Monday, February 05, 2007

The Ambiance of Fair Hope

February 5, 2007

A local citizens' political club recently received a request from a certain member of the City Council. Seems he wanted to attend their next meeting and ask their definition of the word ambiance.

A longtime friend of mine, who is, like me, an emissary from another time in another place -- the Fairhope that once was -- called me to ask what I thought this certain member of the City Council was up to. My old friend is active in the organization, basically a club of mostly newcomers concerned with keeping the government in line. My friend wondered why a man who has been on the City Council for seven years would just now be inquiring as to ambiance.

In recent years the city government has turned the place from one of fair hope to one of fair game -- for themselves, developers, and the many newcomers who swarm here to install all the amenities they enjoyed in previous locales. That they are just now investigating the ambiance of Fairhope is either a joke or an insult. If they wanted to know what Fairhope once was, there are plenty of books about it, including one I myself wrote called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. In those days, Fairhope was a casual, funky beach town of charming if dilapidated cottages, boasting an intellectual if not downright bohemian cachet. Since then it has become an upscale, trendy boutique town, with dozens of surrounding subdivisions, new construction replacing the cottages, and a citizenry of nice enough well-meaning people but no particular character. The ambiance has changed from authentic to ersatz in a matter of a decade.

Once a haven for reformers and rebels, Fairhope is now bursting with conformists and conventionals. The look of the town has gone from a village with remnants of 1920's Americana to a suburb of expensive, huge, new and bland houses. Attempts to duplicate what was genuinely quaint have taken the heart out of it and replaced the original with something that seems to have everything the original has, except everything. The external is similar, but blown up to ten times the size, the effect is lost.

The ambiance of Fairhope today, that of a gussied-up and phonified version of itself, would be amusing if it were not so very sad.


jon said...

Ain't no ambiance! What is left is the 'idea' of Fairhope, a place for self expression and friendly survuval, but little of its quaintness still exists. A couple of recent town innovations illustrate the situation. First the public pier, which terminates Fairhope Avenue, seems to have been rebuilt with the idea that fishing and crabbing are no longer welcome and small children should not see the Bay.
The rails are too high and enclosed like a toddler fence. As well, the utilities supports are extended, with nothing on them, as if to prevent net fishing and crabbing on the favored north side. In the short 45 years of my exposure to the pier, I have never heard of anyone falling off into the Bay because the previous rail was inadequate! Another loss to Fairhope is the feeling of softness generated by the evidence of people's living and doing around their homes. Instead, more and more the homes seem to be from a 'Disneyworld' of desolate perfection where lawnscapers hire in to vacuum all traces of life from yards and homes. Also, the recent commercial affectations in town, including the new police station and library, have an 'in-your-face' sort of effect which seems to overpower any individualism, but rather enforce neatened conformity accompanied by a notion that big brother is watching and wants what you've got. The things remaining with ambiance are geedily eyed by money mongers hoping to 'develop' more of the multi-condos built on single dwelling lots. Fairhope's ambiance has turned into a blivit.........a 5 pound bag w/ 10 pounds of crap crammed inside.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Ah...someone who gets it! Sorry about you fishermen, but obviously somebody somewhere in bureaucracyland has decreed that for your own safety provisions must be made. Raise the rails and keep the pier safe. Makes no sense to me, this anticipation of disaster where none has gone before.

And ambiance, I suppose, can be defined as an overflow of city-planted flowers, a library the size of Heathrow Airport, and a big fat Wal-Mart lurking one mile outside the city limits.

Benedict S. said...

Follow the money. Someone responsible for the design was in the lumber business. Sorry for the cynical view, but I am at last learning.