Private Encroacment

Little Rock        One of the nice things that has happened to Little Rock over the last twenty years has been the development of the Riverfront Park and the attendant development that moves through the older warehouse district to open markets, restaurants, and finally, the Clinton Presidential Library.  There are names everywhere that probably mean little to most people.  

The Wilbur Mills Freeway is still an underutilized artery from downtown to the western suburbs that still has not met the traffic count it advertised thirty years ago.  Still its continued speed and pointlessness speaks to the power of the former Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.  Many would have trouble even remembering who Joseph T. Robinson might have been, other than the name on the WPA built auditorium overlooking the River.  Or for that matter the McClellan name on the locks and dams of the Arkansas River itself, yet both were powerful and long-standing U.S. Senators.

Seeing the name Julius Breckling Waterfront Park, I could remember his time as Director of the Little Rock Parks Department back to my time in the city in the 70’s when we won the creation of the Centennial Park near Central High during the “Save the City” campaign.  It was nice to see his name on an aging park that is still valuable along the river.

Running there over Easter weekend while in the city, I noticed something overlooked before which called itself the St. Vincent’s Miracle Mile.  It was a paved alley of sorts with various pieces of health advice all along the walls between hither and yon.  It didn’t seem quite right, but neither was it totally out of place.  How could I begrudge shout-outs about good health that were largely off the beaten path?  I put it out of my mind.  

On Easter Sunday I ran farther down because there was singing from a sunrise service filling the air.  At the entrance to the natural auditorium built along the hillside down to the river, I had never noticed a new permanent arch built to the entrance across from the River Front Market, which signaled itself as some kind of a St. Vincent’s Gateway arch of sorts.  On the wall next to it emblazoned with permanent letters, it heralded the fact that out of the waters the Lord had arisen.  

Somehow St. Vincent’s, the Catholic Hospital in western Little Rock, had managed, with a contribution here and there, to appropriate this totally public space near the rock for which Little Rock is named, for a completely private purpose consistent with their health mission and their evangelical zeal.  Julius Breckling would have stood against this, but perhaps the new leaders of the city no longer had a way to say no to any private or parochial dollars, even if it meant giving away the very public and collective rights of the city which they hold in common for all against any private encroachment, no matter how well meaning or sanctified.

A sad sunrise on the Arkansas River.  

Julius Breckling Riverfront Park
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