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Posts tagged: urban

Urban Archaeology: Unearthing pieces of Spokane’s past

 

 

     It early spring, when the Spokane River was a wild spectacle, swollen with snowmelt and spring rains, thundering over the jagged basalt falls, pouring through the deep canyon at the edge of downtown, I could not stay away. I kept going back to stand on one of the bridges or walk along the trail that follows the river’s path through the city.

 

     Sunday morning was my favorite time. There were fewer people around and I usually parked and walked along the north bank of the river on the newest section of the Centennial Trail beneath the Monroe Street Bridge and through the Kendall Yards development.

 

    At one point, near the base of the big bridge, the construction of the trail extension had left broken soil on both sides of the path, an open scar of freshly turned dirt, sprinkled with grass seed that had not yet sprouted.  As I walked I noticed a few pieces of debris that had been exposed by a scraper or the year’s unusually heavy rains: shards of white crockery, pieces of old china decorated with roses and other flowery designs, bits of glass that had turned lavender from decades of exposure to the sun. I was intrigued. I bent to pick up one piece and then another, and for a while I forgot about the river. The more I looked, the more I found. 

 

    I remember reading somewhere that the riverbanks on either side of the bridge, and the bridges that were there before the current span was built in 1911,  had been expanded with fill, dirt and detritus pushed over the edge, a practice that continued for decades. A good bit of it was probably the result of the 1889 fire that decimated the heart of the downtown district at that time.

 

    Now, having been plowed and pushed and scraped, yet again, time was upended and the evidence of the city’s human past was exposed revealing old patent medicine bottles, dishes that had broken and been discarded, tiles from houses and buildings.

 

    Knowing that in a few weeks, with the return of warm weather, the grass would grow quickly and obscure this mosaic of the ordinary lives of the men, women and children who upon which the future had been built, I went back as often as I could. Not with a shovel or an eye for any kind of treasure, just to walk with my head bent and my eyes on the ground at my feet. Sure enough, once the grass grew thick and green, the bits and pieces disappeared.

 

    The river in summer is more docile so I’m not there as often. But when I do walk the trail these days I am more aware of what is under my feet, that with every step I am walking on the hidden traces of other lives and other times.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Pittsburgh and The Rubber Duck Project

  By coincidence, I arrived in Pittsburgh just about the same time a big yellow duck sailed in. A very big duck. The Rubber Duck Project, created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, has been in Asia, Europe, South America and Australia, but Pittsburgh—beating out bigger cities like San Francisco— was the duck’s first North American stop. During its three-week stay more than 1 million people trekked down to the waterfront to see the 4-story tall, 30-foot wide floating art (Pittsburgh’s version of Hofmann’s duck was specifically sized to fit under the city’s bridges.) They posed for photos—even in the rain—and bought yellow duck souvenirs. They spent time and money in the city.

   This was my first visit to Pittsburgh and it surprised me in many ways. Oh, I knew the city had long ago left its smoky industrial past behind as it climbed out of the crash of the US steel market in the 1970s and 80s. I didn’t expect smokestacks but, to be honest, I think I was expecting a tired urban area with more of the past than the future in it. Shame on me.

   Pittsburgh was built where the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River.  It’s an old city with a lot of history, but unlike so many old river cities whose waterways were long ago given over to industry and transportation and have yet to be reclaimed or are only now moving in that direction, Pittsburgh embraces the water. Spanned by 496 bridges, busy with dinner cruises and Duck Tours (the WWII floating truck variety) the rivers dominate the center of the city. Adjacent to the site of Fort Pitt, is Point State Park an urban waterfront park and trail.  And the two professional sports teams, the Steelers and the Pirates, play in waterside stadiums. Metro Pittsburgh is livable, walkable and the downtown area is vibrant and alive with new construction. The 90 neighborhoods that make up the city are each unique. The food, from the city’s signature sandwiches topped with fries and cole slaw to upscale farm-to-table fare, was delicious. 

   I’m late to the Pittsburgh party. National Geographic Traveler named the city one of the top places to visit in 2012, the Today Show picked it as a top travel destination for 2013, and an internationally known artist, who had his choice of prime ports, picked it as the best place to introduce his floating art installation. I added it to my own short list of places I’d be tempted to pull up stakes and move to.

   Hofman has said the idea behind his big rubber duck is to remind everyone of the simple joys of childhood.  The Rubber Duck Project can’t appear anywhere else for three months and its next stop is a secret, but Pittsburgh, a place built around water and a city with a sense of fun, was the perfect spot to introduce his giant smiling bathtub toy to North America. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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