"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." With deference to Charles Dickens' novel compiled from 31 weekly writings in 1859 (maybe the world's first blogger) depicting the treatment of the poor by the aristocracy in London and France before and during the French revolution, there is a story line in our own present day city to which this title might also be applied. Specifically, I am thinking of the condition of certain neighborhoods south of I-630 between University Avenue and Woodrow Street and the environment of the citizens who live there compared to their counterparts north of I-630. For some in our city it is the best of times. For others, it is the worst of times.
Just this past week it was reported that an initiative is presently under way by a local entrepreneur to rehabilitate one particular neighborhood in the above sector of central Little Rock which has been plagued with numerous abandoned and boarded up houses, and provide affordable housing in the process. I applaud that effort and wish him well, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Just go one city street map section over from that area to the west, drive south on Pine Street to Asher and then serpentine back north between Maple and Washington Streets and you will be overwhelmed by the vast number of burned out, abandoned and boarded up houses.
On the plus side, at least the City of Little Rock recognizes that this problem exists. Through the various city agencies like Housing and Neighborhood Programs, CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) Programs, Little Rock Housing Authority, and the newly established Little Rock Land Bank Commission it is attempting to address this blight by partnering with Habitat for Humanity, Black Developers, Inc. and private developers like the one mentioned above to chip away at the problem. In fact the City Board will be voting next Tuesday night to condemn 14 such structures scattered around the city, which is a good thing. But I wonder what would happen if one or more entire city blocks were targeted for complete redevelopment not unlike the Madison Heights Apartments project of several years ago, rather than pursuing a shotgun approach.
Obviously, the sheer scope of such a comprehensive project would create a whole host of legal, logistical, financial and practical obstacles inherent in such a well-intentioned major initiative like this. Oddly, though, similar limitations never seem to stop us from constructing sports facilities and entertainment venues; building pedestrian dams, bridges and bike trails; erecting and extending trolley lines; creating wetlands and expanding parks; subsidizing various city operations; and granting tax incentives for corporate development, all noble endeavors, but another example of a "two cities" dichotomy. That's where having the collective political will among our elected city officials to make this, as well as homelessness, a top priority in our community is essential. Another element to ensure success would be to engage those citizens and organizations with sufficient money, influence and resources to attack this issue on a massive scale and make it happen. Then and only then can we begin to transform Little Rock from a "tale of two cities" into a tale of one city, in my view.
Laura Raborn at http://paintingsofhome.com and http://claygifts.com
Jim Johnson at http://yessy.com/jimjohnson/gallery.html
Russ Powell at http://powellphotos.com
Linda Flake at http://lindaflake.com
Tom Herrin at http://tommysart.blogspot.com
Matt McLeod at http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Artists Registry at http://www.arkansasarts.org/programs/registry/default.aspx
Barry Thomas exclusively at Ellen Golden French Antiques in the Heights
Local Colour Gallery at http://localcolourgallery.com
Chroma Gallery at http://chromagallery.com
Cantrell Gallery at http://cantrellgallery.com
Greg Thompson Fine Art at http://gregthompsonfineart.com