Our Best Point Of View
April 20th, 2017
Memphis is fortunate.
While we’re high up on a bluff, across from us is a flood plain all the way to the levee just short of West Memphis. That means nothing will ever be built over there, and our view is protected all the time – nothing short of magnificent when it looks like an inland sea in spring, when it turns to gold at sunset every day.
Many river cities put their industry – ports, factories, processing facilities, etc. – on the opposite bank and afford that view to their citizenry even to this day. Because we didn’t have an opposite bank, and the wide expanse of our river, we originally put all of that right at our feet, and an ugly footprint it was. But now it’s gone and we’re inviting everyone back down to the water where it all began and dressing up for the occasion.
Even as we do that, the best view of the river – the view from the bluff just south of Downtown, just as the river sweeps west, just south of the bridges – an unobstructed view that’s been there for hundreds and hundreds of years that we know about and probably for thousands more – is threatened.
If we lose that view, we can no longer stand where the people before us stood and see exactly what they saw and feel its promise.
That would be historically unfortunate.
Published in The Memphis Daily News, April 21, 2017, and in The Memphis News, April 22-28, 2017
WE DON’T JUST LOSE THE VIEW – WE LOSE THE VISION.
My father had an interesting theory about Memphis expansion. Even though the most beautiful rolling land in Shelby County is north, Memphis expanded east. Dad said that was because industry was oriented to the river from the beginning, and a state line was just south, so, “they put all the crap along the river mostly north, and nobody wants to drive through all that to get to the office.”
Dad was direct. In honor of his memory, I will be as well. American Commercial Barge Line is about to put a bunch of crap right smack dab in the middle of what Mark Twain called the best view of the Mississippi. You can set that in concrete, because the two 145-foot silos they propose to build will be concrete.
When Native Americans built ceremonial mounds on the Chickasaw Bluffs a millennium ago, they built them here, high above the westerly sweep of the big river and the unobstructed view of their world and approaches to it. Atop the most prominent of those mounds, Chief Chisca would later have that view. Hernando de Soto would first see the Mississippi here. The French, the Spanish and the Americans would all build forts here, the latest being Fort Pickering where future president of the United States Zachary Taylor would take in that view while serving as commandant, and where the Union Army would place a battery on the mound to command the Mississippi during the Civil War. A hospital would be built here to care for those broken by labor on the river and comforted by that view. People lived and still live in community here, those mounds are in a park here, and the singular National Ornamental Metal Museum is an anchor here.
And my children and grandchildren and so many more have climbed those mounds, discovered and explored the crater in one, and seen the river’s majesty and the original reason we’re all here from right here.
All of that would be lost behind twin concrete towers, not just partially obstructing our most beautiful view of the river, but literally altering a view that made and changed our history.
Even sitting at the base of the bluff, they would still rise some nine stories higher than the bluff and represent a new low if approved.
Even as we’re rediscovering and reimagining our river in a Downtown Renaissance, returning to the dark ages of all that crap on its banks would bury our progress in cement.
So I suggest two things, and the first will make the second obvious.
One, go down there, climb that mound, and imagine two huge concrete silos between you and that view.
Two, go down to council chambers in City Hall when the Board of Adjustment meets on April 26 at 2 p.m. and say hell no to those silos. They can build them somewhere else instead of right smack dab in the middle of a view 1,000 years long.
I’m a Memphian, and that’s my view.