October 09, 2005
Selling The Silverware

When the working body needs more vigor than can be produced by the lungs’ ongoing oxygen processing capabilities, the body can harvest huge amounts of previously stored energy directly from muscle tissue without using oxygen – but this is only a temporary fix, as the anaerobic energy process exacts a lactic acid toll that leads inevitably to pain, exhaustion, and, ultimately, failure. Much the same happens when a great nation chooses to meet its daily needs not by building new strength, but by relying on the works of the past.

Nicolai Ouroussoff on Katrina:

[That] only some of the old pumps, including two more than 90 years old, held up as the waters rose — testifies to the legacy of the great public works projects of the first half of the 20th century. It is also a melancholic reminder of how American cities are dying as our commitment to that urban infrastructure unravels. …

Mr. Martin said, “the two new pumps went out right away. They’re the most powerful. They sound like freight trains. Four of the old ones kept going all night. The original two pumps, those are the most reliable. I’d use those two before I’d use any of the others.” …

[I]t illustrates the degree to which the once-solid foundations of that system have become an illusion. For decades now, we have been witnessing the slow, ruthless dismantling of the nation’s urban infrastructure. The crumbling levees in New Orleans are only the most conspicuous evidence of this decline: it’s evident everywhere, from Amtrak’s aging track system to New York’s decaying public school buildings. …

By then, the great era of public works projects was essentially over, and the Army Corps of Engineers, once an emblem of America’s technological prowess, was soon reduced to patching up ancient projects with fewer and fewer resources. …

This represents more than a loss of nerve. It is an outgrowth of the campaign against “big government” that helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency 25 years ago. And it was fueled by uglier motives, including a latent fear of cities, a myth of the city as a breeding ground for immorality.

Eventually, those fears prompted cities to transfer chunks of the public sector to developers — through the creation of the public-private partnerships that have come to define the contemporary city. The results of that Faustian bargain are well documented, in particular the transformation of affluent urban neighborhoods into self-sufficient enclaves while other communities, dependent on faltering city services, were allowed to decay. …

Today, the true descendants of these visionaries are more likely to be working in the Netherlands or Spain than in a major American city. Bilbao, for example, may have gained cultural cachet from the success of its Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum. Yet the strongest evidence of the city’s enlightened planning is the enormous investment it made in a new high-tech subway system designed by the British architect Norman Foster. It’s hard to imagine a similar undertaking in an American city today …

And, P.S., why, exactly, is this article, the most important Katrina-related article published yet by NYT, buried in the Arts & Leisure section?


Posted by Wayne Uff at October 09, 2005 10:57 AM
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Because that's where Frank Rich was?

Actually, I'd guess they've filed the article under architecture.

Posted by: Joy on October 9, 2005 12:15 PM
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