Courtesy AP, via Huffington Post.
The crisis is being averted.That is the status of this summer’s big story as I write this on Monday
morning.The debt ceiling will be
raised, the government will shrink, and our debts will as well, or at least
that is the hope.
What strikes me as I look at it from a spatial perspective,
which is what I cannot help but doing, is how much we seem to be in the era of
shrink-wrapping. Space is contracting,
and every object and idea is now constrained and packaged ever more tightly. There are no big ideas in the Not So Grand
Compromise, no vision of how we will do things better in the future, and no
sense of new ways to go. There is only
cut, cap, and contain.
The visual images reflect and strengthen this message. Remember those shots of the columns of the
Capitol looming over the deliberative gentlemen Hollywood used to give us? Remember the crowds gathering in our Mall of
Demonstrations between the Classical monuments? Remember past presidents grandstanding in front of large projects or war
toys? In the last few weeks, we have
seen none of that. We have only received
tight shots of certain sections of Congress, its members never listening in
serried ranks, but rather chatting among themselves even as somebody faceless
drones on. When the President appears, he
is serious and dour, standing in the restricted space of the White House press room. You would think that the leaders would announce
their proposals and compromises in evocative settings—in front of crumbling
infrastructure, or a gleaming corporate headquarters unshackled by government
interference—but all we get is nameless conference rooms.
Architecture as a stage setting is obviously not necessary
anymore.That makes much of Washington,
D.C., useless, which is what many people think it is anyhow. We have already closed many military bases
and government facilities, perhaps the time will come that we will no longer
need all those hulks of bureaucracy that fill L’Enfant’s grids. We might also not need the Mall itself,
which, after all, is just empty space eating up tax dollars. Hell, the President could rent a nice condo
near Dupont Circle, and congress could meet in the Convention Center when it
needs to. It would probably be cheaper
to rent space for those times when the body needs to gather for what appears
more and more to be ceremonial purposes.
The same could happen with our parks, which are just fallow
land, and could be sold at a nice profit. The remaining military bases also just take up valuable land. The government obviously does not need all
that office space anymore, and it certainly does not need to subsidize housing
or provide any other services.
But why stop there? Get rid of state capitols, state parks, city halls and any social service
that takes up space. Privatize the
schools. The only things we really need
are jails, the places where we shrink-wrap those citizens who take too much
advantage of the new-found freedoms that this era of dissipation provides.
Things fall apart, the center will not hold, and so will sit
like an empty hulk, a tragic reminder of the great acts of democracy that once
took place there. They will become
ruins, tragic reminders of the society we built and then destroyed.
I remain a romantic. I want those useless buildings and open spaces, those places for endless
and seemingly senseless deliberation. I
am happy to see my paycheck shrunk every few weeks to finance this charade that
is democracy and the stage on which it takes place. Ask me for help, don’t just fold the tent and
let the armies of senseless shrink-wrapping lay waste to the edifices of