When the city of Fayetteville announced the other day its cultural arts corridor under development downtown will be branded as "The Ramble," I wasn't sure whether to be proud or offended.
Then I realized city leaders hadn't actually selected the name with my column writing in mind.
As naming of public places go, The Ramble isn't too shabby. According to the city, The Ramble is characterized as a full embrace of the journey, not in a hurry to get from point A to point B, but rather, open to possibility. "The concept falls nicely in sync with the cadence of a walk or a bike ride, spontaneous conversation, outdoor installations and gathering spaces," the statement said.
Undoubtedly, once the project known until now only as a cultural arts corridor is completed in a couple of years, a visitor will have room to ramble. Stretching from Dickson Street south to the Fay Jones Woods southwest of the Fayetteville Public Library, the project's goal is to transform 50 acres into public spaces that draw people, and ultimately more economic activity, to downtown. A new "civic space" at West Avenue and Dickson Street will anchor one end; a reimagined Fay Jones Woods on the other end, with a restored Tanglewood Branch, will feature native plants, a boardwalk and smaller gathering spots.
Voters in a 2019 special election backed the corridor as a way to create a public space that highlights the city's existing cultural institutions -- its now massive public library and performing arts spaces at the Walton Arts Center and TheatreSquared. Just beyond the southern tip of the corridor will also be the University of Arkansas' Art and Design District.
An intriguing connection city leaders sought to invoke with the new branding is a link to Arkansan Levon Helm, singer and drummer for The Band. The rock act gained fame in the 1960s, first backing Huntsville, Ark., native Ronnie Hawkins and later Bob Dylan before staking out legendary status in American music with their own songs.
Helm, who died in 2012, was known in his later years for hosting "Midnight Rambles" at his home in Woodstock, N.Y., with dozens of renowned musicians.
How any of that history will influence what becomes of Fayetteville's project is anyone's guess, but if branding it The Ramble portends a future of creative and vibrant artistic expression through musically talented individuals and groups, let's hope The Ramble somehow manages to capture the spirit of those Helm jam sessions.
I suppose picking a poor name could work against a place's success, but it seems unlikely a good name on its own will determine whether a new civic space becomes the popular and successful place it was envisioned to be. If people enjoy being there, a city could call its civic space "The Kumquat" and people would still make it a destination.
That where the programming of the public spaces will be critical, and we haven't yet heard much about what that's going to look like in downtown Fayetteville. This isn't designed to be just another public park. The Ramble is supposed to be a dynamic environment, one city leaders are counting on to help revitalize downtown as a destination for individuals and business interests.
The name, though, isn't insignificant. Now creative folks can get busy with their promotional ideas. Maybe events connected to the annual Bikes, Blue & BBQ will be pitched as Rumble at The Ramble; a Christmas performance might be Handel at The Ramble; an Easter egg hunt could be the Scramble at The Ramble. How many words actually rhyme with Ramble?
First, the related parking deck has to be built. Let's hope it has enough spaces easy enough to get in and out of so the deck won't become known as The Gamble at the Ramble.
Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAGreg.