We were wandering after a decidedly mediocre meal at the new downtown Wintzell’s and decided to walk down to the river. It’s awfully nice down there, especially at dusk, with all the twinkly lights, children running in the fountain, and couples promenading to and fro waiting for their “cruise” to start.
I’d never been down there before, despite having lived in the city for a year and being, in general, pretty civic-minded. Maybe it’s that I don’t want to spend money to ride around on the riverboat (although I’m sure that would be reasonably interesting, and we’ll probably do it one of these days). Also, even though we work downtown and sometimes hang out there (what with the Renaissance happy hour being pretty awesome and all), we’re not especially inclined to wander around, much less to the river. It’s nice and all, and I expect that if we lived downtown (Does anyone actually live in downtown Montgomery? I know The Advertiser periodically runs 50+ redundant photos of loft developments, but am deeply skeptical of someone saying they wanted to live in the Alley as opposed to, say, Cloverdale) we’d value it more as a neighborhood park than we do now.
Anyway, it’s nice. There’s the boat for cruisin’, the stage for bands (check out the list here and consider the total Squidbillies scenario of going to see Molly Hatchet play down there), a fountain zone, and what looks like a place designed as a wedding photo backdrop.
I was interested to find out that Riverfront Facilities is a whole municipal department of the City of Montgomery, with nine full-time employees and some part-time employees. That does seem like sort of a lot, until you consider that “Riverfront Facilities” includes the train depot (including gift shop and Official Montgomery Visitors’ Center), the skate park (cool!), and the “Court Square Round-a-Bout.” Can there possibly be a full-time person necessary to maintain the Court Square area?
The best part of the City’s Riverfront operation has to be their MySpace page, which you can visit here. Never mind the horrifyingly lurid green guitar background, against which the green typeface cannot be read. No, the very best thing on the page is the fact that among the “Riverfront Facilities Details,” someone has decided to declare that the Riverfront is Straight. They chose to fill that out; you do not have to declare your sexual orientation on MySpace, but for some reason it was necessary to make it very, totally, MySpace clear that the Riverfront Facilities are not gay.
The takeaway message here is that the Riverwalk area is pretty great. It’s scenic. They clearly spent a ton of money on it. And they are doing the best they can (it seems) to have events down there and make it a place people want to go. If we can learn anything, not just from the cities of Europe, but from the major fading industrial cities of the North, it’s that it’s good to build your town around a river. People like to look at rivers. It’s in our DNA or something. So it’s nice that the city has finally, nearly 200 years after its incorporation, decided to try to draw average citizens down to the riverbanks.
We hope the citizens of Montgomery will see the river as more than an economic resource for transporting goods and more than a place for dumping industrial waste. And we hope they’ll see the river period, since most people probably just know they have to go over a bridge on the Interstate towards Birmingham and that’s about it. Our river — where the Coosa and the Tallpoosa merge to form the profluent body bearing our state’s very name — is a major asset of our city and we hope to spend a little more time with and on (if not in) it.