What’s Driving The U.S. Apart?

It’s been a while since I’ve written about economic inequality.
The more research done on the subject, the more it’s become clear that it is extremely detrimental to society.
I read about this research a while back, but PBS recently did an interesting piece on it.
As long as we let economic inequality grow, we can expect the people of the United States to grow further apart.
See for yourself:

Some Interview Requests ‘Die Hard’: An Attempt To Speak With Hollywood Director John McTiernan

JohnMcTiernan

Hollywood director John McTiernan is serving a 12-month sentence at the Yankton Federal Prison Camp for perjury and lying to the FBI.

You may have heard that the director of “Die Hard” is at the Yankton Federal Prison Camp.

It’s true.

John McTiernan is a legendary director who also made movies such as “Predator,” “Die Hard: With a Vengeance,” “The Hunt For Red October,” “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “Last Action Hero.”

His case has been well-publicized, and there is a celebrity-enriched campaign to get McTiernan out of prison.

Last week, I made a request to interview McTiernan, hoping to speak to him about his case and what he thinks of all the friend and fan support he has received since arriving in Yankton.

Yesterday, I learned that he had declined that request.

I’m the Barbara Walters of Yankton, damn it! I had the soft lighting, box of tissues and professional mix of hard-hitting and softball questions all ready to go! How could McTiernan deny himself this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak with a real Heartland-bred (and immaculately coiffed — because you don’t get to be the Barbara Walters of Yankton without being immaculately coiffed) journalist instead of some ego-driven Hollywood flack???

I have no idea.

Maybe he wants to serve out his sentence in peace. Maybe he thinks drawing attention to himself will create waves in the corrections system and hurt his chances of getting out early. Heck, maybe he just isn’t interested in talking to some guy he’s never met in a town he’d really rather not be visiting.

I suppose those are valid reasons.

But as a guy who grew up with “Die Hard,” “Predator,” etc., it would have been cool to talk to McTiernan and let fans know how he is doing. However, some interview requests are born to “Die Hard.”

In any case, I wish McTiernan the best and hope he can put his legal issues behind him soon.

The Guardian wrote about McTiernan and his case earlier this month:

He’s one of Hollywood’s most celebrated filmmakers, has worked with Sean Connery, Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson, and grossed hundreds of millions at the box office. And he is now serving a 12-month jail sentence in South Dakota.

John McTiernan, the director and producer of Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October and Last Action Hero, is now federal penitentiary prisoner 43029-11.

It’s a spectacular fall from a stellar Hollywood career that made him a fortune to remote Yankton prison.

Instead of being in a director’s chair on the set of a new movie, the 62-year-old is wearing khaki prison uniform, engaged in a series of relatively modest jobs, from unloading deliveries to renovating the warden’s wooden floor.

He is two months into a 12-month prison sentence for perjury and lying to the FBI during an investigation into a wiretapping scandal. It is a convoluted case, involving a dispute over a remake of the movie Rollerball, the employment of a Los Angeles private eye and, the crux of the case, a late-night call from an FBI agent.

In a series of phone interviews with the Guardian, his wife Gail Sistrunk McTiernan, fighting for his release, spoke in detail about the impact of loss of freedom. Unlike the tough guys he portrayed in his movies, he is not coping well with adversity.

Yankton is a minimal-security prison, based in former college buildings, and houses about 800 male prisoners, many of them convicted of white-collar crimes. Forbes rated it one of “America’s 10 cushiest prisons”.

But McTiernan is finding it to be anything but cushy, according to his wife. “Going to prison has been very hard for him,” she said. “They have taken away his life and dignity. I am just distraught.”

Her last visit, at the end of May, was one of the worst. “I lost count of the number of times he broke down,” she said. He is “disintegrating in front of my eyes”.

McTiernan went in on April 3. He and his wife were driven through the night from their ranch in Dayton, Wyoming, to make the midday deadline, engaged in feverish discussion with their lawyer, hoping for a last-minute reprieve.

Sistrunk McTiernan said: “We thought we would not make it in time and the marshals would come after us. It was typical McTiernan to arrive at the noon-day horn.” She said he turned to her and told her: “Do what you have to do, baby.” He told her that she should leave before they took him away. “I would not have handled it very well,” she said.

