Recently, I've been looking at a lot of old photos of downtown Little Rock. It is amazing to see the changes that have taken hold in this small city over the past century. Scores of old buildings have been constructed and then torn down, entire blocks changed and then changed again. Our collection of skyscrapers have grown, but for the most part, a good deal of the old buildings in the fair city of Little Rock have been torn down and replaced with sprawling parking lots.
One old building that has survived is the Centre Place Building, along Center Street. It was built in 1917, then called the Union Life Building. The narrow architecture of the building makes it somewhat unique, there really isn't any other building in downtown quite like it. It also stands out because it sits amidst a sea of parking lots, most of the buildings around it have long been torn down.
More nearby buildings are being torn down now, just as this post is being written. Two buildings, along Third Street, have already had their final reckoning with the wrecking ball, or are in the process of slowly being demolished. The result of this will be, what? You guessed it, more parking lots.
This is all a bit frustrating. I guess parking might be a problem in downtown - I don't really know since my office I work at is in the suburbs. But while a few new buildings have been built or renovated downtown, it seems like we are losing more buildings than we are replacing. It might be the bad economy, but still. It's a shame to lose any part of the city's character, especially to replace it with yet another parking lot. It just takes the heart out of what should be the city center.
The worst is the empty lot that now sits along Main Street. An entire block was cleared, and still just sits as a gravel void that is surrounded by a fence. There is a vague promise that it will someday be turned into a new office building, but nothing has been said of when that might actually happen. Instead, we have this depressing hole, sitting along what was once the main street through the city.
If a new office building is to be constructed there, it will probably be a few years before that happens. Until then, what will become of that spot? Will it sit fenced off and empty for the conceivable future? Now my knowledge of city planning and construction is based only on having played SimCity - but you'd think that there could be something worthwhile placed there in the short-term. How about turning that empty lot into a small plaza? Or lay down some sod and make it into a nice little park. At least have it be something. Or perhaps, just go all out and put up something like the Dublin Spire there - something much more unique and imaginative than just another empty lot.
The city budget is tight, and probably can't afford such trivial things like that. But still, is this what we really want our downtown to become? Just a set of buildings surrounded by parking lots? It might not be what everyone wants, but it's what we are getting...