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Here in Wichita we have an opportunity to move forward and create something amazing. To some, the underside of a railroad bridge may not seem like a big deal. But when it’s a primary path between two areas that will continue to grow with increased interaction, it becomes critical. Thank you Wichita Downtown Development Corporation for addressing this pathway. This article outlines a wide variety of concerns related to this project. I want to discuss just one: History vs. progress.
Many Wichita residents have an interesting perspective on History. There appears to be a battle to save anything that is deemed old. My first struggle is with what’s considered “old” in terms of architecture and our built environment. Is 50 years old? How about 100? Our European counterparts would laugh at us. We are a young community and I would argue that, due to our short life span as a city, there is nothing in our built environment that is truly old.
“Historical significance” is a plausible argument for some Wichita architecture, although we are still creating our history. There are structures that relate to our past and symbolize where we’ve come from, and we should respect those pieces of work, as they have shaped our community. I respect and love history and we have some beautiful works in our community that hopefully never get torn down, whether they’re five years old or 150. Who determines this is yet another point up for discussion. But I digress.
History should never be an impediment to progress. However, currently we have an impediment to the next chapter of our downtown development: The Douglas Street rail bridge. This structure has played a part in our history but now stands as a barrier between two areas, which so desperately need connection. A connection that draws us in and spits us out the other side with a smile on our faces, not pigeon excrement on our shoulders.
Let’s say this bridge is historically significant (which I’m not here to argue one way or the other). There are some intriguing elements to the bridge and it does have a story to tell about why and how it has helped shape our history. So let’s keep it in play as a historically significant structure for Wichita. In its day — like most great historical structures — it served its purpose well and with a sense of beauty. But also like other great historical structures, it no longer functions as intended. The structure lacks a vital element of success, which is to serve as a connection.
Yet it can be. Some of the most wonderful places are where history is juxtaposed against contemporary progress.
The arch in St. Louis a great modern marvel with the back drop of some wonderful old buildings.