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A Cacophony Of Sights

Paducah, Kentucky

October 13, 2022

As I drove in to Paducah, I was greeted with the usual cacophony of sights that welcomes you to a southern town of 25,000 people. Driving along a four-lane road with a turn lane in the middle, signs for fast food restaurants, decrypic strip shopping centers, auto parts stores, car washes, mom & pop restaurants, dated and likely vacant one and two story motels screamed at me for my attention while they all were just eye noise as I drove by them.

I thought of how at one time all of this represented growth and prosperity and how to me it now represents sprawl and dare I say unattractiveness.

I don't mean to pick on Paducah -- this is the same story in most Southern towns of its size. And I don't mean to sound like an elitist, although I know I likely do.

This is home and likely a special place to 25,000 people. There are no doubt lively areas of the town -- just not on the main road into town.

I thought about the remediation effort ongoing at the closed Paducah gaseous diffusion plant. It is a Superfund site as are most if not all of the sites built in the 1940s and 1950s as part of our nuclear weapons complex. Those were heady days -- there was an urgency to design, build and operate those plants. It is awesome what that generation of engineers and scientists accomplished.

But that urgency led to discounting -- or maybe be not thinking about -- the future and the cleanup that would be required one day. I wonder if that same thinking led to the disjointed development and spread of businesses along the main drag into town (likely called Broad Street 🤪). The community embraced the new stores, motels and restaurants -- they represented a sense of affluence. Perhaps no one thought of how in 40 or 50 years, it would look paved over and worn -- and worse yet, abandoned.

Some lucky towns have faced this issue and been able to rejuvenate "Broad Street." But most don't have the resources. Factories and businesses have closed and nothing has replaced them. What will Paducah and towns like it look like in 20, 40, 100 years?

I realize that the "hedonic treadmill" is at play here. Those who live here probably don't see "Broad Street" as I do -- they have seen it everyday and it doesn't stand out to them.

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