LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD IS HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH
WHEN UTOPIAS DISAPPEAR, WHAT REPLACES THEM?
As a young, naïve Architecture student, Ebenezer Howard’s “Garden City” and Le Corbusier’s “Ville Radieuse” (Radiant City) were the two guiding paradigms of city and social planning of the 20th Century. Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Broadacre City,” not nearly so beguiling as the European ideal communities, was a lowly third place also ran even though, thanks to the GI Bill, FHA Mortgage Loans and the post-war Baby Boom, his model became the mold for all the Levittowns and suburban sprawl that consumed America in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In England, several of Howard’s ideal Garden City’s were constructed, Letchworth and Welwyn among them, and continue to exist today. Corbu’s Radiant City work has probably resulted in the design and construction of more Urban Renewal projects and inner city redevelopments on earth based on his visionary plans than any other urban model in history save the Romans.
Today, I have no idea what models of urban development – if any – guide my 21st Century social offspring in their efforts to make better the lives of ordinary men and women. In today’s “personal responsibility” and “individual initiative” ether of social independence and mechanical interaction, the every man, women and child for themselves world we now inhabit, I suspect that the improvement of the social, economic, and physical aspects of any group or class, with the exception possibly of the wealthy, holds little sway over city planning and urban development curricula in 2015. Perhaps there is a greater emphasis on the computational, the transactional, the systemic integration of external and internal (exogenous and endogenous) forces, and the gathering together and analysis of oceans of computer data to mold the future of our social and physical world today. No vagaries or inconsistencies from human input to muddy the technological vision.
Such futures that I see today gleaned from television, the cinema, video games and current music – oh, yes, and the occasional news article that isn’t about the latest scandal or mega rock star - seem altogether violent, abusive, dark and dystopian. Is the “Hunger Games” our model for a future society? Nowhere am I aware of even the smallest spark of the Flower Children of my generation’s self-sufficient, cooperative, mutually beneficial communes they founded out in California or the early Israeli settlers with their similar kibbutz. Cities can be calculated, formed and drawn by computers but they can’t be dreamed up by machines. Only we humans can do this. And we don’t seem to be very good at it right now.
Have we lost the ability to dream? To dream big? To imagine a future that is better then the present? To pursue a utopian ideal even though recognizing in our hearts and souls that such ideal social patterns of life and organizations for living are impossible to achieve? That they must ultimately fail as has Communism and Fascism?
I suggest that Obama’s 2008 campaign of “Hope” and his subsequent election to the Presidency belies the apparent abject poverty of our dreams, the lack of ability to articulate and formulate societies that are organized around humane principles, common needs and mutual benefit. No, I don’t think it’s us. We can still dream, witness the positive yet derided movements that spring up from time to time across the land, even if our dreams and hopes are bleakly diminished in the current cross fire and tumult we find ourselves enmeshed in. No, I think the problem lies not within us, but without. Outside.
Our social, economic and political systems have been so thoroughly corrupted by greed, lies, and venal manipulation that we no longer posses the means of actualizing our dreams, our desires for a better, more utopian society, here in America. We are not “allowed” to dream any longer, such dreams being rooted in the impractical and the ephemeral and our current national ethos spare no space for such frivolousness and impractical fuzzy thinking. Dreams and utopias are not transactional by nature nor do they readily lend themselves to regression analysis. But it is there, outside, that we must begin to turn the tide of the all consuming, unrelenting miasma of poverty-stricken, unchangeable, practical “realities” preached to us daily over the airwaves and from the mouths of our venal spokespersons – elected and otherwise. This tide of pessimism, mind shrinking smallness and the uber attention to the inconsequential robs us of our ability to dream of a better life for ourselves and for us all. Right wing protestations to the contrary, the reality of our situation is that we are a highly interconnected social network of individuals, groups, and communities with shared common interests and common goals.
I am nostalgically reminded too that when I was a young and naïve college student. I was both called upon and compelled to revolt against the mores of those times, just a generation or so ago. Called upon to raise my voice and risk my body to fight for the just cause. Many of them. But then, too, paralleling the chaos and violence that served as an unwanted accompaniment to those tumultuous days, it was also a sweet, loving, mystical time; decidedly spiritual and nearly cosmic in its appeal and reach. It was the time of:
“When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will rule the planets and love will steer the stars. This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” From the Broadway musical “HAIR!”
And, indeed, what an impractical, dreamy, unrealizable and altogether fuzzy-headed sentiment it was. Totally absurd. Fully a fallacious fantasy. Of course, back then we still believed in utopias.