solved. This is how challenges are overcome. People talk, they share ideas, they find common ground. They move forward. And it’s starting to look more and more like heading forward will help us find our way back to our past.
Sam Burnham, Curator
The images of the burning Cathedral Notre Dame captivated the attention of the world. The building itself is such a work of art that losing it was unthinkable.
But it is even bigger than that.
The faith itself is built into the structure. The Rose Window spells out the catechism, carvings tell the story of the Apostles, the Saints, the heroes of the faith. And as the dust settled and the smoke cleared the first photo showed the radiance of a gold cross reflecting light in darkness. At the foot of that cross, overlooking the rubble is the statue of Mary supporting the broken body of her son in her lap as her outstretched arms compel us to disregard the chaos and focus on the silent potential before her.
That potential, as the faithful know well, is the hope of resurrection, of redemption, As the death of Christ triggered fear, chaos, darkness, even a collapse of the world His followers knew. For when the week was new, and the Lord reclaimed His body and walked out of His tomb, the Light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not abide. What was broken was not only whole, but was now the way to heal the broken. A movement that had been thrown into chaos turned back the tide and turned the world upside down.
This is a message that put Notre Dame at the heart of Paris, at the heart of France itself. It is such a symbol of faith, art, architecture, history, and culture that it’s more than the Zero Milestone of the French people. It has become an irreplaceable icon of Western Civilization. It unifies more segments of a life into one symbol than even the Eiffel Tower.
It stands at the center of Western Culture the way churches stand at the center of communities throughout the West. It’s a place of assembly, of education, of art, of music, of faith. It is there for weddings that make new families, baptisms that celebrate new lives, the Eucharist that signifies faith, and funerals that mark our passing while pointing us toward resurrection.
In this capacity the church could help solve issues of poverty, homelessness, education, healthcare, cultural decay, and civic engagement, just has it has for over 1000 years. I mentioned in an earlier post that a church could house solar cells to produce community power. It can serve as an assembly hall. It can serve as a polling precinct. A church can be an irreplaceable hub of a community. And while we see that on a large scale with Notre Dame, we need to resurrect small churches to serve in the mission of restoration of small towns. They are vital to the restoration of spiritual, social, and civic life in these towns.
So as the grand cathedral will rise from the ashes, so must a thousand small churches in a thousand small towns rise again, or perhaps even rise for the first time, to take up the cross of Christ The work of ministry within the community can combine with many other pieces to help us reach the goal.
To bring these churches back we must do what the stature of Mary at Notre Dame compels is to: tune out the chaos, don’t be overwhelmed by the destruction, focus on Christ and the grace for the task. Then we trust in the Resurrection which makes all others possible.
Happy Easter from everyone at ABG.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire