Notes on Cities and Urban Parks

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Boise and Salt Lake City

Pictured is a statue located in a small park in front of the capitol building in Boise. It depicts a Nez Perce chief giving directions to Lewis and Clark.

A discussion of the human fallout that goes with the West’s legacy of “rugged individualism” and expansion by forced takeover is called for at this point. Not everyone in these parts was raised by a family with the old cowboy spirit, and taught the survival skills necessary to make it on their own in a challenging environment. Others lose their way in their youth, or join the military and get busted up during a tour of duty. Still others have immigrated into the area from other parts of the world and are used to different ways. Among all these people, some make do, while others become a bit “not right in the head” and then even more of a burden on society. Bus stations, being open odd hours for their passengers, and having bathrooms, attract such people.

In Boise, it was a young guy in a wheelchair. One leg was pretty obviously messed up. He entered and exited the station many times while I was there, often following younger women in, hoping to get their attention. At night he put out some blankets over by the arcade machines (one intoning “crazy taxi…” over and over again – very annoying) and went to bed.

Such people are a little unnerving. They know they are not welcomed, and often don’t say much. When they do, oddities in their communication normally are evident. They make the legitimate passengers uncomfortable, and signs are usually posted saying they are not allowed to come in. But customers and staff have a hard time enforcing the rule. They are obviously so pitiful, and the inclination is to give them some space and leave them alone. It’s not, however, good for business – or society. It’s time we learned how to do something more positive for such beings.

Meanwhile, I got on a bus to Salt Lake.

It rained all the way to Salt Lake City. It was a late night run and we seemed to be following a storm. It was still dark when we came into the “intermodal hub” downtown. The rain had subsided and I was able to find my way to a ticket machine, buy a one-day transit pass, and board the light rail blue line into town. That trip was my entire tour of downtown Salt Lake. I found my motel – a cheap but poor one – they found a room available early, and I got some extra rest before visiting the local Scientology organization.

As I traveled through the city, I got the impression that older expansion plans had been put on hold. I used a “streetcar” that has no street to run in! Though a shopping center at the far end of the line (near the present location of the Org) is up and running, the rest of the area remains run down. This is a poorer but proud community named “Sugar House” after an historic sugar factory-turned-prison that used to be in the area.

As a side-project, I sought out parks in many of the cities I visited. They provide a nice place to rest in the shade for a few minutes, and usually have drinking water. There are parks throughout Slat Lake City, but I didn’t get a chance to visit any of them.

With my thoughts on the problem of reviving these communities – and the planet – I boarded my train to Omaha (after an almost four hour wait) after sharing the station with a bunch of great folks…and one totally mad lady who showed some interest in indulging in non-sequitor conversations with some of us.

Omaha

Omaha is an interesting place.

The train arrived there about 5AM. The sun wasn’t going to rise until about 8AM. The train station was going to close at about 7AM. So I put on my pack and went out to walk at about 6:30.

I knew where I was going. I had looked at the area with Google Street View as well as having printed out an ordinary map. But I had no idea where I was going to find breakfast at 6:30 in the morning!

I walked up 10th to Jackson, the street where the bus station is located. And what should I see? A place called “Cubby’s Old Market Grocery” (601 S. 13th) with its lights on and doors unlocked. A real grocery store and deli in a downtown location! Unusual. The food wasn’t good, but it was food.

I had a hard time keeping my bearings straight downtown. A jogger asked me which way the river was, and I pointed in the wrong direction! Omaha is on the Missouri River right across from Council Bluffs Iowa. Lewis and Clark passed through here. Both sides of the river downtown have large public spaces built into them. The Omaha riverfront park included a bridge to help people on foot get around all the busy streets in the area, and a walkway with sponsorship signs from all imaginable AFL-CIO unions.

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A large plaque concerning the Lewis and Clark episode there and at Council Bluffs was also prominent. Some other structure that had been a part of this area was under demolition. This was a theme I found common to many cities I visited: Out with the old, in with something else.

Downtown Omaha was full of public spaces. After visiting a sprawling life size bronze sculpture depicting a small wagon train, I found several other park spaces before getting to the riverfront. Here is a portion of the sculpture:

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And here, a downtown mall (per the earlier definition of mall – an outdoors promenade or walking area):

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Oddly, I thought, the world headquarters of ConAgra (a very large packaged foods company) was located in this area. Per Wikipedia, the company had earlier threatened the city that it would leave town unless a downtown historic district was cleared out to make way for a new company headquarters building and grounds. Then last year, the company announced it would move anyway. It was not clear to me that the move had taken place.

The lake on the ConAgra property doubles as a public park and walking/jogging trail. When I visited, a portion of the trail had been overrun by noisy (and messy) geese.

