Dear Honorable Mayor Waluk and Members of the City Council:
To this observer, the debate over Queen Anne Square has become a distraction from Newport’s more pressing needs. To wit: healthy local food, the hungry or ‘food insecure’ (ie. all of us) and homelessness.
Last month I organized the Food & Farming Forum at CCRI in Newport. As a long time Newporter with family roots stretching back to those who joined Anne Hutchison's move to the Island, I was proud of my community's turnout and its understanding of the importance of local food to our island's health, economic and otherwise.
Marilyn Warren, head of the Martin Luther King Center, spoke of the growing number of families turning to the Center’s food pantry. (Up 20+% monthly!) Farm Fresh RI folks then spoke with Marilyn about how they could help bring more fresh food to the needy. These are conversations worth having in our city; projects clearly deserving of financial support from those who can invest, give, or allocate, if you are a city councilor.
The Maya Lin ‘gift’ in its many facets offers a disturbing reflection of the sometimes misdirected thinking and inflated influence of the minority who support it; if you will, the one percent. Here's why:
First, from day one leading advocates for the redesign have used scare tactics referring to the purported threat posed by the homeless who have slept within a small plot of bushes in the park. Instead of pushing to resolve homelessness, re-design advocates have employed the specter of the homeless to spook Newporters into supporting a famous designer's vision. Now, I’m well accustomed to big government employing fear to advance its agenda but a small local foundation doing so, pushing aside more essential local issues, short changes the city and insults our intelligence.
Second, the plan being championed by private parties includes the installation of two public surveillance cameras. We are being asked to roll out the red carpet for Big Brother just because Maya Lin is coming to town. Is crime really such a grave problem in Queen Anne Square that we need security cameras to keep an ever-present watch? Calls to the police department about problems in the Square amount to .003% of all calls. I say ‘no’ to Big Brother cams in the heart of the waterfront.
Third through sixth: Opponents to the Maya Lin plan have put forward alternate, more sensible and frugal additions to the Park (inexpensive benches and lighting for example). Others have pointed to the unsuccessful Maya Lin installation in Ohio as a warning. And some have lucidly challenged the artistic and historic merit of a plan that replaces Doris Duke's vision with another that cuts down beautiful mature trees she planted. There is also the issue of faux foundations in an historic district. Each has added a cogent voice in this debate.
However, my larger concern is that a seemingly detached minority, in thrall to a famed designer, are distanced from more grave and real local concerns and all too willing to stoke fears, and propose Big Brother solutions in the heart of downtown. Worse, they insist on promoting a flawed ‘monument’ of mediocre merit as a money magnet. I’ve been asked insistently, "How can we say no, it's a gift?"
I am standing up to respectfully reject this gift. I object to the notion that big money or big names should trump the will of the people, thus denigrating their thinking about local priorities. If the well-intended donors truly want to serve our community I can think of three growing concerns among many others deserving of the level of funding and focus the Maya Lin project has engendered: First, local food (a State economy ‘beacon’). Second, hunger. Third, homelessness. In these we'll find true community restoration worthy of wider support, adoption and justified passion! If just a fraction of the energy being invested in this controversy, not to mention the funding, were redirected, think of what good would come!
If you agree please say so and let your feelings and thoughts be known. Help us shift to more urgent concerns. My hope is that our City Councilors will agree and vote to reject the Maya Lin plan. If they do not we may have to take to the streets to protect our park and realign our priorities.
Kyle F. Hence