27 June 2008

Civil vs Militaristic Urban Design

This rant is from an email list I am on. I have blocked a name or two to protect the innocent, but it is a continuation of a debate between some urban designers about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the right to keep guns in the house. This might me too obtuse for some readers of my blog, but I throw it out there anyway because there are some important themes:
....I ... disagree with the interpretation by the Supreme Court mostly on the grounds that it edges us further toward a personal property right vs. a civil right of the People (capital P) to bear arms for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a Militia, solely because it expands this uncivil architectural trend.

That is (for one example only), the guard rails, highway signs and type faces, turning radii, fences, scrub landscape and overpasses of the Eisenhower roadway system (and now much of our secondary road system) is far different aesthetically than, say, Britain’s. It has to do, first, with the role of arms in America, and not the turning radius of the Bentley. And this role has evolved, it has advanced, and it has, in fact, changed our built environment, whether you see it in your personal commute or not.

Why else is the national park service at liberty to have a completely different, more civil roadway designs? And the Parkway system in America, which for a time elevated automobile travel to a civil, aesthetic experience, was halted primary on the grounds that our highways must facilitate military maneuvers, as was rightly pointed out.

xxx has spent a lifetime fighting the DOT, which had become in effect, through their militaristic designs standards, an arm of the military, acting AGAINST the very second amendment rights of the People to be protected to live their life without intervention of the government.

We could look at the militaristic design of many aspects of America, and yes, WalMart is at the top of my list, and not just because they sell guns. They have physically removed civility, fulfillment, and joy from the marketplace. Also on the list would be public transportation infrastructure, public housing, post offices, airports, college campuses, and much else that the Federal government has built since WWII. These all veer toward utility with no delight.

For the record, if we are to understand it, here it is: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This confirmed the People’s right to be protected, and to form militias to protect themselves, not to collect guns. The Bill of Rights nowhere gave us STUFF. The Bill of Rights was confirming God-given rights of action and control, not that we should all have rifles, or a chicken in every pot, or health care. It is NOT a property right. As we have covered previously on this list, the People are the Government ...

If we are to design our world as if the enemy has won, well, then, he has already won. And if this is the case, the right of the People to a protective Militia - strong enough that they can freely live in a civilized, non-militaristic society - has been infringed, or at least seriously compromised. This is NOT the Platonic or Aristotelian City I understand our best thinkers to be directing us toward.
-David R


Anonymous said...

The comment about the American parkways is interesting because this effort is often related to the City Beautiful Movement, which drew heavily from Haussmann's plans in Paris, which had very militaristic intentions, but also aesthetically to be symbolic of civic unity.

The City Beautiful Movement was spearheaded by the aristocratic businessmen who where interested in protecting their investments from the encroaching social ills associated with city life.

Point being that something as simultaneously civic and militaristic as the City Beautiful movement that happened a century ago might have a new use today with regards to urban design. The emphasis on aesthetics might need to be rethought, but it is interesting.

CityKin said...

Police control of the city (straight boulevards in Paris) is different than the militaristic as described here, I think. However, the wide, straight boulevards, punctuated by grand patriotic monuments is not what makes Paris or DC a great city. Look at the Arc d'Triumph, ...in a traffic circle, gross.

The purveors of the City Beautiful Movement may have been interested in protecting their financial interests, but in the process, they created many public parks, monuments and libraries, open to the masses. It strived for a greater public good, and I think we could learn a lot from looking at what they did.