This is a common tale in American municipal development: the railroad or the road or the highway that once ran through the community has decided on a new path, now bypassing the community and leaving it without the traffic that once supported businesses in town. This recently happened to the small town of Hooper, Nebraska. Hooper residents came together to build a sign/monument along the new highway bypass (U.S. 275):
The foundation made the final pick: a tapered, 24-foot tower that would spell “Hooper” in 18-inch-high letters down two of its three sides. This way, the sign would rise above the fertile flatness.
Fund-raising letters went out in the fall of 2009. Quickly, the foundation surpassed its $18,000 goal, thanks to several thousand dollars from the old Commercial Club and to the many, many checks written out for amounts closer to $25…
Finally, right about harvest season, a brick-and-concrete base was built upon a concrete foundation. Then the three precast concrete sides were raised and secured to form the tapered tower, on top of which was placed a cap adorned with a large concrete ball.
Some finishing touches were still needed. The police chief, Matt Schott, used his excavator to dig a shallow trench for a retaining wall, after which a landscaping firm came in to plant some shrubs and make the ground look like an inviting garden, planted in a cornfield.
The project’s completion prompted no fanfare. The foundation’s members doubted that many people would gather beside a highway to celebrate a concrete tower. Besides, the sign was its own celebration.
Now, as the endless horizon along U.S. 275 surrenders to the wintry dusk, the beams of two spotlights sprout from the ground to illuminate the name of a place you might otherwise miss.
An interesting choice – not just a road sign saying Hooper is down the road if you take a turn but rather more of a monument. While it appears from this article that this was a meaningful exercise for Hooper residents, does it have any impact on the outside world? This project seems important for the community itself, an opportunity to come together, erect a symbol, and essentially suggest to the world that though the highway may not go through town, Hooper is here to stay.
This is not an isolated incident as many communities have tried to deal with this issue. A number of suburbs struggle with this: how do you get people to come into your downtown if all they want to do is drive along highways or major roads to get through your community as quickly as possible? One tactic is to try to erect markers or monuments at key intersections or along major roads that point people toward the downtown.
At the same time, how many communities today would actually want a major road, one with a 40 MPH speed limit, running right through the center of the community? For a small town, it might be the only source of traffic but for many suburbs, this would not be desirable.
h/t The Infrastructurist