"An empire remains powerful so long as its subjects rejoice in it"
"Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today."
-- Langston Hughes
I am getting depressed.
This is not being helped by my work assignment to go around Pagedale and document foreclosed and abandoned houses. Apparently there may (or may not) be enough money coming from the federal government to demolish or replace a third of the ninety some houses I have to visit in the upcoming days. Neighbors are rightfully curious and when I explain my purpose I realize that they want one of two things more than anything.
They want help in their current situation so they don't lose their homes.
This is the hardest.
No, I say this money is only for the government to do something about those that have already fallen. What can we do? Hope that the new president puts the country deeper in debt to China to extend a lifeline to these people? I recall Bob Hansman's charge to the freshman class I TA'd before we walked to Wellston: "There are no easy solutions to these problems. If there were they would be already fixed."
The second question is unspoken.
It is more of a plea to do something about the house next door which has been vacant/abandoned for weeks/months/years. Even if they are remaining afloat the presence of this house next door is slowly destroying the value of their greatest (and often only) asset. But there are certain criteria to decide which houses will receive attention. The pain is in the realization that the rest will continue to drag down the values of the neighborhood and afflict those who need help the most.
I awoke this morning to an impassioned plea on KWMU from my friend Michael Allen to not allow the built environment of the city to be desecrated as it was during the Regan economy and S&L crisis of the 80's. I hope that the city will be spared, but I also have grave concerns for the residents of neighborhoods such as The Ville, Hyde Park, College Hill, Carondelet and more in the current situation. As a result of my hometown I arrived here a militant urbanist for what little interesting urbanism Columbus had was precious and had to be defended at all costs. I have moderated as a result of numerous community meetings for different projects as I understand what many of these residents are up against. When the conflict comes down in the end to a truly honest divide between people and buildings I will side with the people. However, at this point, including the mass clearances for urban renewal in the postwar period, St. Louis has seen the erasure of something over 900 city blocks. Many more will probably fall in the upcoming years leaving precious little of the character of this adopted city I love intact.
So what to do? I mean I am helping in an absolutely trivial way.
Counting the bodies at the crime scene.
Maybe the monies and the efforts of Beyond Housing will help to stabilize Pagedale. Pagedale is only one community though. We need a president who makes the rebuilding of America a priority. Not just the retooling of industry or the realignment of production, but a complete overhaul of the way we spend money on our cities and towns, on our physical infrastructure, on our educational and social support infrastructure and on our standing in the world. We are a nation in economic, social and physical collapse. The American Dream as it has been practiced in the last half century itself is bankrupt.
We need a new deal.
Anything else would be fiddling while Rome burns...
At this point we must do everything we can to help each other and our country. We must lend our experience, our talent, our labor to our neighbors new and old and to our land.
or as Langston Hughes so beautifully wrote (and it still gives me goosebumps every time I read it):
"O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be"
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