Thursday, August 07, 2008
One job fair down. One to go. Some emailing to do. People to meet. Dismuke to the rescue with material for a quick post! (He's been fairly active lately, so stop by there if you haven't in awhile.)
Pursuant to yesterday's post on an art deco building that houses a Sears -- and could well serve as a metaphor for the current state of its whole business -- Dismuke pointed to a YouTube video excerpt from a British movie "that just oozes with art deco". Elaborating further, he says:
The set designs are a fun little visual reminder of a time when the word "modern" had positive aesthetic connotations of excitement, elegance, grandeur and glamor. Outside the realm of technological advances, the term "modern" in the context of today's culture has become a dreaded and almost dirty word for rational people with standards and good taste. It is a term that has increasingly become synonymous with the worst sort of nihilism - which, of course, is completely incompatible with and looks down on excitement, elegance, grandeur and glamor.Later in the day, he emailed me a link to a site about art deco architecture in Houston filled with examples of the architecture of that time (indexed by decade), including a better shot of the same Sears building. Even laundries and gas stations could be handsome buildings back then!
I love the site, but find that I may have to purchase the book it advertises used, if I decide to do so. Why? Because it is being published by (and will likely fund) an organization that, in the name of preserving a few old buildings, is advocating public policies that are exactly the opposite of what made these buildings possible in the first place -- or will permit them (or something even better) to return in force one day:
GHPA [The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance] works with Houston City Council, the Houston Archeological and Historical Commission, the Houston Planning Commission, the City of Houston Planning and Development Department and other public entities to promote historic preservation in public policy.This may sound inoffensive and harmless -- until one considers the only possible meaning of "working with" the government to "promote historic preservation as public policy." (For the record, Dismuke was not advocating preservation as "public policy".)
The government is the sole social institution that can legally use force against ordinary citizens. The proper function of this institution is to protect individual rights (which include the right to property), but the government is increasingly being used for anything but that today. In this case, the "dictator fantasy" peculiar to the preservationists is that they will succeed in forcing people to abide by their standards of what constitutes a building worth preserving.
So they short-sightedly support and attempt to pass legislation that will make it impossible for property owners to use their own land and buildings as they see fit. A short look at their own link to the Sears building immediately demonstrates the foolhardiness of this approach!
In the 1960s, Sears "updated" the store with aluminum siding and bricked the ground-floor display windows. Rice University now owns the property and leases the building to Sears. The store is threatened by the proposed construction of a Metro transit center. [bold added]While it is true that the property's original owner vandalized it himself, much of its original grandeur could still be reclaimed easily.
So, if your goal is to preserve beautiful architecture, which way could best insure that such a property is brought back, if ever? Insisting on (and working for) a return of full government protection of property rights and raising funds to buy and restore it? Or entrusting the government with its protection, when it may decide -- as it has here -- that some undefinable "common good" outweighs the architectural value of this building and that it should therefore be demolished? If the government were in the business of consistently protecting such individual rights as private property, this kind of "endangerment" would be taken completely off the table. Furthermore, while efforts to save an individual building here or there would inevitably fail, we would be free to protect or build as many others as we like.
Brian Phillips, commenting on the American Planning Association, an organization that may or may not be tied to the GHPA, sounds a similar note to mine regarding their agenda of enforcing what it hopes is an enduring, popular consensus on everyone at the point of a government gun:
Consider the results if Thomas Edison had suspended his own judgment and submitted his ideas to a vote. His genius would be subject to the whims and decisions of others, including the ignorant and ill-informed. The truth that he saw was not seen by others, and had he left the decision to them, the world would have remained in self-imposed darkness.If one really cares about returning to an age of excitement and glamor, he will work to bring about constructive cultural change -- for example, by persuading rational minds that architecture needn't and shouldn't be ugly or boring -- as well as working to bring back the political freedom of capitalism that made such an age possible in the first place, and will make an even better age possible in the future.
P.S.: Dismuke and Galileo make some very good comments below. Also worth perusing are Galileo's posts on preservation.
Today: Added P.S. with link to posts at Galileo Blogs regarding "preservation" efforts that serve only to corrode freedom.