Over twenty-five centuries ago, the Greek philosopher Alcaeus accurately observed,
“Not house finely roofed or the stones of walls well-builded, nor canals and dockyards, make the city, but men able to use their opportunity.”
The “slums and slurbs” to which we have grown accustomed and have let bear the name and convey the image of “City” bear grim testimony to the ability we have exhibited.
We have the opportunity yet today to make cities that are worthy of the effort of centuries necessary to create our modern society of such alleged sophistication.
Such opportunity is not that of a dictatorial “my way or the highway” or “leave it to the experts”, “kill the suburbs” or “redevelop downtown just like Seaside or Beverly Hills or Boston” imposition of someone’s idealistic, utopian paradigm.
Opportunity for your community is not empowering a planning guru to determine which of your town’s cultural and historic icons are like dogs to be banned from their vision of your future. Have you ever seen the results of any of those impositions, over time, that was truly idealistic, truly utopian, or truly a paradigm worth aping? Truly your community – or someone else’s experiment, something they could not get adopted in another town?
Be honest! Be a skeptical empiricist! Don’t recycle their trash!
Instead, bravely claim and use an opportunity for a well-grounded, well-led (including by holding hands with both the like-minded and the contrary!) and historically informed community – your community and mine – to finally learn what few have learned since Alcaeus made his cogent observation, to reinvigorate the community in which we have been given citizenship, without remaking it in someone else’s graven image where we would dwell as aliens!
Begin by listening, seeing, learning, conversing and participating. Begin by not being swayed by the experts. As Mark Twain said,
“An expert is an ordinary fellow from another town.”
That is not a correct judgment in all cases, yet sets the tone. Trust but verify; do not let rubber stamp experts redefine or set the agenda for your community!
If you give up community history, culture, knowledge – “community” to their ministrations, you have also given up “opportunity” from the start. You’ve moved to their new town of Misanthropic Utopia without changing houses!
Let us make use of our turn at that opportunity. It is well worth the effort. If we do not fairly and with good intention begin, the opportunity for the worst to happen arises once again. Start today, with conviction. Do not let your community’s epitaph read like William Butler Yeat’s observation,
“The good lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”