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The Shape Of Things Practically Here

June 2024
2min read

Fable for City Planners

Once upon a time there was a young republic and it Thought Big. It was located in a big new country which was almost empty of people except for a scattering of Noble Red Men. The government of the republic needed a capital, a place for its head man to live, a legislative hall for talking, and offices for the army, the navy, the treasury, and whatever else they thought of next, such as the Bureau of Urban Dislocation in the National Resources Division of the Department of Health, Wealth, and Wisdom (BUDNRDDHWW). But the government was suspicious of cities, especially old cities. Cities tend to have mobs. As a matter of fact, the government had just been chased out of the last capital by a mob of soldiers who wanted their back pay for winning the war that had made the place a republic.

And so the head man, the Father of His Country, picked out a place for a new capital. It was a bosky dell (opposite page, top), very bosky in summer, by a sluggish river. It was handy to his place farther down the river. And he got a friend, a Frenchman, to lay out a classic town in the wilds. The Frenchman thought big too. There he is, surveying. And over at the right is an abandoned ship, which appears symbolically to show that the people of this republic have come from abroad, and mean to leave behind forever the fetid slums of the Old World. The Noble Red Men, however, are not as optimistic about the future. Three white men is fetid enough for them, and they are jumping off cliffs to their deaths. This was an aboriginal way of expressing permanent disapproval. We now turn the page, signifying the passage of about one hundred and seventy-five years.

The city in our fable grew and grew. Of course it was a fictional place but it came by i 966 to look more and more like Washington, D.C., its landscape bursting with noble memorials and great marble buildings to house the lawmakers and demonstrators and anti-demonstrators and the hundreds of thousands of absolutely essential employees who saw to it that the army marched, the navy sailed, the pickets got whatever they wanted, and the treasury was full of some kind of money. We have not forgotten BUDNRDDHWW, renamed Project Surge, which by now occupied a Corinthian temple, nine “temporary” annexes, and a converted warehouse. You can see its temporary buildings, the row of low fifty-year-old structures abutting the reflecting pool. Planning was a big business now, and the head man was running it personally. You can see him in the right foreground, waving a western hat at the multitude, his wife by his side. His residence has been beautified with a statue, and across the pool an iron ball is knocking down some old brick houses that block the view of a new cloverleaf out of the picture at left.

Beauty was the watchword now, that and historic preservation; whole blocks of buildings were being torn down to make room for the new high-rise Save-Our-History Building and its i oo-acre parking lot. Everybody drove, of course, and the traffic, as you can see, was fierce, but the new go-lane Beauty Thruway, just coming off the boards, was expected to solve all that.

Only a rear guard, in fact, really seemed to worry about the future of the city, and they are represented, in the center foreground, by our old friend the Frenchman. There he is fighting off a lot of politicians, developers, and real-estate men, who are telling how great and forward-looking and how really beautiful Pelion Heights Homes will look just above Ossa Acres.

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