Tearing down old buildings has for years been common in our part of the world. Giving our leaders the benefit of the doubt, I assume that they believed they could enhance our lives by allowing significant physical parts of our shared history to be replaced by new buildings. The replacement structures tend to be thoughtless boxes, mimicking the same style found all over.
We have been dispossessed of much through these ignorant and short-sighted policies. My sense of just how much we have lost was highlighted by a trip to Charleston, SC. What a delight to visit a city where old places are treasured and put to good use. Charleston survived by being a Sleeping Beauty of a town that slumbered for a hundred years after the Civil War. While prosperity, progress and consequent demolition were carried on apace elsewhere, Charleston’s fine old houses and commercial buildings lay quietly. By the time the 20th century dawned in Charleston, preservation and zoning protections were in place, saving Charleston’s human scale. Today it is a marvelous place with an other-worldly atmosphere where, like Santa Fe, tourists come just to be able to look at the past.
Charleston – The Battery
This called to mind that the leaders in my home town have torn down my old elementary school. Longfellow School was a red brick building from the early 20th century that could not have been anything but what it was: A brick eminence where generations of children were educated and held dear. The school, the old trees that lined the way to its front door and even the rise on which it stood have been replaced with a totally forgettable structure.
Many of us loved that old building and still mourn its loss. We’ve been deprived not just a piece of our childhoods, but a special place that made the town what it was. Meanwhile, city leaders try to figure out how to attract tourists. But, people don’t come to visit what they can see in every other place. I don’t even drive by the old schoolyard anymore myself.
Longfellow Elementary School, Owensboro, KY
Photo by Gary A. Adams, AICP
So, like the old good news, bad news joke – we’re completely lost, but we’re making good time.
But I digress . . .