From the August Issue:
Emer Pond Feeny, Going Wind in Suburbia
Ellyn Gaydos, Summer of Love
Cemal Sureya, San
Emily Lee, Lee Buffington, Fellow Planning Commissioners
Genese Grill, In Memorium Moratorium For Emerald
Kathryn Barush, Pilgrimages
Diane Elliot Gayer, Transhumance
Rainer Maria Rilke, Roman Fountain
Janifer Dumas, Requiem for a Fountain
Requiem for a Fountain
“Don’t say there is no water. That fountain is there among the scalloped green and gray stones, it is still there and always there”. –The Fountain, Denise Levertov
In 1994 the City of Burlington installed a fountain at the top of Church Street. However, on April 15, 2013, in Abracadabra fashion, they proceeded to demolish it. A premature death as far as fountains go. The reasons given for its untimely demise were flimsy at best: “It limited the amount of outdoor seating, and it wasn’t operational for less than half the year”.
At one time Burlington maintained four functioning fountains; since then, two have been “disappeared,” and rumor has it the extinction of another is proposed in the future. The intended target is the fountain which is the centerpiece of City Hall Park, donated by philanthropist, John Purple Howard in 1881.
Fact or fictitious? Nobody seems to know. Nevertheless, the question remains: What is it about fountains that so riles the “powers that be” in Burlington? Furthermore, has any consideration been given to renovating the fountain as an alternative to yet another death-blow by concrete cover-up? Why—even St. Albans, often much maligned as that ne’er-do-well relative of Burlington, raised money to restore their aging fountain, “The Ladies,” in Taylor Park, donated in 1887 to commemorate those who fought in the Civil War. “We had to save it,” one resident commented during its unveiling. “It was the backdrop of our lives”.
Granted, St. Albans isn’t Burlington, the latter embroiled in a battle between commerce and community. What is it about fountains that so riles the powers that be here? Fountains simply don’t earn their keep. To the contrary, their presence promotes idleness, loafing, wishful dreaming, courting, frolicking and wading—all to the detriment of progress, productivity, and commerce.
In other words: If it don’t make dough, it has to go! After all, that fountain rests on prime real estate, and they have visions for City Hall Park that don’t include that albatross. Indeed, their “reimagined” master plan contains a [paved]performance space, children’s “water feature,” a rain garden, bathrooms, a cafe, seating—a veritable theme park.
When Central Park was established in 1887 with 778 acres, Frederick Law Olmstead envisioned wide open spaces, long, tree-lined promenades with Bethesda Fountain as its centerpiece, what he referred to as the “heart of the park”. In contrast, City Hall Park is a one and three-quarter lot. Given the lofty plans, bid farewell to what a public park is supposed to be.
Already the signs of its imminent passing are present. The wooden tables where men once played chess or checkers have disappeared. Fewer benches encircle the fountain now, and the flower bed across from the stairs of City Hall has been dug up, replaced by a culvert of stones and an open drain. So, yes—bid farewell to all there was, and to that aging fountain—our “heart of the park”.
Janifer Dumas is an essayist currently living in Burlington.
Editor’s Note: A group, Keep City Hall Park Historic, now exists to advocate for the preservation of green space, public access, and participation as the park renovation process moves forward. Although the City Council voted last year to allow an increase from 5 to 35% in the amount of public park space that could be covered by cement; although preliminary plans for the park include the privatization of sections of this public space as rental to Ri-Ra’s and a massive rectilinear water basin emblazoned with the name of Ernie Pomerleau and his wife Rita, this group will work to keep the park green, historic, and publicly accessible for all. Supporters of the park renovation, including a former employer of Burlington City Arts, who oversaw the public process, “Imagine City Hall Park,” claim that the park is currently “dysfunctional,” which reiterates Janifer’s question of just what a park is supposed to do. Just how is the functionality of a park to be measured? How tabulate the benefits of non-commercial public spaces? Of peace, of pleasure, of beauty? How defend those spaces on the ground and above the skyline that are seen as underdeveloped, underutilized, dysfunctional? How reckon the benefit of the useless and beautiful warbling of a fountain? If we cannot find a way to demonstrate its use, its cost benefit, its practical contribution to our hotel and meals tax, our “grand list,” or our image as the greenest, most livable, most progressive, most tech-friendly, most livable city for the arts, &c., we may not be understood. Although the Church Street Market Place tries hard to accommodate the French speakers of Quebec, there is little work done to understand the language of those who care about human-scale communities, beauty, tranquility, wild nature, history, democratic participation, open public spaces. On parle français ici, but the Church Street Market Place does not, apparently, understand the language of the fountain.