He had hoped for a teaching job in prison but instead has been assigned to a construction and maintenance crew.

He is in a barracks, shared with about 20 others. “He is grateful he got the lower bunk. I think the older men get the lower bunk because they have to get up in the middle of the night,” she said.

Read the rest of the story here.

There is also a “Free John McTiernan” page on Facebook. Take a look.

The Scandalous Tale Of Yankton’s Adel Pettersen

Earlier this week, I took part in a cemetery walk at the Yankton Cemetery that was arranged by the Yankton Community Library and the Dakota Territorial Museum.

I was one of five historical figures featured during the event — a man by the name of Adel “Shorty” Pettersen.

His story is one of scandal and mystery.

Below is the script I wrote up for the event (based on information provided in a Bob — and Phyllis — Karolevitz column), and I thought you might enjoy this interesting bit of local history.

———

0625-CemeteryWalkGravestone

Photo by Kelly Hertz

Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate you visiting what is now my home tonight.

I must admit that I stand before you ashamed of myself, and I wonder what my wife, Louisa, thinks of me. She is a forgiving woman to lie here next to me after what I did to her and our children.

Now, you’re curious what I did, and don’t blame you. Let me tell you my shameful story.
The year was 1899. I was 35 years old and, I can say quite proudly, I was the treasurer for Yankton County.

I loved serving the citizens of the county and I like to think I got along with most everyone, but …

I don’t know if bankers have caused any problems in your time, but in my time we had some bankers that were downright bullies.

That was the case with Birney and Ossian Woolley. They owned Yankton Savings Bank on the corner of Third and Douglas.

They were Republicans, while I was a Populist who believed that the unfair banking practices of bankers were the source of much of the economic hardship faced by Americans during my time.

I had run into my own economic hardship, and the Woolleys saw that they had me in a corner.

They convinced me to deposit county funds into their bank in return for their assistance. My friends warned me that an arrangement with those two would lead to my demise. I didn’t know at the time how right they were.

In November of 1899, it became apparent what was occurring. The Woolleys had taken approximately $8,600 in county funds — of the county’s $32,000 treasury — as their own and left me with no credit for the deposits I had made.

When the deception became too much to conceal, the Woolleys said they would place blame on me. And I wasn’t completely innocent …

I panicked in the worst way.

I gathered what money I could in a few days time and told my wife I would be taking a train to Gayville to collect on a bill. I never returned.

I thought perhaps I could improve my fortunes elsewhere and send for my family when I was in a position to provide for them again.

I went to Kansas City and bought new clothes, hoping they would help me become the new man I aimed to be. From there I went to St. Louis. It is there that my memory becomes blurred.

I will state this for you bluntly: My body was pulled from the Mississippi River by two ferry boat deck hands. I had been found floating face down, and my clothes were not yet soaked through. The paper in my pockets was still dry!

A coroner’s jury in St. Louis could not determine the cause of my death. Sadly, neither can I.

As for the Woolleys, the county demanded its money. When they failed to provide it, word spread like wildfire and there was a run on the bank. Within 24 hours, Yankton Savings Bank went out of business and the brothers left town.

State’s attorney A. H. Orvis, a Republican friend of the two brothers, refused to investigate how the county’s money was stolen and what led to my death. Those last months of my life remained a mystery to friends and family alike.

My body was returned to Yankton December 26, 1899, on the dawn of a new century — a century I fully expected to see. It was some consolation  to see so many friends and family turn out for my funeral services despite the mess in which I’d left things.

Louisa married again, but she was kind enough to place herself next to me. A kinder soul I have never known.

And that is that — my admittedly unsatisfying tale of woe. I wish I could tell it with more certainty.

Was I murdered? (Did I mention I was a drinker and a gambler?) Did I somehow drown without getting my clothes wet? That would have been quite a feat!

Fair questions, all, but questions that I cannot answer. And it seems the more questions I ask, the more deafening the silence.

———

The Sioux Falls Press stated about the case: “The county deposits were placed in the Republican bank, although Petterson’s political friends warned him that he would probably be disgraced in consequence of his associations. The people of Yankton County do not believe that Petterson [his name was spelled with an ‘o’ in newspaper accounts] got any considerable part of the defaulting money. The current opinion is that the officers of the bank acquired an undue influence over him and by some hocus pocus arrangement obtained deposits from him for which he was not given credit …

“The conclusion of the Yankton people is that the Yankton savings Bank, having skinned Petterson, menaced him with an indictment and thus drove him away to avoid its own exposure [while] those who drove him to the grave still walk with high head and haughty mein.”

