I was surprised to learn recently that Sears Tower was being renamed.  What an obsession we Americans have for renaming buildings that have achieved historic and superlative status.  Does anyone think folks are going to call it anything other than Sears Tower?

It started me wondering about our monuments and institutions.  Old churches and libraries crumble and fall apart.  In many cases they weren’t well built in the first place.  Government buildings move to neighborhoods in the city’s “outer ring”, leaving giant American Gothic hunks to rot downtown.  America eats its old.  But it doesn’t let them get much past young to begin with.

Yet it makes some sense.  We aren’t Europe, where many 1,000 year old churches and town buildings are still going strong.  It isn’t merely a case of lust for the tourist trade, either, as folks often say.  Europeans preserve the past:  it is a matter of tradition.  Just as it takes many generations to create stable towns, and many more to cultivate and refine their institutions, it also takes a force of nature to destroy them, as the earthquake did in central Italy last week.  The Europeans don’t do it themselves.  On the contrary, they built our civilization.

We not only eat our young and old, but we do it with a certain gusto.  The newspaper businesses are crumbling as surely as old, dry-rotted, inner city schools.  We fail to see the “localism”—ironically much touted and championed by aging hipsters nationwide—disappearing before our eyes and being replaced by a “national” media that we stare at, slack-jawed, day after day.
In Seattle, the best of the two newspapers evaporated last month.  That’s because no local newspapers are viable.  We’ve finally become a nation, united under AOL, Google, Yahoo, and the TV tube.  It’s pretty disgusting, but so are a lot of things in the process of being made, such as legislation and sausage.  We’re finally becoming Europe, where they have mostly national newspapers and magazines, and only occasionally truly local ones—the opposite of our past and recent present.

What we lack are the steeples.  Mammon rules our cities, and is making some small progress even in Europe.  However, give us a few more centuries and I believe we’ll be about where Europe is today in terms of culture, refinement and preservation of our heritage.  Indeed, we might even get there sooner as far as our private gardens go.  Just ask The Garden Conservancy.  They need perhaps only 100 more years to become truly established.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 at 9:36 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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One Response to “Steeples”

  1. Sue Drummond said:

    Thanks as always for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

    I share your feelings on the renaming of the Sears Tower, but at the same time I wonder about the whole ‘naming thing’ and why we need to do it at all.

    From pasting the names of politicians on everything from parking meters to memorials, and renaming college football bowl games after snack foods, to putting corporate names on ballparks and swingsets, it seems that we’re just perpetuating the ‘me’ to the detriment of ‘us’.

    In my town there are ‘pocket parks’ placed at a couple of key gateways to the downtown area and you guessed it, the landscape designer had to place his name on the sign, taking credit for the beautification. I would hope for better from a gardener.

    I like the old days where we could describe what we were looking at (a beautiful garden), where we were (at the playground), and where we were going (to the ball park) without ever mentioning the sponsor’s name. Sadly, I think kids these days will never be able to appreciate that.


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