Monday, February 10, 2014

Post Offices: When the going gets rough, sell your heritage! Dumb-down your architecture!

This is how we used to make them!

And this is how we make (or rent) them now...

Historic Post Office buildings--many built during the New Deal--are under assault by weak leadership, greedy private business, and a Congress that will gladly auction off our nation's history in service to the 1%. Sadly, all the talk & reverence about the Founding Fathers (e.g., Benjamin Franklin, our Post Office Founding Father) is thrown out the window when the powers-that-be start drooling for more money.

Whenever the economy turns sour, many people--typically those who see no value in the common good--start developing and implementing their privatization fantasies. "Hey!" they tell us excitedly, "if we sell our shared history, and sell our public lands, to millionaires & billionaires who live in private compounds, we can balance the budget!" Hence, the Free-Market Utopians feel that anything that is public, or quasi-public, must be sold or "privatized." Schools, public lands, prisons, Post Offices, etc.

 (This is a close-up of the eagle artwork, on the first building pictured above. I don't see anything similar on the second building. Why not? And where is the cupola on the second building? Where are the nice window frames? Heck, where is any creativity whatsoever? Oh yeah, I's more important for the Fortune 400 to have over $1 trillion in wealth, so they can create lots of increasingly crappy jobs for us, than it is for hundreds of millions of citizens to have beautiful architecture and culture around them. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Here's a recent article about the sale of a historic Post Office building in the Bronx: "Protest Aside, Postal Service Is Taking Next Step to Sell Grand Property in the Bronx." One potential buyer wants to turn the building into a marketplace, and said, "We are enthusiastic about the Bronx and the potential to tap into the borough’s creative energy." Creative energy. These happy words remind me of the happy words we use to justify doing nothing to help Americans who are struggling financially: "Innovation" and "Entrepreneurship." Shut your eyes America! Don't worry about your history being sold off! Don't worry about stagnant wages and rising suicides! "Innovation," and "entrepreneurship," and "creative energy!" Yippee!

What's happening to the Post Office today is interesting because it highlights the decline of the common good, the subjugation of our national heritage to corporate profits, and the dumbing-down of public architecture. With respect to the latter, let's face it, most modern public architecture, compared to older  public architecture, looks like crap. Gone are the columns, the impressive stonework, the ornate window frames, the cupolas, the rounded stairs, the arches, and anything else that hints at creativity or the human spirit. Today, a new school building, or a new Post Office building, or any new public building, is likely to be a dull red brick cube. Slap some bars on the windows, lay some razor-wire around them, and you've got yourself buildings that are indistinguishable from prison buildings (ironically, even older prison architecture had much more creativity than the architecture of public buildings today).

I guess good public architecture requires a little more money.....perhaps a little more in the way of taxes from the super-wealthy.....but we can't have any of that, of course, because millionaires & billionaires need more investment money to create more low-wage jobs for us. Hey, it's innovation!

(This is a mural inside a Post Office building, celebrating our American heritage. Good luck finding something like this in a newer Post Office buildingPhoto by Brent McKee.)

The New Deal showed us an incredible strategy for handling rough economic times. It was a strategy of action and compassion. The unemployed were hired, beautiful buildings were constructed, infrastructure was modernized, art was created, history was preserved, three billion trees were planted, and so much more.

Today, however, the beauty of the New Deal has been replaced with the ugliness of austerity, plutocracy, and white collar crime. Instead of making & preserving beautiful things, we sell our beautiful things to Corporate America and the super-rich. And if we complain, we hear that never-ending cacophony from the political right: "Stop being envious! Stop punishing success! Work harder!" And this cacophonous nonsense brings us one step closer to the vapid culture that right-wing billionaires want us to live in--a culture where all the beauty and money is reserved for them, and where the only things left for the rest of us are cheap architecture and a perpetual fear of debt & poverty.

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