Recently I was at a lecture with a couple different design professionals and one of them (bless his little heart) stated something that I believe should be tattooed on more than one designer/developer’s head: “We are designing America’s future historic districts.” How powerful is that? Too often those who are in charge of designing and building our new spaces and places can’t see past the potential profit they stand to make. A quick look at materials and construction methods will clearly show that they clearly are not concerned with the longevity of the project. But let’s just say these cookie-cutter-cracker-jack-boxes survive into the next 100, 200, or even 300 years, what will they say about life in America in the 2000s? What cultural and social clues will future generations learn from these buildings? I can’t even begin to fathom or comprehend the fact that one day school children may visit Ye Olde Wallyworld where re-enactors in blue vests greet them at the door and show them all the crazy things their ancestors used to buy (“and these q-tips came all the way from China kids on boats and planes but the cotton came from India. Of course this is what they used before ionic ear cleaners…”)
Now, of course, to have an accurate view of history you need to preserve both the good and the bad, brutally and honestly; otherwise, you get a false sense of what the past really was. Sure those historic buildings and gardens at Monticello are much more elaborate than what people have today, because hell, I’d have the nicest house on the block if I had a couple hundred people who willing took care and maintained it for free. And sure Germany, Poland, and other European countries have pretty fields full of flowers and soft soft grass at places like Auschwitz…almost as if there is a lot of rich organic matter beneath the ground fertilizing them. I think you can see my point. So it is important to save the good along with the bad (in this case the poorly designed and executed). But when the bulk majority of what our society is creating just makes you want to shake you head and sigh disappointedly, its hard not to write a letter to the future apologizing and explaining that we were not all commercially shallow people who lived in identical houses on identical streets in identical sprawling towns. If nothing else, perhaps we can start designating well-thought out and sensitive developments as historic at their ribbon cuttings, thus ensuring we have some good representation in the future.