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But signs told us not to bother the wildlife, so we all walked around them. They were seemingly oblivious to our presence, another oddity for “wild” animals.

Per Wikipedia, Omaha was founded by speculators from neighboring Council Bluffs in 1854. (As a comparison, Pullman was established in 1881 by three original landowners, as “Three Forks,” later re-named after George Pullman, the inventor of the Pullman railroad car and owner of the company that manufactured them). By historical standards, all the towns I have visited so far are actually quite new. Thus “historical” is a very relative term in most of these towns.

By mid-afternoon, Old Market was bustling with tourists. Most of the shops are restaurants, with various artsy gift shops inserted here and there. I found an actual coffee house/bakery (Aromas/Bliss) with WiFi at one point. It was very new to the area, and not like the other coffee houses in Old Market but more like Starbucks. I was glad to find it, as I needed to connect to the internet to reserve a room in Kansas city, as I’d changed my bus ticket to get there earlier.

Kansas City

Though Kanasas City is closer to the old South, it officially only dates from 1853 – much the same age as Omaha, and established in much the same way. It was not the traditional site of an earlier settlement, but more-or-less built up from scratch using land purchased by investors/speculators.

I did not spend much time exploring the city, but in the late afternoon I walked around a bit and found “Hyde Park.” It was a fairly classic city park – green lawn with scattered large sprawling trees. It had once been a golf course, established by some people from Scotland.

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Cicadas sounded intermittently from several of the big old trees – a familiar Midwest summer sound. The park continues south out of the Hyde Park historical neighborhood (full of large, fancy homes) past an old school that is being renovated to a newer lawn area with a playground in it.

However, the neighborhood near the Org, only a few blocks away, was decidedly dilapidated. So it is clear things are a bit out of control in this city, as is not uncommon across America these days.

For me the great wonder of Kansas City was its transit terminal. The old Union (train) Station had been remodeled, with the city Metro and Amtrak given space inside. (Greyhound is still across town at its older location.) The remodeling includes a huge event hall where the old train waiting area used to be, a “Science City” attraction for kids, like the Exploratorium in San Francisco, shops, and a restaurant. There is a walkway connecting all this to the Crown Center hotel and indoor shopping mall across the street. This turns the place into an upscale area that the homeless are more or less unable to penetrate.

I walked through all of this, and found a shop offering a nice but inexpensive carrying bag that I needed to supplement my day pack. Of course I’m sure some local citizens consider this whole project a bit invasive (and exclusive). But it’s not like these areas aren’t public. They just aren’t plebeian.

I might note at this point the marked lack of availability of fresh raw foods in many of these downtown areas. Except for the small grocery store I found in Old Market – that from its hours obviously serves the locals – it is very difficult in the average downtown to find an apple or banana or some plain yogurt or some chilled juice. Some of these things appear in the convenience stores that are now attached to most gas stations along most bus routes. However, train travelers using downtown stations may not be able to easily find such a place.

Albuquerque

Albuquerque is somewhat of a different story. It is located just a bit north and west from the center of the state, at an elevation of about 5,300 feet. It was established under its current name by the Spanish in 1706, as part of the Camino Real (Royal Road) trade route to Mexico. That makes it much older than most Midwest cities, yet still much newer than the cities of Europe, Asia or Africa.

It developed, however, much as the rest of the Midwest developed, except for its huge Spanish-speaking population. In this city those of Hispanic ethnicity outnumber the Anglos. However, ruling groups throughout the Americas have always had some sort of European connection, so this Hispanic majority does not equal Hispanic prosperity.

Though the city is on a river (the Rio Grande – I never saw it) it occupies a basin of over 200 square miles. Thus “urban sprawl” has occurred, made possible by automobiles and pursuit of the American Dream of living in a single-family home. I walked through just a few of the neighborhoods closer to downtown and they seemed endless. Trees are rather sparse here – particularly big trees, and the big streets are for cars, not people. The sidewalks are narrow and poorly-kept, with no places to sit at many bus stops and no parks along most of the streets I walked. I had to go into a neighborhood to find a park. And somehow they managed to build this park without including a drinking fountain. I was quite amazed.

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I found two very nice and trendy restaurants downtown (Tucanos – a chain, and Sushi King) and there are probably many more. I can only guess that lots of young office workers in the nearby government and financial office buildings, along with some tourists, keep these businesses going. There are homeless in the area; quite a few. Their presence makes it harder to keep the place looking nice. There was also new construction happening downtown.

Albuquerque’s transit center is fairly new and OK. But accommodations for travelers are sparse – as if this were some sort of tradition (which it may be). As I have mentioned elsewhere, the transit centers always attract the homeless and that becomes a service problem for the customers. Only Kansas City has solved this.

