Keep The District canopied

Thursday, June 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

There's been a lot of talk, some of it acrimonious, about how best to strengthen the heart of the city, that collection of restaurants, bars and shops that goes by the slightly pretentious name of The District. Here's a suggestion:

Bring back the Broadway canopy -- or at least canopies plural. I might have been the only person in town who thought it was a mistake to tear down the old shelter from sun and thunderstorms. Now I might be the only one who misses it or longs for a serviceable substitute, but I'm guessing not.

The mishmash of awnings, most of them pitifully inadequate for any real purpose, that has succeeded the old concrete monster provides little in the way of either aesthetic appeal or shade. And a depressing number of building owners have failed to erect any replacements at all. (To single out one offender, I'd say that Arnie Fagin's campaign for new leadership downtown would be more compelling if he did something to make the front of his Cool Stuff store, well, cooler, or drier.)

I mentioned aesthetic appeal, so I should concede the obvious: The old canopy had all the grace and beauty of your basic medium-security prison. It was so heavy as to be almost forbidding. Okay, strike the "almost." As I recall, promises – obviously nonbinding – were made before demolition that the forward-looking, customer-loving owners of those historic buildings would replace the old canopy with something better.

Instead, what we have now ranges from an example all its neighbors should emulate at Bingham's, on the corner of Ninth Street, to the mustard-colored monstrosity a block to the east that contains one of my favorite newish restaurants. In fact, the insight I'm now sharing struck me with the force of heat stroke the other day as I waddled along the sidewalk, my belly full of catfish and sweet tea. It was hellishly hot, and I searched in vain for much in the way of shade.

Now that I've complained and prescribed, transparency -- one of the favorite buzzwords these days in journalism as well as in government -- requires that I reveal just how far I stand from the mainstream of Columbia architectural criticism. I think the public library, with its Quixote-like sculptures, is by far the most interesting building in town. And I don't dislike the new Missouri United Methodist Church addition at Ninth and Elm nearly as much as I did at first.

But seriously, downtown property owners, before you shove your hands much deeper into taxpayers' pockets, consider how much better we pedestrians would feel under an unbroken line of respectable-sized awnings. Put up shade, pull your employees' cars from in front of your stores, and I predict a renaissance.

ON A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SUBJECT, those of you who read online may have seen Rusty Strodtman's response to my essay of last week in which I suggested that neither he nor Donnie Stamper should be appointed to the city Planning and Zoning Commission.

Mr. Strodtman, who works for Jose Lindner's development empire, quoted the published criteria for Planning and Zoning membership and declared himself qualified. He gets no argument from me on that score. I merely argued, as many others have in other contexts, that just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be done.

Developers and their spokespersons belong on one side of the table, and the decision-makers of the city's future belong on the other, or so it seems to me.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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