If you take a look at East Sixth Street between Elm and Spring Streets, you will see a new addition to the historic ledger of New Albany. Last week, contractors stripped the meager asphalt layer from this street to expose a nearly pristine brick street, complete with intact cut limestone curbs. It is a preview of what might await the historic districts of our city.
The machinery used to strip the asphalt from Sixth Street was, how should one say, a bit over-zealous. In fact some of the bricks were scarred in the process of milling. But what remains is a near perfect example of a well-laid functional brick street from around the turn of the Twentieth Century. This unmasking is a welcome prelude to the Bicentennial celebration, which is just around the corner, and it is a tie to the halfway mark of our City's history at the Centennial.
New Albany's rich history can be emphasized through the exposure of brick and cobblestone streets and alleys. Streets so exposed can serve as reminders of the labor involved in building a functional city for one's own generation and for those generations we hope will follow. Those are aesthetic and philosophical dividends of a brick street exposure; they are somewhat akin to the realization one lives in a more valuable house as the wall-to-wall is pulled up to expose hardwood floors.
In today's lean times and tightened belts, a practical dividend may also be found in the fact that exposed brick streets, along with increasing property values, will cut down on the paving budget, and may help with more efficient storm water control as the original, functional and intended curb depths are restored. They are also natural traffic-calming devices.
While the Sixth Street unmasking may only be a one-off experiment, New Albany has many fine brick streets and alleys just an inch or two away. If we recognize this as a viable, sensible option for the older parts of town, we must look at a recovery process which does less damage during the unmasking. Here is a link to such a process. It deserves a serious look if people like what they see on Sixth Street.