I’m sure there is a lot I’m missing involving the ruling classes / working classes culture clashes in all these cities. In the U.S. the ruling class is supposed to be a working class. In the cultures that colonized the Americas, though, this was not the case at the time of those colonizations. And the old ruling classes have never died; they just wear business suits now in an attempt to blend in better.

Roswell

To get to Roswell from Albuquerque you have to climb out of the Mesilla Valley (part of the upper Rio Grande, at 3,900 feet) and get through a narrow ridge into the White Sands area (4,300 feet) then across the Sacramento Mountains and down into the High Plains where Roswell is located (3,500 feet).

The significant thing to me about Roswell is not the UFO crash that happened near there, but the reason UFOs were being attracted to that area. The Roswell Army-Air Field (later, Walker AFB) housed Strategic Air Command planes – including those used to bomb Japan in 1945 – during the time of the UFO crashes. Thus the area was a central point for the rollout of our nuclear capability following WWII. This is what attracted ET attention, and was one reason they were doing overflights in the area.

The main thing I did in Roswell was visit the UFO Museum (officially the International UFO Museum and Research Center). It was created by two people who were involved in the 1947 incident, and has become a major attraction in the town. It currently has a nice building and an interesting exhibit, but the materials are dated and some of the displays are a bit over-theatrical for current audiences and also in need of repair or replacement.

It is definitely the opinion of the museum founders that the real facts of the 1947 incident were covered up by official BS for some reason. They have probably survived by not taking the issue much further than that, though many (including myself) think it’s time to get honest about the whole variety of issues that are connected to the UFO issue.

I went to the library in the museum and asked for their Sanni Ceto books. They had two, one autographed by the author with a special drawing and inscription in her home language. I asked the librarian if she had heard of Sanni Ceto; she had not. Sanni is the only being available to us who can tell the ET side of this story. I think she should be better-known, at least by those who work at the UFO Museum! Another girl there remembered Sanni’s visit to the museum (about 2005), describing her as “autistic.” So this whole problem is most likely related to the fact that most Americans do not believe in reincarnation (or past lives), which makes Sanni’s story hard for them to accept. I consider this a much bigger problem than the UFO cover-up, as this is something we are all touched by every day.

Before leaving Roswell, I walked out in search of their parks, and found some. They are in the northeast of town, located on one side of the Spring River that flows through there (it was channelized by WWII POWs). The open part with picnic areas is called Loveless Park.

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There is a continuation of this park to the east that is fenced in and serves as a zoo. It’s called Spring River Park. It was not open when I visited.

Amarillo

Of all the cities I’ve visited so far, Amarillo seemed under the most pressure.

Even the workers at the bus station had poor communication skills, and their security guard could not prevent oddball homeless persons from coming in and bothering passengers, many of whom weren’t in much better shape.

Per previous searches into the Amarillo scene, I found they had recently experienced a bad drought followed by heavy rains. This had caused a bark beetle infestation which had damaged many local trees, making a nearby park look like some sort of battle zone. It was too close to sunset after I’d finished dinner at a local Mexican restaurant to check the park out myself; I am depending on images I saw using Google Street View for the above description.

The bus from Roswell got into Amarillo a couple hours before sunset, and the next bus did not leave until 3 in the morning. This was therefore going to be a 10 hour wait, the longest I have so far experienced. It was rough. The station security guard and some passengers were watching TV to pass the time, and there were two different shows running on two different TVs at the same time. I read from my book for a while, but couldn’t stay awake enough to do that the whole time. The shows preferred by the security guard were some totally ridiculous cartoons full of off-the wall social commentary and very little else. I also saw one episode of “Anger Management” which is a totally ridiculous “comedy” about dysfunctional therapists, and another show about two guys trying to take care of a baby. These shows were largely concerned with sex and unworkable “funny” attitudes people have about it. Pretty bad. There were also stories of more police shootings during the news breaks. This adds up to a lot of psychological pressure and wrong whys on a public that don’t know what’s really going on or what they can do about it.

Denver

In the alternative realities community, Denver is known as one of the hubs of deviant political activity in this country. The motif of its airport is one of the most bizarre I have ever seen (via photos posted online) and many questionable characters are accused of having special secret meetings there, at places like the Brown Palace Hotel downtown. However, on the surface, it’s just Denver.

Their transport hub has recently been upgraded, with an underground bus and light rail “concourse” which has displays that list arriving buses like flights are listed at airports.

They have a downtown street (16th) that has been modified to allow for wider pedestrian spaces and two narrow vehicle lanes. Only special no-fare buses are allowed to go back and forth in the vehicle lanes. Beyond that, many people other than tourists still use cars to commute, as in most U.S. cities.

I did not have time to explore Denver much. The cowboy tradition, though, was much in evidence there.

As of this posting I have arrived in Berkeley. I will write something about Berkeley later. It has changed a lot since I was last here (1982).

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