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For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, "It might have been."

-- John Greenleaf Whittier

To not loudly scream "told you so" requires great internal fortitude because polite behavior means not rubbing it in when proven right.

Being right can be frustrating when the decision goes a different way, particularly when the solution pitched by residents a quarter century ago is proposed anew. Community activism isn't about gloating. But it requires me to keep that scream to a low growl.

You see, some 26 or more years ago several of us tried our very best to save what we knew could be a beautiful place in Fayetteville. It was a mess, granted, because of collapsing old buildings, trash, and masses of weeds. But, it also had old stone walls, water running through it from streams that flow under some of the town's streets and neighborhoods, and more than 300 trees at least six inches in diameter. We knew that tree number would be disputed so we counted and we measured them before going to bat for that place and what was there.

We presented the City Council a vision for a pocket park utilizing the water, stones, old bricks (for walks), trees, and its location as a public space to complement the developing beauty of the town square gardens several blocks away. We hoped since this land was across from our town's newest art venue, perhaps the powers behind the center's creation would listen to artists. So, we gathered petitions and statements from people in all fields of artistic expression, and they too spoke up for the vision of what that place could be. We attended long meetings. We stood on the corner of West and Dickson for hours holding signs and trying to make ourselves heard. We sang Joni Mitchell's lyrics:

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got til its gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot

But, we weren't strong enough to overcome the direction of the determined backers for the lot, who insisted that to assure the center's success the entire area had to be paved. The filling of the stream's small canyon, cutting the trees and channeling the water into conduits under the lot's pavement was the plan. Our suggestion of making a park on half of it and a garage on the south end was never seriously considered. So, early one Sunday morning when protesters were not likely to be about, the cutting began and all we were left to do when it was over was hold a candlelight vigil for that place and what it might have been.

They took all the trees

And put 'em in a tree museum

And they charged the people

A dollar and a half to seem 'em.

Now over two and a half decades later, I found myself attending a "cultural art corridor" citizen input session. We were looking at a design that would take out and/or reconfigure all that pavement, add a structure at the southern end, utilize the water, and plant new native trees (noted: for both beauty and educational purposes), and recreate what we told city leaders in 1990 was there.

The consultants' millennial-modern design for this public space reflects the aesthetic of the newly redesigned arts center, a bit sterile and sharp-cornered for my tastes. I lean more to natural surroundings as reflected in their forested downstream design. But, considering this site's history, any artistic respect for that space is a welcome surprise.

I think the incredible luck of linking to the Fay Jones woods area near the library and creating a long outdoor arts corridor is a splendid idea. Unlike my friend and fellow writer, Art Hobson, I do not think there can ever be enough green space woven throughout paved cities to make them function better environmentally. Nor do I think there should be a large building serving private businesses on that public land because the city should not be into real estate ventures.

The first order of business for garnering corridor support should be to show people where the replacement parking will be. We early supporters of connecting the arts with green space are now more than a quarter of a century older and need nearby parking, since proximity has become necessity to our aged joints. We old art patrons do not enjoy the hassle of navigating cars and walking inside high-rise parking garages, either.

So, let's go forward with this terrific arts corridor plan, but this time around let's listen to each other a little better.

Commentary on 12/18/2018

Print Headline: Flash from the past

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