Preserve history not parking spots!
by Don Rittner

Last week you learned one of the most important archeological discoveries in North America was uncovered in Albany. The only known 18th century rum distillery is now covered with gravel and soon another parking lot will sit on top of it.

This is becoming the regular modus operandi for Albany. Find an important archeological site and then put a parking garage or building on it.

In a story printed in another newspaper the chairman of the Albany Parking Authority said saving this site would be expensive and impractical. Furthermore, (as quoted by the paper): "This is going to be a tourist attraction sitting in the middle of a garage?''

Well, yes! There are many examples around the world where cities have created innovative ways to preserve their historic and archeological resources under adverse situations. It takes a little vision, something that appears to be lacking in this city that is almost 400 years old!

Thirty years ago, Mexico City workers digging a new subway system had to divert the tracks around multiple Aztec remains. In 1967, while constructing the Pino Suarez station, they found a complete and previously unknown pyramid. The station was redesigned and the temple now stands at the junction of Lines 1 and 2, 18 feet below the ground. Visitors can view the temple before they board the subway.

In Paris, ruins of an ancient city, featuring a 3rd century Crypt, Gallo-Roman, late Roman, and medieval ruins, were found during the 1965 excavation for a parking lot near Notre Dame Cathedral. They were preserved in a crypt under the plaza, where visitors can see ancient foundations back to Roman times and artifacts recovered in the excavation.

In 1990, a stainless steel office building for a subsidiary of Mitsubishi opened in the ancient center of modern London known as the Fenchurch Street area.

Featured at basement level is a 100-foot-long, nine-foot-wide section of a Roman wall built in 200 A.D. The wall was preserved with chemicals and special humidity and protected by railings. The builders had originally planned to bulldoze the wall and sell pieces. Most of the rest of the original two-mile long wall is gone, but a few other sections are exposed or built into other buildings.

In Montreal, the Montréal-Pointe-à-Callière museum, a history/archeology museum is built right on top of the remains of historical buildings and important historical sites such as the actual spot where the founders of Montreal first landed and the city's first cemetery. The museum continues under de la Commune street and the Place Royale under which you can see part of the fortification wall and the old Place Royale. It ends up in the old Customs house where there are other exhibitions.

In August, 1998, archaeologists uncovered a circle of holes chiseled into the limestone bedrock in downtown Miami. Also found were pottery shards, stone axe heads, and other artifacts. The site was to be a parking garage for a $126 million high-rise luxury condo complex, Brikell Pointe, located where the Miami River joins Biscayne Bay near downtown Miami.

This find was determined to be the Tekesta Indian capitol town and is 2000 years old. It's being purchased and preserved. The parking garage and two multi-million dollar apartment buildings scraped.

The world famous Jorvik Viking Centre in York, England, uses highly detailed models to recreate life in Viking-era York. Riding a 'Time Car' beneath the city streets tourists travel through a complete Viking village whose reconstructed buildings are located where they actually stood 1000 years ago.

In Seattle, you can view 19th century planning blunders. After several fires (the last in 1889 burned down the whole city) and years of a badly designed sewage system where every toilet overflowed twice daily, the citizenry finally decided to build a new sewage system placing them where the streets were, and raising the streets in the process from 8 to 36 feet. Since it was years before they actually raised the sidewalks too, it was common to climb a ladder (sometimes 36 feet high) to cross the street and then climb back down to continue walking. A new city was built on the foundations of the old one and tourists can visit the old burned down city through catacombs and walkways that lie beneath Seattle's present street level.

So, you can see from these few examples how easy it would be to incorporate the Albany rum distillery remains into this simple unimaginative city garage construction.

With this kind of shortsightedness, I'm not surprised Albany has lost 10,000 people in the last decade. Who wants to live in a city that doesn't respect its past, but would rather seal its history in cement tombs and pay tribute to the car culture instead?