Nathan Johnson posts brilliantly on the importance of preserving a community's history and its landmarks. He celebrates the conversion of Yankton's Meridian Bridge into a unique pedestrian trail:
...while there are a few people who still complain it is a rust bucket, I hear almost universal praise for what an asset it is to the community.
I've been on the bridge in rain, snow and wind — early in the morning and late at night — and I am almost never alone. The community has largely embraced the bridge and uses it equally for exercise and for taking in the breathtaking views the structure offers [Nathan Johnson, "Why the Meridian Bridge Had to Be Preserved," An Inland Voyage, 2012.04.12].
Johnson highlights the unique characteristics of the reworked Meridian Bridge—where else can you walk from one state to another on a double-decker, pedestrian-only bridge? Johnson ties that uniquity to an essay by urban development expert Edward T. McMahon, who says character is key to an economically vibrant city:
If I have learned anything from my career in urban planning, it is this: a community's appeal drives economic prosperity....
...[T]he most important factors that create emotional bonds between people and their community were not jobs and the economy, but rather "physical beauty, opportunities for socializing and a city's openness to all people." ...[C]ommunities with the highest levels of attachment also had the highest rates of gross domestic product growth and the strongest economies [Edward T. McMahon, "Character Is Key to an Economically Vibrant City," The Atlantic Cities, 2012.04.11].
As Johnson points out, the Meridian Bridge touches all three of those criteria. Strollers get wonderful views of the river and the city. They can meet neighbors and visitors. The bridge symbolizes openness in its basic function as a connector and in its new function as a strictly pedestrian bridge: instead of racing across while boxed into cars, people can cross, stop, stand and take ownership of the structure and the river on their own two feet. Those characteristics make the Meridian Bridge a vital part of Yankton's future.
What structures does your town have the fit that bill? Remember, they can't just be old structures that people can look at and say "remember when...?" They have to be places that still play an active role in the community, places people can use. How well is your town keeping its historic structures integrated into the living heart and soul of your community?