Alan Pogue BOOKS & THE CULTURE No Exit Is There a Cure for the Highway Blues? BY CHAR MILLER DIVIDED HIGHWAYS: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life. By Tom Lewis. Viking. 354 pages. $27.95. THE CITY AFTER THE AUTOMOBILE: An Architect’s Vision. By Moshe Safdie, with Wendy Kohn. Basic Books. 187 pages. $24.00. rill homas Jefferson of Monticello was suspicious of cities. In Notes on the State of Virginia his patriotic articulation of the rural virtues of the new republic, he scorned the urban energy that the industrial revolution was then unleashing in London and Paris. Americans, living in an edenic land of agricultural plenty, had no need to replicate the Old World’s experience. “For the general operations of manufacture, let our workshops remain in Europe,” he asserted. “It is better to carry provisions and materials to workmen there, than bring them to the provisions and materials, and with them their manners and principles.” It was the corrosive impact of urban sensibilities on democracy he feared most of all. “The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.” Jefferson would change his mind, but only because of the threat that the War of 1812 posed to the nation’s survival; as historians Morton and Lucia White observed in The Intellectual Versus the City this led him reluctantly to accept “the city as an indispensable element of American life.” Without it, and the domestic manufacturing it generated, the sovereignty of the United States would have been fatally compromised, and that was something the former president would not countenance. Those who now would oppose urban economic development, he wrote a friend in 1816, “must be for reducing us either to dependence on … foreign nation[s], or to be clothed in skins, and live like wild beasts in dens or caverns. I am not one of these.” But neither was he persuaded that a citified future was a healthy prospect for the country he had helped to found. Were we completely to pattern ourselves after Britain or France, we would carry on business “with one half of the world at the expense of eternal war with the other half.” As necessary as commercial centers were, the conflicts they engendered must be avoided. That is why he concluded that it was still better for Americans to continue to adapt “our policy and pursuits” to our “agricultural capacities,” for that “is more likely to make us a numerous and happy people, than the mimicry of an Amsterdam, a Hamburgh, or a city of London.” It is good thing, I suppose, that Jefferson did not live to see just how thoroughly suc ceeding generations have imitated, even surpassed, the European society and economy that so troubled him. But he might be comforted to know that his ambivalence about urbanization, and his worries concerning the consequences that would flow from an industrialized society, are integral to late twentieth-century critiques of those emblems of the modern, post-industrial city: the automobile and the freeway. The title of Tom Lewis’ book, Divided Highways, updates the Jeffersonian concerns. So too does the text’s close focus on the physical impress of our historic westering impulse, epitomized by “paths, roads, turnpikes, and canals in the eighteenth century; railroad track in the nineteenth; and an ever-increasing number of wide roads and streamlined highways in the twentieth.” In these “signatures of civilization,” he argues, Americans have written down their “notions of progress and above all speed.” 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 13, 1998
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