Recommendation: Spend Some Time With ‘The Central Park Five’

With all the serious talk on the blog this week about the future development of Yankton, I wish I could say I was going to lighten things up today.

I want to make a film recommendation, but it’s a very sober topic. However, I think this is a really powerful documentary and deserves to be seen.

It’s called “The Central Park Five.”

The film aired on PBS earlier this year, and I just caught up with it via DVD.

I was really taken in by this story of race, media hysteria and poor law enforcement that ultimately resulted in five boys spending time in prison for a crime they did not commit.

I think you will be, too.

If you’re looking for lighter fare of the crazy kind, may I suggest “John Dies at the End”? It’s streaming on Netflix. I’ve watched it three times now. I’m nominating it for cult classic status.

I’m still trying to get my hands on some “soy sauce.”

Could Yankton’s Water Plant Double As A Ski Slope? (And Other Not-So-Crazy Ideas)

I want to show you something.

Take a look at this:

BigWastePlant2

Rendering by the Bjarke Ingels Group

What is it?

Well, I can’t blame you for saying, “A ski slope.” It is a ski slope.

Now, take another look:

Rendering by the Bjarke Ingels Group

Rendering by the Bjarke Ingels Group

This is also a waste-to-energy plant.

Ground was broken in March for this structure in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Ingels has become a bit of an architectural rock star.

A story by World Architecture News gives more detail on the project:

The BIG design team explains: “The ambition of creating added value in terms of added functionality does not stand in contrast to the ambition to create beauty. We propose a new breed of waste-to-energy plant, one that is economically, environmentally, and socially profitable.

“Instead of considering Amagerforbrændingen as an isolated object, we mobilise the architecture and intensify the relationship between the building and the city – expanding the existing activities in the area by turning the roof of the new Amagerforbrændingen into a ski slope for the citizens of Copenhagen.”

As alluded to in this quote, BIG will insert a public ski slope on the roof above the working waste-to-energy plant, transforming otherwise unused space into a social sporting venue. Visitors will reach the dizzying heights of Amagerforbrændingen ski roof via an external lift system which will rise past the plant’s smokestack, ensuring that they are aware of the building’s primal function.

After one tonne of fossil CO2 has been released, this smokestack releases a 30m-wide smoke ring which rises above the plant, bringing attention back to the impact of energy consumption. At night, heat tracking lights will illuminate these rings.

Now, I want you to think about the addition of a new water treatment plant to the east of Yankton’s Water Treatment Plant No. 2 in Riverside Park.

City officials have said it would cost millions of more dollars to build it on, say, the east side of the park by the wastewater treatment plant. I’ve been told that they will examine the possibility of building the water plant just to the north of Plant No. 2. However, that isn’t much of an improvement when you think about the possibility of future riverfront development.

But what if we look at the new water plant in a different way? What if it is not just a box structure like the two current Yankton plants?

Now, I’m not suggesting Yankton should find a way to make the plant double as a ski slope — although that would be breathtakingly awesome.

But if the plant is to be built in the park, the community should think of ways that it can be something more than a traditional industrial plant.

It’s been done elsewhere.

Take a look at this water treatment plant in Wilsonville, Ore.:

Picture from the Miller Hull Partnership

Picture from the Miller Hull Partnership

According to the Miller Hull Partnership:

The Willamette River Water Treatment Plant project was a joint effort between the City of Wilsonville and the Tualatin Valley Water District. The project is headed by the design/build engineering firm Montgomery Watson with Miller Hull as the design architect, and Murase Associates as landscape architect.

Scope: Included in the project scope is a 15 mgd plant that will service the residents of Wilsonville, a public park/landscape, an interpretive display, an 800 foot concrete and stone “garden wall” (the west wall of many of the plant buildings) that conceals the plant from the public park and from the neighbors. It also forms a backdrop for interpretive displays and for sheltered picnic areas. Also included is a 6,000 s.f. administration building which will house a laboratory, a conference room and support offices.

