Columns » Max Brantley

LR needs to think big

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I took a long walk around War Memorial Park recently.

Across the freeway, I marveled at the children's branch library under construction and the fact that the Central Arkansas Library System had saved a Craftsman-style house, as well as a stone storage building. The library builds monuments.

On the north side of the freeway, I had a nice walk around the park perimeter. Careful on Monroe Street. It lacks sidewalks. More walking paths are also needed in the northwest sector of the park. The perimeter of the Little Rock Zoo could use some improvement, particularly the raggedy picnic area. The derelict Ray Winder Field needs to be razed.

But all is not depressing. There's a new walking loop. Work continues on improvements around the creek and fishing pond, near the new children's playground with a water feature. The $1.2 million spent in the park has helped, though I don't know how you'll ever create a Central Park-level city lung with a football stadium in the middle of it.

Mayor Mark Stodola in touting park work and other projects from the new city sales tax, commented to the Democrat-Gazette, "These are the kinds of things that make people want to stay and put down roots ... make them want to bring their families and move to Little Rock."

He's so right. But the city does so little to act as if it believes it. To kick off spending of the new capital spending tax, the city called in the press last week for a symbolic first project — improvement to a drainage ditch within "Fore!" distance of the Country Club of Little Rock. This symbol will make people move to Little Rock?

A group from Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas did a ride-in to remind assembled city leaders "Little Rock can do better than lining a ditch with concrete. ... Drainage projects may be necessary, but we need more inspirational symbols of what the City hopes to accomplish in the next 10 years to put it back on sound financial footing while improving the lives of everyone who calls Little Rock home or comes here to work, shop, or play."

Amen. Enough with the old school Little Rock real estate developer thinking. You know: If we build an office building some tech companies might come. We have buildings and land aplenty — the old Alltel campus in central Little Rock and the warehouse area around the Clinton School to name two — perfect for new business without neighborhood removal.

The $50 million in public spending planned for the tech park building would be a huge step toward, for example, building a new Arkansas River bridge at Chester Street. Then we really could push for the mayor's idea to convert the existing Broadway bridge into a grand plaza between the ballpark in North Little Rock and the Robinson Auditorium. It would attract people, musicians, food carts, sightseers. It would be a landmark and a reason, like New York's High Line, to visit a city. You could hop from it to our riverside bicycle trail and ride out to two certifiable monuments — the Big Dam Bridge and Two Rivers Bridge. They are aesthetic exclamation marks for the proposition that good things happen here.

If only Mayor Stodola could muster the political savvy to actually complete that river bike trail by filling the missing link along Cantrell Road. This would require overcoming the old school thinking of the powerful Stephens and Dillard families, who control land along that corridor. Some things are just not done in Little Rock.

Talk about symbolic.

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