The nature of cities

Published 8:16 pm Monday, March 31, 2014

Several years ago, a city planner for New York City was justifying the reasoning behind the city’s choice to tear down old apartment buildings in order to build a new basketball arena in Brooklyn. It was a lively debate: many people thought the arena should go elsewhere because the neighborhood would, of course, change for the worse.

Two years later, the Barclay Center has hosted events ranging from Jay Z concerts to the March Madness 2014 Atlantic 10 Basketball Championship. It is the home of the Brooklyn Nets and, in 2015, will be home to the New York Islanders hockey team.

The neighborhood surrounding Barclay Center has, indeed, changed: there are more shops and restaurants, nicer apartment buildings. The neighborhood has changed for the better.

During the city planner’s debate that preceded the opening of the Barclay Center by at least eight years, one thing he said made a huge impression: “It is the nature of cities to change.”

That is irrefutable. A simple look around will tell you that. Washington does not look like the Washington of the 1940s. Belhaven does not look like the Belhaven of the 1920s. Bath certainly does not look like the Bath of Blackbeard’s day.

On the Washington waterfront, new construction is underway for a much needed addition: bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities for the many Intracoastal Waterway travelers who make a deter inland for a few days, or weeks, at a time. With them, they bring expendable income that flows into Washington’s shops and restaurants.

When the facility is completed and in use, and a few years have gone by, it will be as if that structure — in the modified form of a lighthouse — has always been a part of the Washington waterfront.

Some were opposed to its construction. Some feel as if the waterfront was perfect just the way it was. But it is the nature of cities to change.

With spring in the air, perhaps it’s a good time to have a look at the changing nature of Washington.