There’s an impenetrable wall in communities where it seems if you didn’t get in on the ground floor, you’re just living in someone else’s town.
I’ve only lived in Illinois, although I’ve lived in a lot of it, but it seems that wall comes about the mid-1800s. If you were born after that, you live in the shadow of the city father’s.
Which is a shame, really. Plenty of people have contributed to towns and cities since that time. But they weren’t there to plat the village, so they didn’t get to name the streets. They didn’t buy the land cheap, so when the town sprung up on it – it wasn’t named after them.
There are exceptions. A subdivision that went up where I grew up, sprouting garish, monstrous homes that all looked the same and would cost a small fortune to heat, named the streets from the developers.
But that neighborhood was never going to be the center of town, or of any sort of commerce or activity beyond people coming home at the end of the day.
No, it was the years just before the Civil War that seem to have formed the world we live in now. Even major cities from the time. In Galena you can still tour Ulysses S. Grant’s home, even though no one in Galena really knew who he was before the war. They gave him a house afterward, although he quickly moved to Washington, D.C., after he was elected president.
Chicago’s streets are named after presidents or any of the Great Lakes. A few Gilded Age meat packers have snick in, as have a few politicians of various reputations.
There seems to be a Golden Age each community looks back to. For Illinois, its those prosperous years right before the Civil War, but for the nation, it’s the prosperous years that came right after the Second World War. Those Norman Rockwell years.
It seems to come right before a big scarring event. Nothing was the same in Illinois after those men came back from fighting the rebellion in the South. America was never the same after the war in Vietnam.
I wonder if it’s possible to re-create the Golden Age. We can look back on the 1950s, but could we look back at the 1990s as well, before 9/11 and the War on Terror? They weren’t bad years. I had fun and there weren’t a lot of wars. Big ones, anyway. Well, big ones that involved Americans.
Not a lot of Americans, at least.
Truth is, I think we put a lot more emphasis on founders than they really deserve. Sure, some of them were visionaries, but a lot of it was just because they were first. How much should we value luck. George Washington got his position because he was the richest guy in the country (through marriage) and the only one with any real military experience from the French and Indian War. But he had a spotty record in that war, and it improved only a little in the War for Independence.
People say we should do what the founders wanted. No. No we shouldn’t. Depending on when and what was founded, they were probably not good people. Our country was founded by slave owners and smugglers who didn’t want to pay taxes. Towns were founded on land possibly or probably stolen from the Native Americans.
Even our corporations, who list and revere founders like quasi-deities, shouldn’t necessarily look to their founders as paragons of any sort of virtue.
Do you really want someone going through life asking “What would Mark Zuckerberg do?” No, no you don’t.
Instead, we need to understand that while we are only borrowing our world/town/company from the next generation, that’s no reason we can’t change it to suit our needs now.
The world today is different than the one of the 1950s. In many ways, it’s better – I’ve never had to build a bomb shelter in my backyard, for example. In a lot of ways, it’s worse – like I’m thinking of building a bomb shelter in my backyard, for example.
I’m just an armchair historian. I took a few classes in college, and read about things that interest me.
None of it was actually very practical – although if you need to know about Prince Metternich, I’m you’re guy, for some reason. History is a lens to look at the present with, but it isn’t the only one.
I say we start with renaming some streets.