Design: The “garden wall” runs north-south, bisecting the site into the secure water treatment plant on one side and a public park and ponds on the other. The wall is essentially a series of connected building elevations that express the public works functions beyond. The garden wall maintains a top of wall datum line that is constant. The wall stays level as the site drops to the river bank.

Or how about the Whitney Water Purification Facility:

Photo by Paul Warchol

Photo by Paul Warchol

The American Institute of Architects placed the plant among its list of the top 10 projects in 2007 and described it this way:

Designed to provide water to South Central Connecticut, the Whitney Water Purification Facility also features a public park and educational facility. The water purification occurs beneath the park (a 30,000 ft2 green roof), while the operational programs are housed in a 360-foot long stainless steel building that forms a reflective line in the landscape.

Like an inverted drop of water, the building’s shape creates a curvilinear interior space that opens onto expansive views of the surrounding landscape. The interior facilities include an exhibition lobby, laboratories, a lecture hall, conference spaces, and extensive operational facilities.

This project was designed to demonstrate today’s best green design and watershed management practices. The design fuses the architecture of the water purification plant with the landscape to form a public park. The landscape design also enlarged and augmented the existing wetlands—used by migrating birds—with indigenous species. Natural habitats were preserved in the landscape to maintain biodiversity.

Skylights in the green roof bring daylight to the treatment plant below. The below-grade location of the process spaces, the insulation value of the green roof, the thermal mass of the extensive concrete tanks and walls, and a ground-source heating and cooling system minimize the project’s energy consumption.

Materials were selected for their durability in addition to recycled content, rapidly renewable content, and low chemical emissions. All regularly occupied spaces are daylit and naturally ventilated via operable windows.

Could Yankton find a way to integrate an industrial water treatment plant with the recreational use of the area around it? Why not? It just takes some imagination.

If the right architects/engineers can combine an innovative design with a reasonable budget, perhaps the people of Yankton could be convinced it is worth an extra cost, if needed.

In this case — where the historic Meridian Bridge spans a national park and joins up with a beautiful riverfront park to boot — I think it would be a mistake to surrender to convention because it is the path of least resistance. If Yankton wants to capitalize on its assets, its residents must defend those assets — and build on them.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out this TED Talk from the aforementioned rock star architect Bjark Ingels:

What Do Yanktonians Have To Say About Yankton’s Future Development?

What do the people of Yankton (or formerly of Yankton) have to say about community development?

Yesterday, I shared a letter that British author Fraser Harrison wrote to Mayor Nancy Wenande.

Today, I want to delve into a discussion that downtown bar owner Ben Hanten began on Facebook last week after meeting with Fraser. Anyone who knows Ben knows that he is passionate about the development of Yankton.

Here is what he initially posted:

Topic of discussion for Yanktonians and those formerly of Yankton: There is a British author named Fraser Harrison writing a book about Yankton. Yesterday I was interviewed by him about the future of business for the city. We talked on many topics, but I think it’s always interesting to hear what outsiders think. He feels an energy here that he thinks will lead to something big. He thinks we’re on the cusp. More than anything, though, he thinks our river and lake are the assets that thousands of cities would die for, but we’re not capitalizing on that to scale.

So are we on the cusp? Is there anything we’re really missing for river and lake development?

This invitation for discussion was met with more than 30 responses. I won’t post them all here, but will instead cherry pick some of them. (While I’ve in some cases not included an entire post, I haven’t edited them, so there are probably some grammatical errors. Also, because I didn’t ask each of these individuals for permission to post their thoughts, I haven’t included their names.)

The last thing that Yankton needs to do is spend money at the human service center corner beyond a huge track of advertising space getting people past that corner. Why do we want people to stop there? By developing that corner we are screaming at people STOP RIGHT HERE!!! DO NOT ADVANCE PAST WAL MART!!! Silly right? Am I missing the point? Why not spend that money in our downtown? Why not actively recruit restaurants & small businesses for our established areas before we worry about creating another empty area. The North entryway will take care of itself. Wal Mart and Menards are attractions, they are reasons why people come to Yankton. What are we doing to get people to go beyond those two spots?

