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Old Libraries, Off-Ramps & Outlets

We are in the midst of a lengthy tailspin into incompetence and mediocrity. We are unable to do anything, or at least not well.

Look around Mendocino County. See the decline. Where once local citizens were able to build roads across mountains connecting Ukiah valleys with coastal villages, today we can’t even keep the roads open and passable.

What makes this doubly difficult to understand is that today we have hordes of professionals in agencies dedicated to building roads, and they’ve all given up. The task of keeping Orr Springs Road open is just too daunting. Having a few lanes open on Highway 101 is now all we expect from CalTrans.

If someone were to propose our local transportation department build a road from anywhere to somewhere else using all the heavy machinery and newest techniques based on thousands of years of knowledge about building roads, people would laugh, none harder than employees at the transportation department and the Board of Supervisors.

In the old days they had farmers, loggers, tractors, Italian and Chinese laborers and determination. Today we have federal funding, county roads departments, CalTrans, earth moving equipment and lawyers filing lawsuits.

Go drive your Tesla over Fish Rock Road next week to see what the old-timers were able to do, then ask yourself why it’s impossible for today’s bureaucrats to fix a few potholes and paint some lanes. 

It’s not just roads. The county had beautiful libraries (check out the Carnegie Library, now a real estate office at State and Clay streets, or in Willits, now an arts facility). Today we can’t even keep a library open unless we raise our taxes.

Or the courthouse. Every old photo of Ukiah court buildings that stood a hundred and more years ago shows a stately, majestic structure with towers, turrets and grand stairways. 

Today, architecture has fallen to a profession of advisors to consultants of cheap box builders and the result is rectangular crates made of plywood and sheetrock. All thoughts of beauty and grandeur were tossed out decades ago. 

It means our cities, from Ukiah to Ypsilanti, are mostly collections of off-ramps, outlets, strip malls, schools that look like business plazas and the same shiny skyscrapers whether you’re in San Jose, Singapore, Sao Paolo, Tokyo or Toronto. 

Public art, displayed where citizens gather, has gone from grand monuments and beautiful sculptures to free-form abstract horrors welded from scavenged landfill debris and given obscure, meaningless titles. Our stately monuments are torn down and dragged through the mud by leftist mobs. In 1969, working for the Cleveland Press, I covered the destruction of Rodin’s “The Thinker” via a bomb planted by an anonymous protest gang.

Or compare a typical university campus from 100 or more years ago to any college facility built since the 1950s. Now weep. Housing has suffered a similar fate. Gracious tree-lined suburbs once encircled the nation’s big, pretty cities; many of those homes still stand unless bulldozed for public housing.

Now suburbs sweep up slopes and down valleys in a matter of weeks. They overrun landscapes with little boxes on hillsides, made of ticky-tack, all looking just the same. Yet even bland suburbs are better than what political leaders have in mind for tomorrow.

The future will include the seductive but spurious promise of free housing for everyone because, as the next slogan you’ll be asked to repeat goes, “Housing is a Right!” But the housing won’t even be ticky-tack or with a yard of one’s own. 

Free housing is public housing and public housing is government housing and if you want to know what government housing looks like go check out the huge, ghastly apartment-style monstrosities churned out since the 1950s and thrown up in Detroit, Cleveland, SF, LA, and other places where fortunate citizens get to live in free barracks, along with hundreds of other families who also don’t have to pay rent. 

Get in line, you lucky dog. Your rent-free unit is on the 33rd floor, elevators presently and perpetually broken. 

Our cars all look alike and for all I know their parts are interchangeable. Maybe they all come off the same assembly line. The only way to tell a Toyota from a Taurus or a Hyundai from a Honda is by squinting at the nameplates. 

But, you say, cars are built better today and last longer and have cool stuff like infotainment centers and eight-speed transmissions. So What? Name a product that sells millions a year and that’s been around more than a century that hasn’t been greatly improved in some way or another. Just don’t put “styling” and modern cars in the same paragraph about improvements.

Of course many things are better. You, me and the world have instant access to music, commentary and instant social media hookups that dazzle us daily. The technology is, as we are able to faultily comprehend it, magic.

The result in adding to global knowledge, of brain-boggling medical advances, our ability to probe the stars above and oceans below, is quite beyond common understanding.

Yet for all this, bedrock human principles anchored in faith, honor, wisdom, love and glory are in decline, abandoned to dusty shelves in old libraries we no longer visit.

One Comment

  1. Kathleen Gordon-Burke June 22, 2021

    This has long been my thinking as well. I crave the beautiful architecture of the past and deplore the boxes we now build. If it could be done a hundred or more years ago and still be in use today, look at Englands architecture of a century ago, we should be able to do the same now. It is a shame we have lost our glory.

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