ustxtxb_obs_2004_11_05_50_00027-00000_000.pdf

Page 19

by

Visit us on the [email protected] Radio De La Comunidad WWW.koop.org Pros ra 14.t. t4,0 Di.Versitu For A Cy ituya LLj i,vers e P.O. Box 2116 Austin, TX 78768-2116 Community Radio is most deeply rooted in the trans-Mississippi West. That 70 percent of the book’s photographs are from this region underscores the need to articulate why this peculiar pattern of urbanization has become so dominant. Here’s a start. Because the automobile first rolled down the dusty streets of Dallas, Denver, and Portland not too long after the original trolley cars clanked down their respective Main Streets. Streetcar suburbscompact grids framed around the needs of customers who walked to and from home and shop to ride the rail, long a standard in eastern citieshad little time to take hold. A pedestrian life was even briefer still in the mirage metropoli of Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, whose desertscape land-booms occurred well after the automobile was ascendant. Why walk when you can ride? Steve Martin offered up a brilliant parody of automobility in L.A. Story his shrewd joke was about 70 years too late. In 1926, the Southern California Growth Machine, a collection of boosters comprising automobile dealers, newspaper publishers, construction executives, engineers, and publicists, crushed support for a bond election to fund elevated railways. An editorial cartoon in the Los Angeles Examiner, which, oddly, backed the rapid-transit bond, inadvertently explained why the vote was doomed. Entitled “Own a Car? If Not, Why Not?” its foreground contains a Craftsman cottage nestled within an Acadian landscape, with children gazing at a stylish convertible ready to carry them “across the city to the country;’ under a rainbow of “Health and Happiness.” The car, by reinforcing white middle-class flight patterns, set its owners free. Ever since, the suburban rush has been on. Its energy has been fueled by a massive in-migration to Houston and Sacramento, Tulsa and Tucson, a demographic surge that began in the Great Depression as farmers and ranchers hit hard times and moved into surrounding urban centers. The demographic shift accelerated rapidly with the tremendous federal spending in defense industries during World War II and the Cold War, luring more country folks to the bright Although Hayden calls her work an “illustrated vocabulary of sprawl,” it might just as well be sub titled a Baedecker of Bad or a Michelin of Mess, for it covers our troubled terrain from A to Z. lights. Some of this migration was cityto-city. Brooklyn suffered most of all, losing its famed naval yards and the Dodgers to the west coast and much of its aging population to Florida. The New York borough’s collapse mirrored a national trend. Between 1970 and 1990, the south and the west, which make up the Sunbelt, grew exponentially. Western population soared from 35 million to 53 million; southern population swelled from 63 million to 85 million, for a total of 40 million new residents. By contrast, the east grew a mere two million. The nation’s economic engine, electoral clout, and political power had Gone To Texas \(and places much like Yet what might have been an apotheosis has turned into an apocalypse. To understand how this has happened, Hayden argues, we need to read “the visual culture of sprawl…as a material representation of a political economy organized around unsustainable growth.” By this claim, she situates Field Guide within a venerable tradition of urban-reform literature that has emanated from such writer-activists as Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, and Peter Blake, Joel Garreau and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Each has compiled a lexicon of loss that has framed their pleas and proposals to recreate the face-to-face, intimate communities of early modern Europe. For them all, The City of Angels is no City of Lights. To remake Los Angeles into Parisa neat trickwill require an educated and engaged population that knows deplorable design when it sees it. Hayden’s hope is that her small book will have just that outcome, “sharpening citizens’ and professionals’ ability to critique bad building patterns” so that they can “visualize positive changes!’ Naming the problems, identifying solutions, taking action: Only when we move through the three stages of activism we will be in a position to demand the creation of “public spaces, scaled for women, men, and children, accessible to all;’ more valuable because they will “nurture fundamental social connections!’ As it regenerates urban life and reinvigorates the body politic, this anti-sprawl campaign also will rehabilitate our deteriorating physical health. If all goes according to plan, cities no longer will be a form of corporeal punishment. Char Miller teaches environmental and urban history at Trinity University. He is the author of Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas, and editor of 50 Years of the Texas Observer. 11/5/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27