Sunday, March 1, 2015

New archway proposed for 4th Avenue

On Saturday, what was suppose to be a day at the dogsled races was nothing of that sort. With little snow and temperatures hovering above freezing, this year's Fur Rondy dogsled championship was cancelled. But what did go on was a ceremony dedicating a new archway in honor of George Attla, a veteran of the races who took more victories during the race's long history than anyone else and who recently passed away. But I'm not sure whether the arch was intended as a memorial to him originally. After all, this archway (which will apparently dub the area as the "Mushing District") has been floating around for more than a year. But whatever the case, there you have it. I find the idea of archways intriguing. I was in San Diego last year and I saw a couple archways hanging at the Gaslamp Quarter, and Little Italy. But whereas people in San Diego have been referring to those neighborhoods by those names long before the arches went up, I'm pretty sure nobody in Anchorage had ever regarded this section of 4th Avenue as the "Mushing District". In other words, it feels too contrived. What sets this part of downtown apart so as to deserve its own place name? There's no theme among the areas businesses, no unifying architecture that defines the area. Part of me thinks this is the city's way of trying to spur positive development along this portion of 4th Avenue. After all, the arch will stand next to the one remaining block of "Seedy 4th Avenue". But I don't think there's much that can be done to the more general area. Unlike west 4th Avenue with its quaint small shops lined up next to each other, a block into the new Mushing District is met with block sized buildings with blank walls. It kills pedestrian activity and explains why nobody bothers to venture east past 'C' Street. It was a mistake to allow a parking garage to take up an entire block on one side, and allow Holiday Inn to build a block sized hotel on the other side. And having the miniature highway of 'C' Street going through it also doesn't help. But I digress. By the way, this isn't the first time an archway has been called for in Anchorage. A few years ago there was a proposal to put archways in Spenard. But while Spenard attempts to display its bohemian credentials, its not-so-bohemian reliance on automobiles makes Spenard a physically non-memorable place in which parking lots dominate the fronts of buildings. Placing an archway in an urban environment like Spenard would just look awkward. As miffed as I am about this new "Mushing District" arch, downtown is certainly a better venue to be hosting this kind of street decoration.