Monday, April 18, 2011
Some History with our Culture?
[An interurban ran right along Virginia Avenue. The track has been severed in the demolition of the street for the Cultural Trail]
[The cut for the Virginia Avenue leg of the Cultural Trail -- click images to enlarge]
A few years back Indianapolis began construction of a "Cultural Trail." This trail links the "Cultural Districts" that the city's marketers thought up a few years before that. The Cultural Districts include Mass Ave, Broad Ripple, Fountain Square, the Wholesale District, and the Canal District, and probably some other place I've forgotten. Some of these places definitely have pizzazz and all have some version of culture. Anyplace where humans hang out probably has culture. But a big part of capital-C "Culture," the stuff that defines and is defined by specific places, people and events, is history. Arguably a shared history is the biggest factor in creating culture, in fact.
I like the Cultural Trail for bike riding. It's wide and smooth and safe. And I love the natural landscaping used in swales beside the trail. But I have a big gripe with the Cultural Trail's impact. In the process of creating a wide, paved sidewalk with a lot of lights and way too many bollards and signs, the city is distracting from and even destroying parts of our history, which are probably more worthy of remembrance and reverence than anything the trail offers. The trail is so distracting, with all its tchotchkes, that it becomes the focus of the view in the areas it travels through. You might once have noticed the old commercial buildings on Mass Ave or the old residences on Walnut Street. Now, you'll be noticing the Ikea style light fixtures and way too many silly metal bollards.
This year, my neighborhood of Fountain Square gets its leg of the trail. I've been sure to walk along the construction/destruction zone often to gaze into the big dig as they tear up the street down to about 2 feet deep. What can currently be seen on Virginia Avenue under the layers of modern concrete and asphalt pavement is the old big-bricks street and old interurban tracks still laid on their wooden ties.
[A clean cut shows the old brick street beneath the many layers of modern pavement]
There's a view at our culture! This pavement and these tracks harken to the days when Virginia Avenue was a happening hub of German retail businesses, theaters showing silent films, grocery stores and artisans shops and traveling dramatic troupes. A time when you could get on the interurban in Franklin and quickly arrive to spend the day in Fountain Square, maybe stopping at the farmer's market that used to be on South Street, or going on to downtown to shop at Ayres. The days before the interstate severed Fletcher Place and Fountain Square, before Fletcher Place even had a separate name, back to the time when Woodlawn Street might still be remembered as a reference to the Calvin Fletcher farm, Woodlawn, which he platted into building sites to create this entire area.
Today Fountain Square lays some legitimate claim to being an arts district. There are a few galleries and there are lots of artists living and working here. There's definitely culinary craft in our great locally owned restaurants and cool stuff in our handful of funky shops. We're worthy of being a leg on a trail to connect up the downtown Indianapolis interesting spots. But an even deeper view into our culture is briefly revealed now by construction of the trail that will soon rip it from our past.
I think it would be great if the movers in this trail idea would take a step back from creating a uniform, generic sidewalk with a few bits of art installed along it and the occasional marker to SAY something historic happened here, to somehow preserving and revealing a small portion of the actual link to our history and formative culture, which they are currently digging up and destroying in order to install their cute pavers.
[See the old railroad ties beneath the brick street?]
I know that isn't likely to happen. Our history is being destroyed every day by the city and private interests. And the Cultural Trail is a fun idea so it's not popular to dislike it. Still, it could be a truly great idea if it also preserved our culture in the process of marketing it. Any chance you're listening, Brian Payne?