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November 7, 2013

Do you like this?

There is place on Market Street where the novelty of downtown runs out and the giggling of children splashing in fountains and passages cannot be heard any longer.  

A point at which there are no more bookstores, kayak sales, or even street vendors hawking hot dogs from carts on a summer afternoon, because the customer base shifts from one that is not so much looking to “buy” as to “take”, and those that aren’t sticking guns in the noses of the area proprietors are urinating on the sides of their buildings (or inside on aisle 5) in the daylight and taking a pickaxe to the roof under cover of night to facilitate more private entries after hours.  

(It seems extreme, but I once saw this done to a short-lived fly-fishing shop off the interstate.  I mean, really:  Who commits to hours of labor to break into a fly-fishing shop?)

This place?  It’s called Alton Park.  

For perspective, the beauty and comparable safety of the Tennessee Aquarium lives in the 100 block of Market Street, but Alton Park Boulevard is what its name turns into by the 3000 block and I’ve always been glad about that.  It deserves better.

That’s not to say that progress hasn’t been made in that area since I first started this path and made my first crack-rock arrest from the shoe of some young man dumb enough to get caught by a rookie in his first week of training. It took place in a sweltering convenience store parking lot where there are more shootings than pre-packaged hot pickles sold (which, for the record, is some gross shit whose consumers deserve the loose stools that they must create).  Progress…but for the most part, only according to the carpetbaggers who have gobbled up long-abandoned properties hoping to repeat the same crazy dollars made on the properties “revitalized” to the north during the grant-fest of the early 2000s.

I am of course biased. I have only seen the worst of this area compared to most investigators, activists, and even residents...but perception is reality, and that’s the cost of having humans do the work of police officers. No apologies forthcoming.

Before the industrial plants shut down I witnessed turn-of-the-century (the prior century, that is) weapons melted down in the molten slag of Wheeland Foundry with a tear running down my cheek. I’ve found and helped retrieve bloated corpses dumped in the polluted creeks behind it and that of U.S. Pipe. I’ve seen the elongated shotgun shacks that were once betrothed to the proverbial “company store” started by Union Colonel Wheeland himself. I’ve served warrants there and in the red-brick apartments that have since been razed, and are now a literal multi-million-dollar apartment complex for the residents that have lived there on assistance for the last six generations.  (Not years, by the way; I said “generations”.  At least I find that stunning.)     

Because of these things, it’s not that there isn’t anything for me to “like”; I’m rather sure there is, statistically speaking. It’s just that I’ve never had a reason to. 

Alton Park.  Residents and investors once hoped it would be the Next Big Thing, but as bubbles burst and the realization crept in that there was only so much grant money and unrealized showroom space needed in this world (and, apparently, no future in the “discerning-felon” shopping demographic either), people finally realized the revitalization of downtown stopped neatly 15 blocks before them and wasn’t going to arrive this decade or the next.

That’s OK, though. My memories of that place are old and my opinion means even less than the promises of my elected employer. But most importantly, in order for there to be a Next Big Thing there has to be a place to be it, and perhaps Alton Park will get its chance.

East Brainerd was once farmland and downtown was once a stagnant pit of swelling concrete and empty buildings…but for now? Alton Park is that unrealized country. Come, visit.

…just don’t bring a lot of cash, and make your business quick. Heh.

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November 7, 2013

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