Natchez is a town Charles Dickens might likePublished 12:01am Sunday, June 29, 2014
Were he still alive, Charles Dickens might appreciate a good drive around Natchez.
The 19th century author would certainly appreciate the correlation between scenes out the windshield and the title of his famous novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.”
Driving around Natchez can be a bit of a study in one’s perspective on life — is the city’s glass half empty or half full?
Increasingly, it seems the city’s glass is a few drops shy of the half-full mark.
But the good news is that the solution is relatively easy to fix.
Natchez has good “bones,” but it just needs a minor makeover.
That’s not something that many other small Southern cities can claim — some are just plain ugly and thus would require municipal reconstructive surgery to make them more appealing.
But Natchez is fortunate, blessed even, with amazingly beautiful structures, scenic drives and gorgeous foliage.
It’s the more modern things that tend to distract.
The short drive into downtown from practically any direction yields a number of small, but important, distractions that need attention.
At times noticing the small ugly bits around Natchez can be as shocking as when a beauty queen’s smile reveals a distracting piece of food stuck between two otherwise pearly white teeth.
New intersections reworked just a few years ago already show signs of neglect.
Most of us know the saga of the new bridge and interchange at U.S. 61 and Liberty Road. The project was beautiful upon completion, but like many such new projects, no one bothered to consider the maintenance and operational costs.
Such a move is a bit like a man who saves up all his money, walks into Natchez Ford and buys the car of his dreams — a beautiful new red Mustang GT — only to drive it home and realize, “I have no money for gas.”
The fun fades quickly as the garage door shuts and the dream car sits idle.
Of course that’s not an accurate comparison, because garaged cars stay preserved reasonably well.
The same cannot be said for the elaborate landscaping at the intersection or the dozens of decorative streetlights that now dot most of Natchez’s main arteries.
Not long after the Liberty Road bridge was completed and won acclaim for its design, city leaders realized neither they, nor the Mississippi Department of Transportation were equipped to provide needed landscaping maintenance.
In the end, volunteers and prison crews cleaned out large swaths of the landscaping and replaced many of the decorative plants with simple grass.
The same cannot be said for the decorative light poles. The ornate lights appear to be anchored to the ground by a derivative of Elmer’s Glue since they shear off at the slightest impact. The poles do so for safety reasons to avoid injuring drivers, which is understandable.
The challenge is that the city says the poles are costly to replace — $5,000 or more each.
Several of these have been missing for months after motorists knocked them down. Does anyone have a plan for replacing them?
Nearby on some of the new intersections large weeds grow up between the cracks in the concrete of the median. Who is responsible for maintaining?
Tomorrow is the first day of July and soon city leaders will be deep in the throes of city budgeting for the new fiscal year.
All of them are urged to take a simple pledge that they will not spend more money to build anything new without first making a plan for taking care of what’s already here.
Doing so would make the tale of two cities merge into a story of one great one.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.