I often fear that one of the major lessons I took away from running the late Fort Worthology blog for so many years is that it’s safer to be cynical about urbanism than it is to be enthusiastic.
This is likely silly, as during the site’s run, I got to see a lot of good things happen in Fort Worth: the South Main Better Block event get turned into a real long-term plan enacted by the city, the official bike plan get off the ground, the Urban Village program get set in place, several areas around the central city become hotbeds of new activity, and more. The flip side of this, of course, is that there was a lot of bad mixed in, and after a while it became hard to see past the bad. The streetcar project died due to the nonsense jackassery of politicians blinded by windshield perspective. The transit system overall seemed stagnant and ineffective, and improvements take ages while new and wider roads seem rubber-stamped. Whatever good was accomplished in small pockets of the central city was balanced by absolutely no changes to how Fort Worth’s sprawl outside of the immediate core was designed and built. Downtown continues to be sadly reliant on subsidized free parking, to the long-term detriment of the central city.
Chalk it up to the difference between writing as a naively enthusiastic twenty-something versus writing as a more jaded thirty-something, perhaps, but it’s part of what drove that dumb site into oblivion.
So imagine my surprise tonight when I happened to see news that New York is finally demolishing the hated Sheridan Expressway, a relic of freewayphile & noted wrong person Robert Moses, to be replaced with a more human-scaled parkway.
This news surprised me because I remember hearing about this issue in 2009, in a PBS series titled Road to the Future, at which time the fight over the Sheridan was already many years old. Like so many freeway projects, it had wrecked low-income neighborhoods and contributed to their decline and poor health. (It is the regular role of the central-city freeway that it actively harms the fabric of the city around it to make it easier for residents of the suburbs to leave it.) People who lived around the Sheridan had been fighting for ages for it to be removed, and by 2019 or so, it finally will be. It took eight years from when I even became aware of the situation on top of the already-huge length of time fighting to get that freeway removed.
The push to make cities better is frequently frustrating, maddening, dispiriting, and draining. It can take years, or decades, to make a place more livable – especially when it doesn’t have a billionaire or two advocating for it. This can easily sap one’s spirit.
However, seeing news of the Sheridan’s long-awaited demise really slathered some locally-sourced organic perspective onto my mind grapes. The enthusiastic, can-do me remembers learning about the Sheridan, and the jaded asshole me is now seeing it get replaced. These things take time, and they will frequently piss you off or make you depressed, but they can get done.
When you fall into a rut writing about people opening wine bars or whatever it’s easy to lose perspective on the real, meaningful work being done. It happened to me. It’s worthwhile to step back and realize it.