Casino legalization in Arkansas will alter the way impacted cities plan for the future, but it may take some time for those plans to take shape. City planning updates have been launched in Hot Springs and West Memphis to accommodate the addition of live casino gaming at the cities’ respective racetracks and the commercial growth expected to piggyback off it. But city officials don’t yet know exactly what those updates could look like.
Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington pulls no punches when the topic of discussion is revitalizing her once-thriving Delta city.
“Progress,” she said flatly, “cannot come soon enough.”
Decades of population loss, failing to adapt to changing economic tides and epidemic drug issues made Pine Bluff synonymous with crime and decay. The city’s Main Street became so decrepit, certain portions were blockaded as some buildings literally fell down where they stood.
On the Grand Prairie of the Arkansas Delta, just an hour east of the center of Little Rock, rice is king. Anyone who doubts that need only glance at the miles of flat, terraced ground that’s everywhere in and around places like Stuttgart. Here, rice is as much an identity as a business and grain silos dwarf the otherwise-tallest structures in town.
For decades, North Little Rock played the shabby little sister to Little Rock’s debutante, but those days are long gone. North Little Rock —especially the Argenta district in the city’s historic downtown —is today the belle of the economic development ball in Central Arkansas, if not the entire state.
“We’ve got a lot of great things going for us,” said Alan New, partner and lead designer with Taggart Architects, which is building a new corporate headquarters in the heart of the neighborhood. “I truly think Argenta is poised to be one of the most significant cities in Arkansas, if not the most significant city in Arkansas.”
The narrative of place is designed, devised by a myriad descriptors that reveal authentic insights into not only its inhabitants, but also the day to day practices, happenings, and rituals that ultimately reveal that story. Edible culture exposes truth about people, space, and time because it echoes not just sustenance paradigms, but also artisanship and community in its purest form.
It's 2 p.m. on a muggy Arkansas Tuesday and eerily quiet in Pine Bluff's old downtown. Most of the buildings in this neighborhood are boarded up and empty, a few remnant artifacts of retail stores, banks and who-knows-what. Here and again, a city parcel sits bleached and bare, its punch-drunk building long lost to weather and time and apathy. The district, like the early summer air, is still.
When examining the landscape of urbanism throughout Arkansas, the value of community planning and engagement is paramount. It means very little, however, if it lacks input and direction from minority voices. Following many years of disinvestment and neglect, mistrust is widespread among minorities. Many institutions have not fully realized the benefit of collaboration and community partnerships, furthering tribalism. As communities continue to grow and evolve throughout the state, advocacy groups, planners, business leaders, policymakers, local development organizations, universities, foundations and local residents must work together within their respective communities to unify diverse and disparate interests and craft an authentic vision of equality and prosperity for everyone.
In 2013, I was beginning my fifth year as an Alderman. I was losing hope. I was frustrated because everything I wanted was taking so long—or getting shut down completely. I sought out Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines when we were both at a conference. I thought he could give me a secret recipe for success. Instead, he gave me unexpected advice I will never forget.