They’re Paving Paradise to Put Up a Parking Lot
“They paved paradise, put up a parking lot. With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swingin’ hot spot.” –Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s during Friday Happy Hour you could hear Randy Hughes sing this song at the Phyrst. Also during that happy hour, I was known to come up and sing a cover of the 1964 Rolling Stones hit “Not Fade Away” (which was a cover of the 1957 song written by Buddy Holly). That collegiate amateur singing career was big on energy and probably small on talent.
College years start as an empty canvas of opportunity. Those years become more and more mythical as we grow older. So many people look back on those years as something akin to a utopian/ paradise-type existence.
For people of a certain vintage at Penn State, our dive bar paradise was The Brewery. It was perhaps best known then as the place to get pitchers of beer and see the Screaming Ducks on Saturday night. They even had a $5 Monday night all-you-could-consume pizza and beer special.
Recently, Joni Mitchell’s lyrics about paving paradise seem prescient. In an action invoking the legal concept “eminent domain,” the Borough of State College seems poised to tear down The Brewery and a block of real estate to build —you guessed it –a parking lot. OK, it’s actually a parking garage, but you get the point.
While a pink hotel, boutique and a swingin’ hot spot are not in the plans, downtown State College is in the midst of rapid change. The town is growing vertically with the sights of towering cranes and big construction sites commonplace in the borough. The borough’s posture changed from limiting the heights of buildings to an attitude of seeking out high-density upward growth. That’s changed the previously mostly low-rise college town feel along College and Beaver avenues.
Maybe it’s good that more students live downtown and spend less time in cars. They can walk to campus. They can walk to and spend money in borough businesses. Anything to help push more oxygen through the heart of this area is a good thing. No matter where you live in the Centre Region, a vibrant borough is good for everyone.
But all this aside, the use of eminent domain seems like an extreme step for the borough. Most of us are not legal scholars versed in all the aspects of eminent domain. But it certainly seems to run completely counter to the American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not exactly taking something at gunpoint, but it sure as hell feels like it.
And as more and more parts of town change, parts of the old charm go with it. I haven’t been in The Brewery in a long time. But I really don’t go out anywhere these days. That’s a function of age.
And it all circles back to age. As another school year starts up, the streets are clogged with cars as students and their families get this year’s students moved in. Some are starting their journey, others are continuing theirs and still others are in the final semester or two of theirs.
These are their days at Penn State. As they walk the streets of State College and campus and find laughter and knowledge and the wonder of each new dawn over Mount Nittany, all of us hope that they too will find some small piece of heaven on earth. But be warned: college days may drag, but the years will fly. Ultimately, time wields the cruelest scythe of eminent domain. And someday college ends for everyone.
As years pass, places that housed memories come and go. The legal fights over concepts like eminent domain are for the legal system. I hope that the owners of The Brewery fight and win. That to me just seems right.
For the rest of us, particularly for those still in college, be sure to fill the days that you do have with as many of the great things about being here as you can. One of the vanities of youth is the expectation that a long road of time ahead of us will never run short. But ask any alum: it goes by quickly. Because as the chorus of that same Joni Mitchell song warns: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone?”