At tonight’s Progressive Town Hall  at the Fiddler’s Hearth in South Bend, I presented my Power Point slide show “The River that Runs Through Us: Embracing the Force that Birthed South Bend”.  This is a brief history of the river’s very important role in bringing South Bend to life and how, when the settlers and inhabitants embraced the gifts of the river and the land around South Bend, the city prospered and grew.  South Bend, by harnessing the force of the river to power the mills of industries along the east and west races and by being sustained by the fertile farmland surrounding her, was a very sustainable community.  As the city abandoned the river and began to pave over the farmland with shopping malls and suburbs, the city began its steady decline.

 In the late 1970’s, in response to legislation following the Arab oil embargo, South Bend applied for and received a permit to build a hydro-electric power plant on the East race of the St Joe river.  Not only would this plant have provided emission-free energy to the city but the coolest part of the design was a concourse integrated between the fish ladder and the turbines of generator.  The concourse, which is wheel-chair accessible, takes visitors below river level  to windows on either wall with views of the turbines on one wall and fish migrating up the river on the other!  This feature was designed by the same architect who designed a similar viewing chamber at the Chittenden-Ballard locks, one of the top ten tourist attractions in Seattle.

 To a crowd of about 40 people, the response to this idea was universally positive.  When asked how many people would be interested in visiting such an attraction, every hand in the place went up.

Presented as a dovetail to the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities initiative, this presentation generated at least two people who were interested in helping get this project before the public and on the agendas of public officials.

I’d like to go on record at this point and suggest that the viewing chamber be named the Sagwa-Se-Pe Viewing Chamber.  Sagwa-Se-Pe is the name Native Americans gave to the river and refers to an apparition that emerges from the mists of the river.  What a fitting name for something that could emerge from the mists of the city’s history and give her new life.

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