Tom Henry

Newsroom Editor


Blytheville: a modern tale of two cities

Saturday, September 2, 2017

“It was the best of times it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,” part of the opening line from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

How could Dickens have possibly envisioned Blytheville back in 1859 when he wrote his classic book?

The modern tale of Blytheville is indeed the tale of two cities – and we all know it. The problem is, it will remain that way as long as we allow it!

I was called out to a house fire on West Rose Saturday evening and afterwards my family and I were “driving around” for a few minutes before returning home for dinner. Driving through the neighborhood, I was reacquainting myself to that area of town. And suddenly I saw just a little more detail than I had in the past.

I’m not a stranger to that section of town, but all of us more often than not, travel down the same roads and make the same turns each time we go places. And, neither Carolyn Street, Cherry Street, Short Rose, West McHaney nor Marguerite (or many other streets just like them) are on the route I take to the grocery store, to work or to Wal-Mart. So I don’t drive through that neighborhood as often as I should.

Nevertheless, I have always been aware of the flooding on Elm Street and McHaney. I have always been aware of the burned out husks that used to be called homes and the narrow alleyways (I mean streets) on the southwest side of town.

I have always known that the streetlights on North 6th Street have always burned a lot brighter than on Anderson or at the intersection of Lilly and Walls. Rose is not quite as smooth a ride as Franklin and I don’t suspect that it ever will be.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, so to speak, was when at just about dusk, I noticed that there was only one or two old, weak, tiny street lights on each block (in contrast to other areas of town).

The roads were narrow and pretty buckled. Some homes still have a classy, homey feel and I could tell that they were loved and great attempts have been made to maintain them to a certain standard of repair…but then there are the hundreds of lots that are either empty, grown up, burned out or a combination thereof.

So, in essence I saw that the Blytheville residents on these streets, who have a Constitutional guarantee of equal treatment (14th Amendment), have to accept the fact that the locations of their homes afford them unequal treatment in terms of city infrastructure and city services.

The many functioning street lights on the more affluent streets of town should not be getting upgrades to BETTER street lights, when there are numerous streets in the less affluent parts of town without any lights.

The nice wide streets of the “north and east country” should not be getting even smoother RE-treads until all the alleyways (again I meant to say streets) of the south and west get treads.

Uneven streets, buckled asphalt and sidewalks, potholes galore and cheap patchwork that you could play hopscotch on are the norms in that part of town.

Don’t complain about the slight flooding on Lockard, Broadway or Moultrie, until you attempt driving through water, muffler high, on Elm or McHaney. Thank God for the driver in front of you, just follow them real slow and steady and you will be able to drive your boat (err car) through the lake of water.

I know the more affluent portions of town are newer, therefore their sewer and water lines are not as old, but folks, we seriously are going to have catastrophic problems soon due to years of neglect in the older, poorer part of town.

If the city is going to attempt to maintain too many parks (Cypress Park, Walker Park, Williams Park, Nelson Park, Adams Park, Ruddle Road Park and 21st Street Park and any other park that I missed on this list) then let me ask why the main neighborhood parks aren’t on parity with each other? Can you honestly say that Williams Park is anywhere near as nice as Walker Park? No, and not just because of the crime.

Read my lips, I am not advocating more parks, more park spending, and we definitely do not need another tax…but I am advocating equal spending, equal amenities and equal quality based upon the available space. I know some improvements have been made; I’m addressing a mindset though.

The bottom line is that we need to be honest about why things are the way they are. There has always been a systemic inequality that also parallels the racial and social economic boundaries of this town. While formerly from a purely racist cause, it’s now more about political power.

Being brutally honest, the voters of the third ward have given their votes away (nearly unanimously) for generations, without demanding a single thing in return. Many sell them for pocket change on Election Day. The politicians know that they don’t have to work for them (just give lip service), because those in power already know they can take their votes for granted.

Instead they earn some votes from the affluent neighborhoods by giving them what they demand. Oh, by the way, I live in the third ward myself.

Like the old saying, “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?”