A few weeks back, I bought a little point and shoot camera. I have a bigger, better camera (Bob bought it for me last year) but I wanted a small camera I can slip in my pocket and carry everywhere.
Having a camera in my hand transforms my vision. I notice details, mentally frame images and even have the sense of looking at the familiar with new eyes, as if I were a stranger.
Yesterday afternoon, I went to Jackson Square with my camera. The place was empty. The desolation made me nostalgic for the old days when Jackson Square was hopping. If you, like me, are an old Oak Ridger, you know what I mean.
When I was a little girl in the 1950s, my mother and I took the bus (yes, Oak Ridge really had city buses) to Jackson Square to shop, get our hair done, bank, or just walk around and browse the latest merchandise and visit with people in the shops. My mother knew most of the clerks and cashiers by name and they knew her's and my name too. Back then, the sidewalks and stores were bustling.
That's no longer true. Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day yet, between 2:00 and 3:30 p.m., Jackson Square was all but deserted.
South side of the square where bricks are inscribed with the names of Oak Ridgers. I saw many names of people I knew as well as many others I know to be dead, may they rest in peace.
Yesterday, I asked one of the shop keepers why the 'NO CONTACT WITH WATER' signs were up. He shrugged and said, "We don't know."
I wondered if it's not because the fountain was sold to citizens as an 'interactive'. But wet concrete is slick, hard and dangerous. My friend's grandson fell while running around the fountain and got hurt a couple of years ago. Perhaps there have been other injuries. At any rate, I've thought for some time that our little 'interactive fountain' is a liability for the city.
While chatting with the same shop keeper, he asked me if I had noticed the new sculpture. "Yes," I said, "I took a picture of it. Is it supposed to be an atom?" Another shrug. It was erected for the Dogwood Arts Festival he said, and will remain on display for one year.
As an aside, he and his friend informed me that we Oak Ridgers are no longer to refer to ourselves as 'The Atomic City.' The preferred term is now 'The Secret City.'
I think we should drop both monikers. 'The Atomic City' and 'The Secret City' probably sound creepy or even scary to outsiders. If we want new people to move to Oak Ridge, we don't need to emphasize our atomic or secret anything.
The main drag through the middle of Jackson Square
A million bucks doesn't buy much any more. The fountain, pavement and benches cost tax payers one million dollars. It also cost Jackson Square business people a considerable amount of lost business and revenue as the project dragged on (and on, and on) way over schedule with mud, ice, scarce parking and a general mess.
The garden on the south side of the square, maintained by a local garden club, is a lovely spot to sit.
Walk way to the lower level
There are benches around the fountain, albeit seldom used.
Built in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, Jackson Square is both beautiful and rich with history. I don't know what it will take to reanimate it. Many hoped that the fountain would be transformative, but it was not.
As I drive and walk around Oak Ridge with my little camera, I see old neighborhoods and shopping centers in decline, deserted or both. Frankly, the whole city could use a little reanimation. It doesn't help that our property taxes are high, we're head over heels in debt and our City Council is repeatedly duped by the next pie in the sky scheme to 'turn Oak Ridge around.'
I've lived here a long time and I've concluded that maybe we're not going to turn around. Maybe we're not going to grow. Maybe we're not going to do anything but limp along indefinitely. Looking through my camera lens, I see a whole lot of maybes in Oak Ridge and very few sure things.