Like An Erector Set Writ Large

IMG_6025In downtown Cleveland they are slowly tearing down one of the colossal bridges that spans the Flats.  The steel girder skeleton has now been exposed, and it looks exactly like something we would build during childhood with an erector set.

It’s interesting to see the disassembly process, but a bit unnerving, too.  The criss-crossing pieces of steel look very flimsy and delicate when they are laid bare, and it’s hard to imagine they bore so much weight for so long.

The Flats

IMG_5406“The Flats.”  It’s been the name for the heavy industrial area around the Cuyahoga River, next to downtown Cleveland, since time immemorial.

“The Flats.”  The moniker is apt.  The topography is low and level, perfect for unloading barges and freighters and running railroad track to haul the ore and coal and other raw materials off to Lorain and Youngstown, Akron and Dayton.

IMG_5410It once must have been an extraordinary, crowded bustling place, one of the engines of the American industrial age, chock full of shouting men and whistles, pallets being hoisted into the sky and swung wide, carts and rail cars rolling ponderously past, pellets and cinders and smoke and dust.

“The Flats.”  It’s an area that has been squashed and crushed by countless heavy loads and heavy machines.  Now it’s been left prostrate and depressed by economic forces beyond its control, empty and desolate on a Sunday afternoon, with only seagulls circling overhead, crying out to the scudding clouds.

The Flats.  It’s still there, with its many special bridges that lift far above the water to allow the freighters to glide slowly by, its rusting railroad spurs, its loading areas and piles of slag and cracked, weedy concrete and brick and highway overpasses that loom far overhead.  It served before, and it could serve again.

If you want to get a sense of how the wheels of commerce turned back at the turn of the 20th century and how things have changed since those long ago days, the Flats is a good place to visit.IMG_5412

The Graceful Beauty Of A Colossal Bridge

In my stroll through the Flats area of Cleveland early Wednesday morning, I was struck by this view of the shoreway bridge spanning the Cuyahoga River and the gravel yards and industrial facilities along the riverbed.  The bridge, which has been painted bright blue, is a gigantic construct when viewed from below, but it nevertheless has a kind of graceful, spidery beauty as it curves away into the distance far overhead.

Bridges and other well-designed forms of municipal infrastructure can be as artistic and lovely as the most high-priced piece of public art.