Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Where are we going?

One of the greatest factors retarding Ohio's recovery has been a romantic notion that manufacturing can be revived on the grand scale of the past. While that notion is mostly abandoned by now, nothing has arisen to take its place.

James Howard Kunstler uses Cleveland as an object lesson in our failure to prepare for an alternate future. It is a sad story -- morality tale actually -- which points the way to the path we should be taking:

Being an actualist, I'm in favor of getting real about things, and the reality we've entered is one of comprehensive contraction, especially for our cities. One of the reasons places like Cleveland (and Detroit, and Milwaukee, and St Louis, and Kansas City....) continue to fail in their redevelopment efforts is because they are already too big. They became overgrown organisms a while ago, unsuited to the realities of the future -- especially the energy resource realities of the future -- and they have tried everything except consciously contracting into smaller, finer, denser, differently-scaled organisms. In fact, the trend up until the so-called housing bubble of recent
years was to just keep on expanding ever outward beyond the suburban frontier, which left our cities in a condition like imploded death-stars -- cold and inert at the center, with debris speeding uselessly outward to an unreachable infinity.

This future we're entering, which I call the long emergency, compels us to imagine our society differently. Our cities and towns exist where they do because they occupy important sites. Cleveland is where a significant river empties into the world's greatest inland sea (which has the additional amazing benefit of being fresh water). Some human settlement will continue to be there, very probably a place of consequence, but it will not be run under the same circumstances that produced, for instance, the civic center of Daniel Burnham with its giant Beaux Arts courthouses, banks, and municipal towers.

This disintegrating nation is woefully distracted by Web 2.0, iPads, Avatar movies, Facebook, and the idiot celebrity spectacles of TV, not to mention the disasters of job loss, foreclosure, medical extortion, bankruptcy, corporate loot-ocracy, and the squandered moments of politics. We know we have to go somewhere. We know that something like history is leaving us behind. We have no idea how to get to a new place. And we're spending most of our mental energy gaping into the rear-view mirror, which is the last place to look for your destination.

The confusion is apt to get a lot worse before it gets better. I'm not saying this to be ornery but because I believe it is true, and it will benefit us to know the odds we're up against. The confusion is going to generate a lot of ideas that are inconsistent with reality -- especially involving the seductive nostrums of technocracy. Our redemption will be found closer to the ground in the things we do by hand. But we don't know that yet, and we're going to try everything except looking there before we find out.

The sooner we look ahead, instead of in the rear-view mirror, the less devastating the reality will be. "With no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18 KJV)

Virtual buckeye to Carolyn Baker at Vermont Commons


Brian said...

Nothing will take it's place because what is rising from the past industries is rising in the Orient.

We think that jobs will some how come to Ohio and the US for that matter through schemes like Third Frontier and silly "green" programs, when the East undercuts us with virtual slave labor.

We must impose tariffs, reduce or eliminate business taxation within the country, get rid of the income tax, remove the burden of over-regulation, and scale back the scope of government while reducing it. This is the only way. Otherwise Mr. Kunstler will be correct.

Or we could secede from the US and save ourselves before we lead the states down the toilet.

Very unsettling nonetheless.

Harold Thomas said...

Good points, Brian.

The Third Frontier is said to have "created" 47,000 jobs -- a real pittance for the money and PR effort spent...

Your solutions are much sounder.