Since we’ve got this brave new world attitude flowing around Mobtown in the wake of the election, it’s got me thinking about what’s really needed to make us the kind of town that will actually impress the next “Secret Millionaire” who wanders through these parts.
I’m talking about the types of improvements that would propel us into the ranks of those cities other cities like ours are always green with envy about. (See: Charleston and Savannah.)
Some things are obvious — like getting a Golden Corral smack in the heart of downtown. Major upgrade! If you don’t think having place with chocolate AND a caramel fountains (One of each! Not mixed together!) would step things up in LoDa, you’re kidding yourself. Before long we’d be the “City of 100 Food-Related Fountains.” I can just see Heroes with some kind of Clipper Sauce fountain and Hayley’s with a very popular Jagermeister fountain.
But that’s the easy stuff.
Maybe it would be cool if we could figure out a way to stop Mobilians from throwing trash everywhere. Perhaps drowning some offenders in a public garbage juice fountain would set a tough tone. Then again, some might consider that overly harsh. Beatings would probably be about right.
But while the great cities I’ve been to certainly take litter and chocolate fountains seriously, for the most part, the one thing many of them have in common is access to water. Whether it’s a lake, river, ocean or bay, many of the world’s greatest cities figured out a long time ago that people are drawn to the water. We want to be near it and look at it and listen to it and possibly even dump trash in it.
I was fortunate enough to be able to blow my life’s savings on a trip to Paris earlier this summer, and one thing not lost on my wife and me was how important the Seine is to Parisians — and to tourists. Pretty much every square inch of the Seine is accessible for wandering and staring. It’s how they judge whether you’re on the “Left Bank” or “Right Bank.” The Eiffel Tower is cool, but the river is Paris’ lifeblood.
Chicago is another city that makes great use of its river and lake. The riverboat architectural tour I took there was incredible, and Lake Michigan in the summer is almost as clear and green as the water off Destin.
If you’re looking for a smaller, historic city, St. Augustine, Fla. does a nice job of keeping the water in plain sight and accessible for retirees not wealthy enough to possess their own stretch of aquatic heaven.
That gets us back to Mobile. We sit on one of the country’s great bays and alongside one of the world’s greatest deltas, and most of us rarely see either unless we leave the city limits. Not so long ago I actually had someone argue with me as to whether or not there is a river downtown. There is. Really.
Sure, we’ve made a half-hearted attempt to attract people to our working waterfront at Cooper Riverside Park, but it tends to be unutilized by most citizens, probably because you have to walk across six lanes of Water Street traffic to get there — and there’s no caramel fountain. And while it is a nice park, it’s all brick and stone and not much shade. Still, it’s a start and one that may get better with some good planning that will make it easier to get there without being hit by a car.
But by and large in Mobile, our rivers, creeks and bayous have more or less been converted to drainage ditches that snake through areas few can reach. And the bay? Well, you can get in your car and head down Dauphin Island Parkway and start to catch a few glimpses, but the closest public places to touch that water are the Causeway and near Dauphin Island.
And that’s where maybe we can change things. A couple of months ago this guy named Clarence Carrio started blasting me and other media types with emails begging us to look at a piece of property near the Brookley Aeroplex — the home of our beloved Airbus manufacturing facility. The land Carrio was talking about has been owned by the University of South Alabama for many years. It featured a golf course, among other things, but that died out some time ago.
USA sold the 300 acres of land to its own foundation a couple of years ago in order to get the money for an expansion of the Children’s & Women’s Hospital, and subsequently the USA Foundation has created a plan to develop the property in a way that will support Airbus’ arrival.
But Carrio points out the fact there is a very nice, large piece of unspoiled bay-front that is part of the foundation’s land and he thinks it would make an amazing park. I’ve been down there and have to agree.
While I think Carrio has plans for a grander park, even the piece of property east of Bayfront road would make a wonderful public place where Mobilians could wade out into the bay and hang out under the oaks. Before it becomes part of some hotel or a beachfront Golden Corral, we ought to look at what it would take to preserve that stretch of sand for everyone. I doubt a public park would have negative impact on any hotel developments planned for the foundation’s property, but if that waterfront is gobbled up by a business, it’s gone forever.
Long ago that same general area was home to Monroe Park, a place where Mobilians used to go to get in touch with the bay, but that’s been lost to us. Across the water on the ESho, they haven’t forgotten that. Look at the long, beautiful parks Fairhope has along the bay and you can imagine what something like that could mean to Mobile. Even in towns like Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and (oh my God!) Pascagoula, they’ve made water access a priority.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to drive 10 or 15 minutes to wade in the bay instead of always making the long haul to the Island or the Gulf? Perhaps within this pot of money coming to us from the oil spill there’s one last chance to keep a small piece of the bay for everyone. It’s worth a look.