I Believe in Bridges

Michael - Davenport, Iowa
Entered on April 6, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: community, place

I believe in bridges and in the imagination they represent.

I’ve been a resident of Davenport, Iowa for a quarter century, a period that has seen changes good and bad in the world and in my community. What has not changed is the need for our citizens to have vision and the strength of character to share their vision to improve the quality of community life.

When we moved into Davenport at the economic tipping point of the early 1980s, we bought our house for an asking price it would not again be worth for nearly a decade. The year following our arrival, the local farm implement industries suffered cut backs or closures sending them into a tail spin which drove down the value of real estate as surely as it drove down some people’s sense of community enthusiasm and pride of place. When we took our kids on a drive through downtown during our first Christmas season here, all we saw were near-deserted streets with many empty buildings. The atmosphere was grey, unbrightened by lights, signs or banners.

Then a local civic activist came up with the idea of lighting the Centennial Bridge. She asked each of us for a buck to get the job done. At the time a number of people poo-pooed the idea. “What a waste of time and energy,” some claimed. “Who needs lighted bridges when the lights are going out all over town from people losing their jobs,” others declared.

I recall that the original fundraising target was not met, but enough was raised to dot each arch with enough lights to outline the most graceful bridge in the Quad Cities and visually link Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois.

The work of a few provided for the visual enjoyment of the many and in my mind started the community movement out of its mental recession. I’ve never missed the buck we tossed in at an event in LeClaire Park years ago, and the interest it has paid far exceeds that I would have gotten from any local bank.

More recently, another bridge stands out for me. Davenport’s downtown renewal has come in the form of new hotels, museums, galleries, and more. The suggestion to build an overpass across River Drive to safely connect our revitalizing downtown to the riverfront resulted in a structure that has been called “A boondoggle. A waste of money” and, “The bridge to nowhere…”

But whenever I’m anywhere near the Sky Bridge, day or night, I cannot help but smile. I see a structure that is fun to look at, to be in, to cross over. I see a literal as well as figurative reflection in that bridge of Quad City people with vision and the desire to make a visual statement to all who drive or walk through town that imagination is not in short supply here.

I believe in bridges, the imagination needed to conceive of them, and what they can join together.