I’m tired of hearing too that Brookings has a college and interstate or that Mitchell has the interstate. Downtown Brookings caters to the townspeople WAY more than the college kids and it is a vibrant living amazing creature. Mitchell had the interstate and a big bird feeder for years and was dying until local leaders took initiative and created something special not just on the interstate around Cabellas but downtown. We have WAY more to offer than Mitchell but quite frankly I would tell friends and relative to shop and live there WAY before suggesting Yankton. How sad is that statement.

Yankton is too busy being reactive instead of being proactive. The townspeople and by proxy her leaders feed into existing notions and arguments instead of making definitive decisions and creating for the residents.

There is an amazing middle aged group of people that are spending their money out of town…what effort has been made to keep that money here?

I’m passionate about this all…I don’t have all the answers…but I guess I’d rather see something tried…even if it fails than continue on the death trail the town is on now.

OK, so my friend Shane Gerlach said I could use anything he had written. Those thoughts above are his, and I can assure you that he is indeed PASSIONATE about all this.

Next:

I have lived here since 1999 and been in and out of Yankton as a weekender/vacationer for decades before that. No question that the lake remains underdeveloped on both sides, but that is starting to gain steam (the renovated Meridian bridge, the new development, shops and restaurants in and around the lake, etc. all stand testament to that). Quite frankly, the state has done a poor job IMHO in handling its lease rights, especially with respect to the restaurant at the lake. Owner turnover and inconsistency are a product of an impossible lease situation. Between that and getting the BY Water situation resolved, the lake development would likely continue to gain momentum.

I tend to agree that commercial development in downtown Yankton is the harder nut to crack. Similar to what has been done for housing, I would like to see a survey done comparing this town to Mitchell, Brookings, and other class one municipalities and see what the surveyors would recommend based on our unique resources (river, bridge, ballparks, available space, lack of coffee shops, bookstores or other businesses that exist in other like cities but not here). YAPG and Chamber should be resources for such an endeavor.

And:

I don’t have time to write out all my thoughts on this topic, but am happy to share links to a few of the sites I use as professional resources, including a link to a video that should really inspire you. Here’s the Project for Public Spaces <PPS> website: http://www.pps.org/training/streets-as-places/ AND here’s a link to the AIA’s “Communities by Design” initiative, of which I’m a member: http://www.aia.org/about/initiatives/AIAS075265?dvid=&recspec=AIAS075265 / and finally, here’s a video about the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. http://www.indyculturaltrail.org/images-videos.html TOTALLY inspiring! Why not turn Walnut Street downtown into a cultural trail? An extension of the Meridian Bridge trail and plaza. Ultimately – perhaps – it could connect to GAR Hall, Memorial Park, and eventually extend the Brokaw Trail to include the HSC campus? // Designing for people instead of cars, forcing ourselves to develop more densely, the Power of 10 <you’ll have to research that> and making the journey part of the destination. It’s all attainable, but it takes a massive collective effort and embracing new ideas. <I’ll have to edit this if the links above get all garbled up> As for the water plant … if the water plant is best/easiest to leave along the riverfront, then DO SOMETHING COOL WITH IT! Turn *it* into a children’s museum … “come experience how our water system works” … SOMETHING to make it a feature, make it interactive … that’s how I’d approach it as a designer. It wouldn’t be easier or cheaper, but it would combine our two goals // clean water and a more vibrant riverfront // into one innovative project instead of looking at one as detrimental to the other.

Also:

Retail growth is driven by population, and population is driven by jobs and housing. Both are two things Yankton needs to continue to work on. However constant finger pointing and unwillingness to pay for what is needed will slow yanktons growth. Issues such as the schools. water treatment plants, and B-Y water surrounding the town will stifle growth in the big picture. If you want retail growth we need to work on the other factors first.

And:

Our downtown has wonderful retail, we do need more but its hard to compete with online and Sioux Falls when our community is so small and the demographics lean more towards a higher retirement population with a fixed income. I think we need more economic development, more better paying jobs to draw more families here. I also would like people to be more proactive, many times people shoot down an idea before even thinking about the concept presented. Its disheartening to the presenter. Sometimes the idea won’t work in its present vision, but could work if tweaked and molded to fit the community. However, before the tweaking can begin, the discussion is closed by saying oh we tried that in 1940 or 50 didn’t work. I’ve listen to some of the wildest ideas that were so cool, id love to see them tried. Perhaps the answer is a group of people who can inspire, think and listen to those who have the crazy ideas. Not sure if any of you have been to Dallas, a place I love to go to is Deep Ellum. here’s a link http://deepellumtexas.com/ Its a crazy fun place.. So I too have the crazies, my crazy idea is to have a water slide or just a slide attached to the top of the chimney of the brewery building…How many places can say you say you jumped off a 100 year old chimney? Would you do it? How many would drive hundreds of miles to? Trust me the view from 100 ft up is spectacular. Crazy? Of course it is, Fun? yeah! Possible? who knows?

