Artists Resurrect a Run-Down River Town


| 11/16/2007 4:38:38 PM


Tags: Paducah Arts, Artist Relocation Program, Lowertown Arts District, Urban Renewal,

From Buffalo to Louisville, St. Louis to Memphis, river towns tend to share a common vibe, carved out by their muddy waters. It’s common to find neighborhoods filled with beautiful, old brick palaces-for-homes, erected by the Jay Gatsby tycoons of the early 20th century, who banked that water would always be king. But when the economy of transportation shifted toward Eisenhower’s road, it left many of these old towns high and dry, with a bunch of giant old buildings no one left could afford to maintain. 

Less than a decade ago, Paducah, Kentucky, (pop. 26,000) was just another in a winding line of river towns that had fallen on hard times. In the Fall issue of the delightful urban-planning magazine The Next American City, Carly Berwick reports:

Paducah had been neglected for years, overrun with dilapidated buildings, some boarded up, many littered with broken bottles—a commonplace of aging small cities. As owners moved out to the suburbs over the last century, landlords and renters moved in, and no one wanted to—or could afford to—spend the increasingly large sums required to fix up the properties.”

That’s when artist and Paducah resident Mark Barone visited then-assistant city planner Thomas Barnett and together the two engineered an artistic and economic renaissance that has small, aging cities all over the country paying attention.

They crafted Paducah’s Artists Relocation Program around the idea that the town needed to attract working artists—a unique class of people who by definition love to create—to call Paducah their home.

The pair made arrangements with the city government to ease zoning laws in the historic but rundown Lowertown district, so its buildings could be used for both commercial and residential purposes. “This,” the Paducah Arts website reports, “enables residents to have gallery/studio, restaurant/café, etc. and living space all under one roof.”

festivemanb
11/17/2007 10:51:52 PM

Haven't you heard the news? Steamboats are ruining everything! (http://www.steamthing.com/) The beginning of the decline of river-towns didn't start when Americans shifted from river to road; rather, it started when Americans shifted from river to rail - which happened after the Civil War. (Abe Lincoln's son, Robert Lincoln was a big rail magnate himself - President of the Pullman Company.) For a really great peek into this change, check out Mark Twain's masterpiece Life On The Mississippi [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/245]. Twain was a steamboat pilot before the Civil War shut down the river's highway and forced Twain to move West to try his hand at mining. When he got back to the Mississippi a decade of so later, he found the river dead. Why? Because freight had shifted from river to rail. Snip: "But the change of changes was on the 'levee.' This time, a departure from the rule. Half a dozen sound-asleep steamboats where I used to see a solid mile of wide-awake ones! This was melancholy, this was woeful. The absence of the pervading and jocund steamboatman from the billiard-saloon was explained. He was absent because he is no more. His occupation is gone, his power has passed away, he is absorbed into the common herd, he grinds at the mill, a shorn Samson and inconspicuous. Half a dozen lifeless steamboats, a mile of empty wharves, a negro fatigued with whiskey stretched asleep, in a wide and soundless vacancy, where the serried hosts of commerce used to contend!{footnote [Capt. Marryat, writing forty-five years ago says: 'St. Louis has 20,000 inhabitants. THE RIVER ABREAST OF THE TOWN IS CROWDED WITH STEAMBOATS, LYING IN TWO OR THREE TIERS.']} Here was desolation, indeed. 'The old, old sea, as one in tears, Comes murmuring, with foamy lips, And knocking at the vacant piers, Calls for his long-lost multitude of ships.' The towboat and the railroad had done their work, and done it well


festivemanb
11/17/2007 10:50:00 PM

Haven't you heard the news? Steamboats are ruining everything! (http://www.steamthing.com/) The beginning of the decline of river-towns didn't start when Americans shifted from river to road; rather, it started when Americans shifted from river to rail - which happened after the Civil War. (Abe Lincoln's son, Robert Lincoln was a big rail magnate himself - President of the Pullman Company.) For a really great peek into this change, check out Mark Twain's masterpiece Life On The Mississippi [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/245]. Twain was a steamboat pilot before the Civil War shut down the river's highway and forced Twain to move West to try his hand at mining. When he got back to the Mississippi a decade of so later, he found the river dead. Why? Because freight had shifted from river to rail. Snip: "But the change of changes was on the 'levee.' This time, a departure from the rule. Half a dozen sound-asleep steamboats where I used to see a solid mile of wide-awake ones! This was melancholy, this was woeful. The absence of the pervading and jocund steamboatman from the billiard-saloon was explained. He was absent because he is no more. His occupation is gone, his power has passed away, he is absorbed into the common herd, he grinds at the mill, a shorn Samson and inconspicuous. Half a dozen lifeless steamboats, a mile of empty wharves, a negro fatigued with whiskey stretched asleep, in a wide and soundless vacancy, where the serried hosts of commerce used to contend!{footnote [Capt. Marryat, writing forty-five years ago says: 'St. Louis has 20,000 inhabitants. THE RIVER ABREAST OF THE TOWN IS CROWDED WITH STEAMBOATS, LYING IN TWO OR THREE TIERS.']} Here was desolation, indeed. 'The old, old sea, as one in tears, Comes murmuring, with foamy lips, And knocking at the vacant piers, Calls for his long-lost multitude of ships.' The towboat and the railroad had done their work, and done it well