The 'old future' vs. the reality
0 comment Sunday, May 4, 2014 |
I've mentioned the Paleo-Future blog before; its theme is past generations' depictions of 'the future', their 'future' being our present. It's interesting and sometimes amusing or ironic to read how past generations envisioned the world of the present day. Occasionally the visions displayed a prescience that was impressive, but more often than not, the predictions seem to have erred on the side of overoptimism. The fifties and early sixties particularly seem to have been an era in which there was an unshakable confidence in the ability of 'science' and technology to solve virtually any problem, and an implicit faith in the idea that people of 'the future' would somehow be wiser, better adjusted, and more enlightened. Actually many people still accept the premise behind that belief, which is the somewhat absurd and unfounded notion that every generation is a step upward from the previous generation.
This recent post on Paleo-Future is about Rejuvenated downtowns.
If you click on the link and look at the illustration, you will see the typical late-50s vision of what the 'city of tomorrow' would look like. From the text of a syndicated newspaper column called 'Closer Than We Think!':
...Traffic-choked downtown sections will be rejuvenated and transformed into airy, wide pedestrian malls when the designs of city planners are adopted in a none-too-distant future.
Large-scale plans and programs are springing up all over the country. One example is fashionable Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, being studied today for conversion into a traffic-free shopping promenade. Another is utilitarian Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. There are many more in between.
Traffic will be parked in adjoining areas. Store fronts will be modernized and beautified. New lighting at night and newly planted trees, shrubs and flowers will give these malls an exciting air. The aim is to regain for downtowns their former status as urban headquarters.''
It hasn't exactly played out that way, has it? Our urban cores are deteriorating, or decayed beyond hope in some cities.
The idea that car-free pedestrian malls were the wave of the future has proven false, as we see that many such experiments have been dismantled. 'Pedestrian malls' have usually been associated with the decline of the central business district of a town or city.
This New York Times article from 13 years ago describes how downtown pedestrian malls have been unsuccessful and are being removed as shoppers prefer enclosed malls. One rationale given for why enclosed suburban malls were superior was that there was less crime. But there has been an increase in crime at many malls in upscale suburban areas, thanks (apparently) to mass transit being extended there from inner cities.
The politically correct journalists and many commenters decry any complaints about public transit bringing in petty criminals or gang members from less desirable areas, but the connection seems unquestionable; whenever public transit extends service to upscale malls in suburban areas, crime increases. So suburban malls, even in nice, upscale communities, are now being 'urbanized', shall we say.
The pleasant future predicted by so many 'seers' of the mid-20th century was predicated on the assumption that America would stay what it was then, a mostly homogeneous country with middle-class, conservative values. Few anticipated the massive demographic shifts that would occur as the after-effects of the disastrous 1965 Immigration Act.
It isn't polite or politically correct to mention it, but people make the place; change the population and you change the place. The more different the people who come to displace the existing population, the greater the changes to the place.
And surprise, surprise: people from Third-World cultures bring Third World conditions and standards.
Why it has become taboo to mention or even to notice this most obvious of points is baffling. Actually, it isn't really; we have to pretend not to notice such things lest we hurt the feelings of the new population of the country, who are not to be criticized, only to be flattered.
So the future that the starry-eyed believers in 'progress' envisioned was not to be. But what caused the destruction of that dream, other than the obvious demographic changes, which were purposely engineered by our duplicitous rulers? There were multiple factors at work, and it's hard to disentangle them, or to recognize cause and effect in some cases.
Another factor in the story of urban decay and the dying of our cities as centers of civilization is the rise of the car culture during the post-WWII era. It was then that many young families abandoned the cities and existing towns to move to new suburban developments which represented a real change in the way people lived. The change was not all for the better, although at the time it seemed, for many young couples, to be a dream come true to own a new home in the suburbs, even if the new homes were all cookie-cutter in design, and even if the new suburbs offered little in the way of community, compared with the established towns.
Some of us on the right tend to react against criticisms of the car culture and the move to the suburbs, because this is a favorite hobby horse of the left. for example, the writer Jane Holtz Kay, from a review of her book:
[I]t is a false form of consciousness that fails to assess women's enslavement to the motor vehicle in the auto-dependent households and society it has helped install" . "False form of consciousness"? "Enslavement"? These are fighting words. Kay then goes on to enumerate other victims, the "mobility disenfranchised"--children, the poor, the elderly--people who live without cars in a car-dependent society.
Kay blames the automobile for virtually all of society's ills, from a withering political consciousness, to the deterioration of the family, to a junk food diet. She recognizes the zeal of her argument: "It may sound ludicrous to blame the car for fewer oven-baked potatoes and more fatty french fries, less grandma's chicken soup, and more franchised chicken nuggets, but the junk food diet--and the environmental toll from its trash also stems from the wrappings of the highway-based franchise. The car is scarcely the sole villain in the growth of Kentucky Fried Chicken but it is an accomplice".
It's ironic that some of the liberal critics seem to deplore the loss of the same things many conservatives lament: family and community ties, more wholesome ways of eating and living. It's a shame that they seem to blame all the evils of the 20th century on capitalism and traditional Americans, rather than recognizing that liberal policies helped to create the problems they lament. It was big liberal government that set out to ensure that all Americans had 'affordable housing', in the suburbs which was a nice idea especially for returning veterans, but it's still government meddling and practicing social engineering.
How much, I wonder, has the car culture contributed to the crises we discuss on this blog?
With the talk of 'peak oil' and the looming economic crisis, will the car-oriented lifestyle, with suburban sprawl, still be viable? Will our ever-increasing population, thanks mostly to mass, uncontrolled immigration allow for this lifestyle to continue?
As our population threatens to reach half a billion by mid-century, (and that may be an underestimate), it seems absurd to assume that our present way of life can continue without drastic changes.
For the liberals, the answer seems to be to build more densely in the suburbs and the cities, and turning more to mass public transit -- which to many of us seems an imperfect solution at best, and nightmarish at worst.
In many places, public transit is unsafe, unsanitary, and not pleasant or easy to use. And no amount of government subsidies can fix these problems if the people using the system are the source of the problems. I've used public transit in a number of large cities and medium-sized cities, and to paraphrase something Jay Leno said once, buses and trains in many places are 'rolling bad neighborhoods.'
And as we continue on our reckless path to bring more 'diversity' and more warm bodies to our country, the social frictions will certainly increase rather than decrease.
Why the leftists cannot see the danger of mass immigration while they decry overpopulation and overdevelopment is unfathomable.
One more thought that occurs is: if only. If only our country had not had to spend untold amounts of money on 'social programs', on accommodating the dysfunctional elements in our society, if only we did not have to spend astronomical sums to provide for immigrants and their many attendant expenses -- who knows what our society might have been. Maybe the visions of the optimists of the 1950s would have come to pass. But they could not have known what awaited them in the 1960s and beyond.
I bless them for their childlike faith in human technology and wisdom, but it's easy sometimes to want to curse them for their blindness as to the real future that lay in wait for them -- and for us.
But I believe in honoring our fathers and mothers, and it's also well to remember that our progeny may well hold us to account for what we failed to see and failed to act on while there was time. That's where our focus should be.
And perhaps we need to try to recover some of the ideas and attitudes and values that made our society work so well, once upon a time.
History has repeatedly demonstrated that empires seldom seem to retain sufficient cultural self-awareness to prevent them from overreaching and overgrasping´┐ŻAny culture that jettisons the values that have given it competence, adaptability, and identity becomes weak and hollow. A culture can avoid that hazard only by tenaciously retaining the underlying values responsible for the cultures nature and success." - Jane Jacobs, Dark Ages Ahead

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