Changing landscape for the better?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 30, 2006

I know I am getting older when I begin discussions with the phrase, &8220;I remember when.&8221;

Sure there are the occasional creaks and groans when I get up in the morning. And when I look in the mirror, the face looking back is not that of the bright-eyed youth of my past.

But I think it is watching the surrounding physical landscape change that makes me realize how much past has passed. That is especially true when I suddenly notice things of comfort suddenly disappear.

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So it was with a tinge of sadness this week when I realized one of my favorite views in the area has been changed forever.

Concordia Avenue in Vidalia is a long wide street bordered by large trees and shady green lawns. On the east end of the street sits VidaIia Upper Elementary School. It is a classic scene of small-town Americana.

What has always made the scene so unique to me is the view looking east from downtown.

Slowly making my way down the avenue, I love to see the lacy structure of the Mississippi River bridges pop above the levy.

The stark sight of green grass levy and blue sky punctuated by the steel bridges is something akin to an Edward Hopper painting.

In the past months this scene has been altered by the construction of the Vidalia Gateway Center.

Watching the erection of the center&8217;s steel tower over the past days has reminded me of the correlation between architecture and power.

Throughout history there has always been a correlation between the two.

The role which buildings have played in our public life has always been a potent symbol of wealth, status and power. From castles to cathedrals, from the pyramids to the Empire State Building, architecture has always served to glorify in some way the ideals of the time.

And there has always been a struggle between the architecture of progress and the architecture of the past.

And many times, the architecture of progress is caught up in ideals of pride and power.

Take President Andrew Jackson, for example. Because of his disdain for Congress, one of Washington, D.C., views no longer exists. In the early days of the Capitol, one could get a clear view of the U.S. Capitol building from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Legend has it that Jackson was so angry with the Senators and Congressmen that he ordered the construction of the Treasury Building to be beside the White House so it would block his view of the Capitol.

Over time, historians have viewed it as a move that forever changed urban planner Pierre L&8217;Enfant&8217;s ordered design of long straight avenues.

A more local example and probably more familiar one is that of Huey P. Long and the construction of the Lousiana State Capitol.

To construct a new state capitol during the Great Depression in 1935 was a feat only a powerful politician could accomplish.

A dream of the governor, the 34-floor, 450-foot high building became a symbol of pride and spirit of Louisiana. Some say it is a symbol of the pride and arrogance Long.

Unfortunately, Long was not present at the opening of the building because he had been elected to the U.S. Senate.

Now Vidalia is getting a tower of its own in the form of a visitor&8217;s center.

I don&8217;t think that the Gateway Center is anything like Jackson&8217;s move of anger or Huey Longs efforts at immortalization.

Will people remember it as a building that represents the pride and spirit of Vidalia or will it look upon it as a building that forever changed the Mississippi landscape?

Only time will tell.

Ben Hillyer

is the visual editor for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at