Next:

Build a glass covered Restaurant on the top section of the Meridian bridge. Imagine the unique beauty of that dining experience!

All the discussion prompted another post from Hanten:

My previous post on Yankton generated a ton of discussion and good ideas. So how do we move the needle? I’d like us to find two things we agree on and work hard on just that. Avoid all other distractions.

In addition to some calls for a gathering to discuss ideas, the post generated some more thoughts:

I didn’t post on your last Yankton question so I’ll put my thought here. I think it would help the downtown to have a farmer’s market/vendor’s market in shelter #7 (the far west shelter by the Capitol Replica parking lot). It would give the market a unique feel as it would be right on the banks of the river. I think it would be neat to replace the current shelter that is there with a farmer’s market styled shelter that is again more unique than the plain shelter that sits there currently. It could be made larger and keep a drive way around it so vendor’s could drive up to drop off their products and again drive up to it after the market closes to pick up the left overs. I think it can be made to be easily accessible for vendors and yet more open-market feeling than the parking lot at the mall. The location currently has electricity and water. Also, it has a large parking lot that is ADA accessible.
If the market was open on Tuesday late afternoons and evenings, it would tie-in with the community band concerts and the pop concerts at the Riverside Amphitheater on Tuesday nights at 8:00pm. On Thursday nights, it could be held and have that as a night that the businesses downtown stay open later to promote foot traffic in the area as people can shop both at the stores downtown and at the farmer’s market.
The market could also be open on Saturday mornings. The businesses downtown open at 10am so people could shop at the market prior to 10am and then head to the stores. Also, other activities coud be planned in the park on Saturday mornings to coincide with the market to help drive foot traffic at the park and in the downtown area.
The National Park Service is currently utilizing the Capitol Replica during the week and one Saturday a month in the summer. More planning could be done with NPS personnel or other groups to have activities in the area that help drive traffic both to the farmer’s market and to the stores/restaurants downtown.
Having an open-air market on the banks of the river would build upon the community’s river identity and tie-in with the buy local, buy fresh, buy healthy movements that are being promoted nationwide.

And:

One of the problems with being at the river it doesn’t help current businesses. To far away for people to walk. The reason why walnut street was developed at the same time as the bridge plaza was to encourage people to walk to the downtown and That’s only a block. A good example is when the Lewis and Clark exhibit was at the riverfront event center one year during riverboat days. The government spent tons of money on advertising promoting, only a tiny fraction attended a free exhibit, to far away from the action. Build from the core out (downtown) out. With rising water costs to residents,( some may pay 40 dollars more a month for a family of 4 as the quoted averages include a mass number of retires who use very little) businesses will need as much help as they can to survive. The money people spend in stores/businesses will now be spent on water. Spend/develop where you can get the best ROI for the money, build sales tax and encourage spending to stores/businesses.

That’s a lot of ideas to chew on for anyone interested in Yankton’s future development. Obviously, people are passionate about the community. The trick is to get enough people to agree on some core tenets and move ahead with those. As Ben and others have urged, I hope this discussion continues and produces some concrete actions.

In my next post (which I hope to post later today) on this general topic, I want to focus a bit more on the possibility of a new water treatment plant being built in Riverside Park.

The Ravings Of An Outsider? Thoughts On The Development Of Yankton’s Riverfront

Where do all of the visitors to Lewis and Clark Lake go?

Well, they go to the lake. But they don’t come into Yankton.

Finding a way to get the estimated 1 million or more visitors that come to the lake annually to spend more time and … well, money … in Yankton has been a long-term goal of Yankton’s business and tourism officials. To this day, they struggle to gain ground on this front.

On one hand, it’s a collision of purpose.

