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Do you know where our city is headed?

In city planning circles, you would call the Natchez bluffs a node.

Nodes don’t sound very exciting, do they? But they are. In fact, they are more than exciting. They are vital to any successful city.

In laymen’s terms, a node is a place where people, money, information and transportation come together.

New York City’s Times Square is a famous node. So too is New Orleans’ Jackson Square. In my hometown, it was the courthouse square surrounded by the only bank, doctor’s office and post office in town.

In Natchez, it’s the bluff. It is where people gather to watch fireworks and balloon races. It is the scene of weddings and candlelight vigils. The bluff was the site of the Spanish parade grounds in 1790 and is now the starting point of today’s modern-day parades.

No visit to the city is complete without a view of the river from the bluff — a view that rivals any of the city’s famous mansions.

Planning consultant Phil Walker spoke of the bluff’s importance during his presentation to the Rotary Club of Natchez Wednesday.

Walker was the director of city planning for Natchez from 1991-1993. Since then, he has helped many cities in the South revitalize their downtowns, neighborhoods and waterfronts. Recently, he helped streamline Natchez’s development code.

Wednesday, Walker spoke on behalf of the Friends of the Riverfront, a local organization whose mission is to promote the responsible economic development of the Natchez bluff and riverfront. The organization formed in 2007 in response to the city’s unsuccessful attempts to sell part of the bluff to condominium developers. The organization continues to be a voice for the preservation of the bluff.

Most recently, Mayor Butch Brown has been campaigning for the old Broadway depot and the bluff area to the north to be used for a farmer’s market and demonstration gardens.

Not surprisingly, Walker offered his own suggestions for the riverfront, which include preserving the bluff as a park for festivals and creating an entertainment district between Broadway and Canal streets.

Such a development could have the potential to be both a picturesque place and a revenue stream for local businesses. Better yet, such a development could spark a downtown revival.

Walker also expressed interest in another node in town known to many as the Triangle. The area bounded by St. Catherine Street to the north and Martin Luther King Jr. Street to the west is historically a center of activity for the black community. In the area stand Holy Family Catholic Church, Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the site of the Rhythm Night Club Fire. With the right planning and development, the Triangle and surrounding area could be a draw to heritage tourism seekers, Walker said.

Walker’s description of what could be on the bluff sounds enticing. What he proposes is only one solution. There are certainly other possibilities for the bluff and the Triangle that could also greatly benefit the city.

Whichever direction the city decides to go, Walker made a couple of points worth considering Wednesday. In his conclusion, Walker pointed out that every new development has the potential to either reinforce or weaken the unique character of the city.

“Without a plan to shape Natchez’s future growth, the city will be shaped by the individual decisions of developers,” Walker said.

With the potential to forever change the city’s character, having a plan is more critical than ever.

The question is do we want to know where we are going or do we want to wait and find out when we get there?

 

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.