Help For Your Ugly Streets

Richard Mason

Help for Your Ugly Streets

Last January, my wife and I spent our wedding anniversary at the Alluvium Hotel in Greenwood, Mississippi, and the next day we continued on to Columbus to take care of some business. I’ve made the trip numerous times, usually driving straight across east Arkansas ending up still on Highway 82, when I arrived in Columbus. I guess I’ll always marvel at the Mississippi River’s Delta, and since I’m a geologist, I can visualize the vast amount of water from the melting Ice Age Glaciers that created the Delta.
January is bleak in the Delta, since the once great swamps have been drained, the trees cut, and the river has been tamed with levees to stop the flooding. The mile after mile of plowed dirt is as boring as any place I’ve ever been. However, some of the entrances to several Delta towns have been perked up by planting crepe myrtle trees along Highway 82 and by creating crepe myrtle tree-lined boulevards into their towns. Greenville, with its casinos and dead-as-a-sack-of-hammers downtown, has planted several hundred crepe myrtle trees along Highway 82 leading into town, and although their downtown is almost vacant, your first impression, as you drive into town, is extremely positive. There’s not enough space in this column to comment on their downtown except to say, “Needs work.” However, they are doing the right thing in planting the entrance-way crepe myrtle trees, and by letting them grow tall with only trimming the very lower branches—they look great.
We continued on across the Delta, stopping at Indianola where we stopped in their very nice, viable Main Street downtown and dined at the Crown Restaurant. Great restaurant, and I think, if it were Michelin rated, it would deserve a “Worth a Detour”. Again we found their entranceways and actually throughout the town, streets lined with tall, crepe myrtle trees. That was when it began to occur to us that, in general, folks in Mississippi don’t chop off their crepe myrtle trees like they do in most Arkansas towns. It seemed to me that it was 80% tall crepe myrtle trees and 20% chopped off semi-bushes, whereas El Dorado has 80% (or more) chopped off crepe myrtle trees, and many other Arkansas towns follow the same trimming as if crepe myrtles were bushes instead of trees. The difference is remarkable and extremely noticeable, and for once, at least some Mississippi towns have gotten it right. Of course crepe myrtle trees shouldn’t be chopped off, and that will change one day. However, folks will tell you that’s the way they’ve been doing it for years, but the Master Gardeners and every nurseryman or woman worth their salt, will tell you it’s the wrong way to trim crepe myrtle trees, so don’t commit, crepe murder by chopping them off.
I know taking a lesson from Mississippi would choke some folks, but let’s just do a “what if” here in my home town. Okay? What if the City of El Dorado actually tried to do something about the eyesore of South Arkansas, North West Avenue, the entrance-way avenue into town? How about making it a boulevard with a limited turn lane from Walmart to Locust Street and then plant crepe myrtles trees every 20 feet in about 75% in what is now the endless turn lane. Of course, while the City is at it, they could plant hundreds more along the City right-of-ways on both sides of the street. Yes, I’m dreaming again, and I know it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Well, that’s an example from El Dorado, but almost every town of any size has a “North West Avenue”, and yes, almost all of them could use an uptick. Hot Springs has Central Avenue, Little Rock has Broadway, and Fayetteville has Dixon Street.
If you have lived in Arkansas for very long, you’ll know how much ugly leafy trees cover up, and that’s exactly what a tree lined street will do. Actually, planting trees along a busy entryway street is the least expensive way to improve eyesore streets, and most of the time that street is the first impression street in your town. Every city owns the right-of-way and all they have to do is cut a three foot square hole in the sidewalk or pavement and plant a crepe myrtle tree. They don’t even have to worry about overhead power lines because a mature crepe myrtle trees won’t grow tall enough to get into the power lines.
A boulevard center is an area about the width of a turn lane and almost every progress city will have them planted with trees or bushes. A turn lane doesn’t have to be essentially endless to be effective. By reducing the spots available to turn you won’t create any traffic problems because leaving one turn lane per city block leaves plenty of opportunities to turn, and by taking around 75% of the turn lane and planting trees or shrubs, you have added measureable to the ambiance of your cities entranceway. I know, if we’re honest, we would agree almost all of our entrance-ways into our towns and cities a just bone ugly and desperately need anything that would enhance their looks, and when we consider how inexpensive the project is and how much it would add to the looks of those streets, you would think our city officials would be standing in line to plant crepe myrtle trees along the entrance-ways and along the sides those streets. Well, if you haven’t noticed, they are not standing in line to plant, and trying to get any action on tree planting along these entryway streets is like pulling teeth. There is something about tree planting on or in the median is a signal to get your back up if you are a mayor or a city engineer. A city street doesn’t have to be designed as a raceway to get cars and trucks through town as quickly as possible. By making the street pedestrian friendly by putting in sidewalks, crosswalks, and lining it with trees you are building up the towns quality of life, and that’s trumps the raceway every time.
And now an important announcement!
The Buffalo National River is in grave danger of being polluted by the factory hog farm. In my 35 years of working to protect and enhance Arkansas’ environment, this is the greatest threat I have ever encountered. If the Governor doesn’t force the re-location of the hog farm, I believe we will see the river damaged beyond repair. You can help: On December 4th you can join to flood the Governor’s office with letters and emails to relocate the hog farm and save the Buffalo. Please post this and share on Facebook, but don’t send anything until December 4th—or the 2nd if you are going to mail a protest.

250 State Capitol Bldg. Little Rock, AR 72201. Fax:(501)682-1382.
Tel:(501)682-2345 email:


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