by Norma Bates
Main Street’s fondly-remembered heyday in Little Rock was over 50 years ago. The glory days of Blass’s, Pfeifer’s, Kempner’s and Cohn’s. Arkansas’ exciting Capital – The Rock!
(CUE BARBRA STREISAND AND GLADYS KNIGHT: “Misty watercolor, etc.”)
Does Main Street look wider then, or has time rewritten every line?
Main Street was wider. Built-out sidewalks halved street traffic for all the foot traffic that never showed up.
But enough about city planning through Prayer. Let’s not waste time on blame and instead fast-forward toward a bright and twinkling tomorrow.
(KILL STREISAND AND KNIGHT TRACKS)
It’s always best to start at the beginning so let’s tour Main Street Present after half a century of failed but pricey professional planning. It all passes too quickly from a moving vehicle. Take the Walking Tour instead and see it up close from a visitor’s perspective for the full appalling effect.
Main Street 2010 is –
One or two contemporary large beige brick Main Street edifices supposedly staff government workers of some kind but it could be Soylent Green. Who knows? No identifying logos adorn these anonymous exteriors.
“Where are all the people?” you wonder as you wander. Main Street’s creepily ominous vibe is like George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” just before the cry of “Action!” and hundreds of state-employed zombie extras spill onto the sidewalks to devour you and your little dog too.
(Film Commission? Christopher Crane? Graham Gordy? Run with it.)
“VILLAGE OF THE DREAM!”
How in 2010 do we get from . . .
and from . . .
. . . in just ten short years?
That’s what they all asked when I first marched my proposal into their offices months ago. Mayor Stodola, the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, Main Street Revitalization Task Force, Arkansas Building Authority, Clinton Foundation, Stephens, Moses-Tucker, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Bennett's, et al.
“You’ve tried everything else over the past 50 years and nothing’s worked. So drop all this ‘planning.’ I know it’s your jobs, but find something else to ‘plan.’ Let nature take its course instead, as it always does to revive dying neighborhoods from Hong Kong to Honolulu to Hoboken to Hell’s Kitchen and Helsinki,” with spectacular success.
“And what would THAT be, Ms. Bates?” (Oh, Rett, Rett . . . and you too, Jimmy. I just wanted to bitch-slap you cynics. Thankfully, you listened and came around.)
“Two words, boys. Then two more words.”
“GAY GENTRIFICATION + FENG SHUI!”
That’s right, Razorbabies. The old Tried and True.
1) The River Market already works beautifully, notwithstanding “problems.” (Look. Patrons pee on sidewalks from Beijing to Beale Street to Bourbon Street. Business owners don’t whine. They hose down their sidewalks each morning and open for business as usual. We’re not talking Heritage USA here; another ghost town BTW.)
2) The dream is for River Market’s vitality to turn the corner onto Main Street and spread into surrounding streets and neighborhoods. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Let gays and lesbians do the initial dirty work like everywhere else and revitalize Main Street businesses and housing through gentrification!
3) Gay gentrification initiates a number of positive effects, including cultural revival in the inner city, the protection and preservation of historical properties, the enhancement of the quality of life of residents as well as a rise in property, income, and sales tax revenues for local governments. Gentrification also tends to increase the safety of an area and its desirability as a tourist location.
4) It’s Organic, not “Imposed,” development. Why does Hillcrest work and Main Street doesn’t? Your gays and your gay-friendlies. Nobody in Hillcrest gives a rat’s tush who’s gay and who’s not. Neither does anybody in Sticky Fingers or the Rumba Room or Copper. Bygone bigotry’s dying faster than retirees who plunk down six-figures (cash) for Marriott Hotel River Market condos. What’s the “dream” there? To turn the River Market and Main Street into Leisure World? Talk about your Pacts with Satan.
5) But wait: there’s more! The Clinton Library pumps some 300,000 tourists annually into River Market restaurants, entertainment venues, shops and hotels.
6) 5%-10% of Arkansans are GLBT (roughtly 150,000-300,000). Incentivize 1/2-1% and that's 15,000 – 30,000 creative but miserable closet cases moving from Pine Bluff, Crossett, etc., into the River Market / Main Street areas! Let them revive those blocks like they do failing neighborhoods everywhere else around the world!
7) Are you surprised to learn, according to the most recent surveys, that Iowa City, Austin, and Asheville have more gays per capita than the big cities? These smaller cities (like Little Rock) where everyday gays live – towns and boroughs with a mix of baby carriages, gay bars, and B&Bs – signal the continuing movement of gay people into mainstream American life. “In 10 years or so every Main Street USA will probably be too gay to measure,” according to the leading national LGBT newspaper, The Advocate.
8) Stick a Trader Joe’s in there and watch traffic jam the streets from citywide. On the same page here, Mary Beth? Kathy? Sister-? Cammack? A gold mine.
9) But wait! Order now and we’ll throw in the foolproof money-back guarantee for Main Street revitalization: FENG-SHUI!
That’s right, Razorbabies. I have trained with a Master from Hong Kong and lectured on this ancient art of auspicious placement all over the world and of course it works. Ask anybody named Chin. Here, for example is my Lo-pan pointed at the Main Street entrance to the Doneghy Building.
As a Feng Shui Master, you have to know where to stand in relation to the “paths” intersections, but all you really need to know is that the black sectors (as here) suck -- as does the Doneghy Building. The side entrance is a bit better.
10) So what happens with my two-pronged plan – Gay Gentrification + Feng Shui – is that Main Street gradually becomes Main Street Village! Not same-old-same-old chain stores and restaurants and cinemas and Marriott clones available in any Everywhere City . . . but vivid and unique boutique excitement destinations for one-of-a-kind clothing, jewelry, gifts, international foods, bars, music, theatre . . . a “Seen The Rock Lately?” joint.
(CUE MARTHA / VANDELLAS)
P.S. Jimmy? Rett? Your promised check?
I mean this in a nice way but I can speed-dial more important people than you and don’t think I won’t.