Saturday January 21, my wife and I went to the Louisville Library to see/participate in the simulcast of the Tedx Manhattan event. It was interesting and informative until Steve Ritz took the stage in New York. At that point it became inspirational. I would urge anyone who sees this to watch the entire video. As Ritz says over and over "I'm not a farmer". Believe him. He's not a farmer; he's a hero in a time when that phrase is overused. And he's a role model for those who are not simply trying to grow vegetables but for those who are trying to grow communities. He's a true teacher, and not just for the students in his classroom.
If we consider the hand Ritz was dealt with his kids, the only logical choice was for him to fold. If we in New Albany consider where we sit in the waning days of January 2012 we might observe that the calendar is moving relentlessly toward our bicentennial celebration. This is not simply a tick on a calendar page, a one-off event where we put the kids in the car and drive to a place where a band plays patriotic songs, politicians speak of our founders, and our place in history "By the River's Edge". New Albany's bicentennial is not simply an opportunity to sell trinkets, nor is it a time for small ideas to deliver small results.
New Albany's bicentennial is our chance to speak to those who follow us in time to this place, a place we will not go. So far I have heard little of what we will bring to the party. To be sure, there is a committee in place to make some of the arrangements, and I hope their efforts bear worthy fruit. But the citizens of New Albany now cannot take a seat on the sidelines in planning for the upcoming anniversary.
In that spirit, I offer the following modest proposal: we should build a Bicentennial Park worthy of the momentous date we commemorate next year. I have heard discussion of a park on a tiny spit of land at the corner of Spring and Pearl Streets. Pocket parks are nice features for urban settings, they help break up the oppressive nature of street canyons surrounded by tall buildings, they provide a welcome refuge from the stressful pace of life in a big city. The current plan for the park, however, runs the danger of simply being a reminder of a previous generation's shortsightedness, a reminder of what is missing, one of city's most remarkable structures--the Post Office.
I believe the Bicentennial Park should help us show our children and our grandchildren why New Albany is here, and why it is special to us. It is difficult to convey civic sentiment through time. We do that by building for the future. If we would consider an alternate location for the Bicentennial Park, we could highlight how our history was shaped by the river. We could bring into sharper focus one of our extant remarkable buildings. We could provide a sizable, consequential green canvas on which current and future citizens could paint and enjoy a lasting commemoration of our two hundredth birthday. I believe we could best do that by building the Bicentennial Park at the corner of Bank and Main Streets.
This corner presently has a couple of forlorn structures fronting Main. With their removal, a large green lawn is revealed falling away from Main Street toward the levee, similar to the lawn of the Lanier House in Madison. With the two structures removed, the magnificent Indiana State Bank building ca. 1837 would be seen in splendid view. The Carnegie Center, visually more stunning since a panoramic view of it was opened with the removal of the building on the corner of Bank and Spring Streets, serves as a model of what could happen at this corner. The park could be tied in to the Greenway, it could feature a fountain, it could be a gathering place for events large and small. It could be an important feature of the commons, tying New Albany to its river past and its civic present, secured and built as a gift from us to those who follow, and who will, hopefully, celebrate other anniversaries of the city's founding.
The reason I connected the Bicentennial Park with the call to action by Steve Ritz is that his disregarded, pigeonholed, "loser" kids responded to his motivation. He saw in them something they probably didn't see in themselves and probably wouldn't have brought forth without his spark. Ritz's Bronx school and his community are better for his effort. He opened up dead-end lives. And, while New Albany will survive a mediocre bicentennial park, I believe we can do better. By focusing on the corner at Bank and Main we can build a much more fitting park to mark this special occasion. Others may have even better locations. Like Steve Ritz, we're not farmers. But, like Steve Ritz we need to ask more of this city than what some expect of our momentous occasion in 2013.