Chances are, if you are coming spend a weekend camping at the lake, that is precisely what you intend to do.

You’ll spend some time on the water, do some grilling, sit by a campfire. It makes sense that there is no real urge to spend a great deal of time in Yankton’s city limits.

On the other hand, what does Yankton offer as a real must-see attraction that would convince campers they should visit the city and do some exploring?

I think the best thing Yankton has to offer currently is the Meridian Bridge. It is a tremendous asset, and one that I treasure every day. I love strolling across the historic bridge and looking out at the Missouri National Recreational River. It simply never gets old.

But after you do that, what’s next?

There simply is not enough concentrated development — nor really coherent development — in the downtown area to keep most people occupied for a day. This is especially true for families.

It is here that the conversation begins. Commendably, it is a conversation that many Yankton residents have been engaged in recently.

The conversation I’ve seen about the future development of downtown Yankton and beyond during the last week was actually spurred by Fraser Harrison, a British author who is spending six weeks in Yankton and plans to write a book about the community.

He has become a good friend of mine, and I enjoy our visits. Fraser is convinced Yankton needs to do more with its riverfront, and it’s something he is not shy about sharing with the people he has visited with during his stay.

After what he said was a very enjoyable meeting with Mayor Nancy Wenande last week, he felt compelled to follow up their conversation with the following letter (a portion of which I’m reprinting with his permission):

Yankton is a beautiful town, in possession of some truly remarkable qualities, which give it a fantastic opportunity. And in my impertinent opinion, what’s required is a plan that is big and bold and comprehensive.

May I make a suggestion? I think it would be very helpful to take advice from people who had already been involved in this kind of development elsewhere. My suggestion would be to commission a report from a consultant with the relevant experience into the possibility of developing the entire riverfront from the new bridge east to the empty land beyond The Landing, including the five blocks that lie behind and their great old industrial buildings that are just crying out to be utilized.

The plan should embrace in a single vision hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, wine bars (The Landing is a great model), stores and so forth – all places to tempt visitors to come and enjoy themselves and spend their money.

The riverside strip of park is already very attractive, with its kiosks and picnic areas and the territorial capitol house, and I think that style should be perpetuated in the new development, in that it should have plenty of walking spaces, sitting spaces, spaces for small-scale street entertainment (in the summer obviously), spaces for outdoor vendors, and so forth. And what better to complete this resort than my replica river paddleboat, a floating destination in itself? (Editor’s note: Fraser thinks a paddlewheel boat should be tethered to the shore and made into a restaurant. He believes that experience would be a sufficient attraction, and it wouldn’t actually have to give people rides.)

For these reasons I believe the plan has to be conceived as a single architectural vision, so that the topography of the new development can incorporate all these elements, as and when investment becomes available to build them.

Of course, you can’t dictate the way individual units will be designed, unless your name is Medici, or you have the resources of a big city, but you can dictate the tone, as Deadwood, in its ghastly way, has done. And in Yankton’s case, the tone should definitely reflect the many aspects of its long history: Lewis & Clark, pioneers, paddleboats (much more romantic than the murder of an alcoholic gambler), the coming of the railway, and so on, and more recently the building of the dam and the creation of the lake.

I also think the plan should be sufficiently imaginative to digest stubborn bits of the already existing riverfront, such as the water plant, rather than try to ignore them. What cannot be moved or disguised, could be turned into a positive feature. After all, the history of the riverfront was commercial, and in any case, as the Albert Dock in Liverpool demonstrates, people like industrial installations. Not everything has to be picturesque: everyone loves locomotives, and now everyone loves the rusty old bridge.

The report I’m suggesting would, no doubt, cost serious money, but at least it would give Yankton a picture of a possible future for the whole district – over which it could argue!

I know these are only the ravings of an outsider, but I have spent much of my professional life in places designed for the amusement of tourists and I can sense the possibility of a really beautiful (and therefore lucrative) destination here in Yankton.

Should this be dismissed as the ravings of an outsider? I think not. In fact, I think Fraser’s thoughts would be echoed by many Yankton residents.

Tomorrow, I’ll cherry pick some entries from an intriguing Facebook discussion that was spurred by another visit Fraser had with a local business owner. Nothing like a Brit to stir up us Americans, eh? 🙂