Saturday, November 29, 2014
The Reverse New Deal: Selling our public spaces, repressing our creativity, and transforming ourselves into low-paid corporate automatons for the 0.1%
(A beautiful, WPA-built school in Circleville, West Virginia. Photo by Brent McKee.)
(A new school in Keyser, West Virginia. The school is almost completely devoid of architectural creativity, and resembles a correctional facility. Photo by Brent McKee.)
Columnist Renee Loth had a great op-ed in the Boston Globe yesterday, observing the cultural degeneration that has occurred in America since the New Deal, with respect to our public spaces. She writes: "Sturdily made, architecturally significant, the New Deal’s public buildings project a sense of authority and even grandeur...They are artifacts of a time when government institutions — schools, courthouses, even waterworks — commanded a certain respect, and the quality of design and craftsmanship reflected that...We have traveled a long way from a time when public buildings were revered precisely because they belonged to everyone. Now public facilities from schools to swimming pools are being privatized. Corporations 'adopt' highways that the taxpayers won’t pay to maintain."
In my travels I have noticed that much of our newer public architecture is as bland as bland can be. Often, new public buildings are little more than brick cubes. I have also seen older, elaborately designed bridges replaced with bridges that look like normal roadway. It seems that trusses, columns, domes, cupolas, ornaments, arches, and anything else that displays human creativity has been banned from public architecture. Today, apparently, the cheapest and most uninspired design always wins the contract.
Meanwhile, as we're playing it cheap with our public architecture, and selling our history to private individuals who live in compounds and gated communities, the "job creators" reward our submission with mundane, low-paying, stingy-benefit, no-future jobs (or, perhaps no jobs at all). See, for example, "Wages and Salaries Still Lag as Corporate Profits Surge," and "Faces of part-time workers: food stamps and multiple low-paid jobs," and "The labor force participation rate is at a low point.")
Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Selling our public spaces, repressing our creativity, and transforming ourselves into low-paid corporate automatons for the 0.1%.
Only when we return to New Deal policies and principles will this cultural (and labor market) degeneration stop.