7/23/2023 12:08

Viva the backwater

Remembering who we wish we were and want to be is a positive good. What art our community can produce! How careful we often are of each other and the stranger in our midst. How hard we work to teach our young and to prepare for their futures! At times.

Then again a bit a chagrin at how far we have yet to travel is also good. Here in my home town there is plenty of opportunity for both sides to have play in the actual reality game.

In Fort Howard, the old west side, we have the symbolic memory of the sloughs. Slow water, exuberant life, and very little economic contribution characterized the sloughs, first and second. Our response was wagonloads of earth and rocks, truckloads of fill, middle grade residences, small and local commerce, a park, and most notably the railroad yards. Overall a provincial attempt at urban progress. Progress was made but the cost to nature was high and the benefits to urban society faded sooner than hoped.

More residential lots! But who will live by the railyard? The city grew but the success of the growth was constrained by the wet ground and the coal smoke, by the noise and the traffic of commerce and industry. New business and more jobs! But soon constrained by the surrounding development on all sides.

The sloughs seem symbolic to me of the high hopes and thin planning characteristic of middle north american provincial thinking.

On the east side similarly there is the university. High hopes indeed as civic boosters lobbied for the local junior college to graduate into senior status: full university title and recognition, a greenfield campus, an educational attraction drawing regional students into town and keeping local students near to home, resident expertise to assist business and industry, a world-class contribution to the reform of secondary education. Such high hopes.

Such thinness in execution: The master plan for integrated and partly earth-sheltered architecture which endured for the first 2 buildings. The master plan for environmental focus which endured until the site was chosen. The master plan for a forward-looking and integrative educational design which lasted until graduates were asked by potential employers what their major was. (My own degree in "Analysis-Synthesis" is illustrative.) The master plan for community integration which lasted until academic administrators were hired.

Middle north american provincial society is self-mocking. One need only describe us clearly in order to crack a joke. But there is another side to that: Most of the people who live here are here because we are not too much upset by the perpetual muddling and are comforted by the incessant hopefulness. In actual reality most people who live here keep choosing to live here.

A bit of satisfaction; a bit of chagrin. They show up everywhere but maybe both are a little more clear around the sloughs.