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Street Talk

Water Is Tough On Mans’ Handiwork

By Mickey Howley

It is one of the curious qualities of water, unlike most substances, that when it goes from a liquid to a solid it expands. Water’s expansion when it turns solid is not as much as you might think, less than 10 percent in volume, but it is this small difference that keeps solid water from sinking to the bottom of the ocean or to the bottom of your glass. Water expanding and contracting in a freeze and thaw cycle breaks mountains of the hardest rock into gravel or cracks engine blocks of the hardest iron. Water will break apart and then dissolve all things natural or man-made over time.

It is in winter, when water goes through the freeze and thaw cycle everyday, that one can see the quickness of its deconstructing work. Pot-holes appear overnight in asphalt, cracks in concrete sidewalks run further, wet wood swells and splits, brick faces spall, and mortar failing makes piles of sand. It re-quires constant vigilance and effort and expense to keep our man-made objects whole from the force of water.

The City, in its duty to maintain public spaces, is constantly at work in this battle to repair and maintain our public man-made structures.  And in case you don’t know this, they do a far better than average job of this. While my opinion on this is biased, next time you are out and about in the greater area, look hard at towns that are our size and I think you will see that some are doing better on this level, but most are not.

All cities are a combination of public and private man-made structures. Main Street is the place where these two most closely interact. Unlike residential neighborhoods, there is no separating expanse of lawn between public and private spaces. Simply cross a threshold and you go from public space to private commercial space in an instant. And so buildings on Main Street are just that much closer to the public eye. A simple stroll along Water Valley’s Main Street sidewalk and one can see the whole spectrum of building maintenance and nature interacting. You will see buildings that have always been well kept up, to older and newer renovations, to ones that are maintained, but not in such great shape, to ones that have been wholly abandoned to the destructive forces of nature. The last category is hard to understand, but it is one of the great strengths of this country, the concept of private property, even if a handful of individuals use the right to the detriment of the public good.

Here is what the WVMSA is doing to help. We have sponsored a downtown “Charrette” where perhaps the most important thing is the detailed economic profile of retail money. This report had led to several new businesses on Main Street trying to re-capture escaping retail money. We have an on-going low-interest loan program for downtown building im-provements with two local banks. Several building owners have taken advantage of this offer. Our facade grant program, just in the two completed examples, has spurred building renovation by an investment factor twenty times, such that for every grant dollar there were 20 private dollars invested.

We offer, via Mississippi Main Street and our design committee, professional architectural advise on design. And we are working this year on having the historic commercial district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This will aid Main Street building owners with the critical tax credits one needs in the ongoing effort to combat the forces of nature and keep buildings whole and working.

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