Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

A New Birth of Freedom

January 20, 2009

You have to really, really cling to an anti-historical ideology not to be excited today. I am currently in the ballroom of the 112 S, Michigan Avenue building, the 1908 Illinois Athletic Club by Barnett Haynes & Barnett of St. Louis (with a major remodeling in the 1910s?) where I am watching, along with a couple hundred other SAIC faculty, staff and students, the Inauguration.

Indescribable emotions. The only Chicagoan ever elected President. Perhaps the first preservationist – he was known for his support of preservation in the Illinois General Assembly and Michelle Obama was on the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. The first President of my generation after years of being the shadow of those Baby Boomers. Not to mention the whole African ancestry thing. So nice to finally put the lie to race, that artificial construct. Do you know that in the famous Supreme Court case upholding segregation – 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson – they couldn’t even tell Plessy was black by sight? I remember the excitement of electing Harold Washington Mayor of Chicago 25 years ago. I felt proud then and I feel proud now. Pride is a human emotion based on association, not biology. This Spring I am doing a series of community tour designs in various Chicago neighborhoods and one thing I have always noticed about people in communities is how they feel personal ownership and pride in their community history – even if that history had no direct connection to personal “heritage.” I remember being in Miami at my first National Trust conference 17 years ago, being auctioned off at the Preservation Action auction as a guide for a tour of Chicago’s Black Metropolis, complete with brunch at Gladys’, now sadly gone. This is my history too, and I know I will find that ecumenical outlook among the community activists we will be working with this Spring. I get excited about all sorts of Chicago history, about all the layers of history in these streets.

Do you think it’s just me? I get proud of places I have adopted, from Leeds to Weishan, and I boast about them. Maybe it is an American thing, a nation born as an idea more than a place, because the place was contingent and fugitive, even perhaps for the first Americans who came 14,000 years ago, and then for the denizens of Europe and Africa who followed more than 13,000 years later, framing a nation without a heritage, without a land or a race really, without all those artificial constructs the Enlightenment was promoting in order to grease the skids for capitalism and industrialization. A paradox, really, a nation founded on Enlightenment ideals that had no roots and struggled to make the sort of artificial roots the Enlightenment was promoting. Heck, Plessy v. Ferguson was a twisted attempt at those roots. How exciting to be here in a time and place to witness the historicity of an idea; the culmination of a promise.

I am fond of saying that all ideology is wrong, because it is static and history is dynamic. But there are ideas that motivate and inspire and have agency in history. They exist on both sides, those pushing us toward peace and unity and those pushing us toward division and hate. It is so very wonderful to see the good ideas arriving on the stage of history and the humanity that made this possible. Here he comes.

Obama Economic stimulus: getting it right

December 7, 2008

Yesterday President-elect Barack Obama announced a massive jobs stimulus package for the economy, which many have compared to Dwight Eisenhower’s federal highway building program of a half-century ago. While the scale of the comparison may be apt, it is essential that Obama’s team makes this a 21st century stimulus and not a repeat of the 1950s.
Investment in roads and infrastructure seems like a good thing, but there are limitations. Highway building only produces half the economic spinoff of building rehabilitation – preservation – for example. The reasons why are easy to see: it is a machine-and-material based job that kicks a lot of cash to concrete and surfacers. The ratio between labor and materials/machines is not nearly as favorable as building rehabilitation.
I would hope that some of the stimulus could be aimed at improving the rail corridors that have become so busy the last five years or so – the proposed expansion of CN along the Fox River valley is causing a lot of outrage, much of which could be addressed by that most expensive of infrastructure improvements: elimination of grade crossings.
Obama wants a lot of the jobs to be in environmental cleanup and energy efficiency, which is a good thing to want. Let’s make sure the produce-and-waste manufacturers don’t take charge and pervert the thing like they did with “green”. Fix things, upgrade things, improve things. Once you start replacing things and throwing out the old ones, you are repeating the mistakes of the old economy.
Obama also talked about upgrading federal buildings and schools with new heating systems and CF light bulbs. Again, a good idea, but let’s not make the obvious mistakes most homeowners have made: change all your lightbulbs and then buy a flat-screen TV that uses 5-6 times the electricity of your old one. No net gain in many situations.
Plus, we know from the General Services Administration that pre-1920 government buildings are ALREADY more energy-efficient than those built from 1930 to 2000. Historic buildings typically used 27% less energy than “modern” ones (pre-2000). The economics of the 1950s – what Eisenhower famously termed “the military-industrial complex” – favored waste. This was the period of single-glazing and energy inefficiency and it coincided with one of the rare times in history that energy was cheap: 1945-1973.
every-19thA few stats from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
– Building a 50,000 square foot building from scratch uses the same energy needed to drive a car 20,000 miles a year for 730 years.
– The Brookings Institution projects we will demolish and rebuild 82 billion square feet of buildings by 2030. If we saved just 10% of those buildings, we could power the state of New York for over a year. If we demolish them, we will landfill the equivalent of 2600 NFL stadiums.
– It will take up to 65 years for a new energy-efficient building to offset the demolition of an existing building.
The 21st century is the opposite of waste, so let’s hope Obama’s team incorporates preservation – the re-use of the good things we have and the employment of people to fix things that last, not things we throw away.

A New Day Dawns

November 5, 2008

grt-park11408-50As I have gotten older, I have been less concerned about being part of historic moments, but thanks to alums Mira Patel and Ben Roberts, both daughters Felicity and Alexandra were able to come to Grant Park with Mom and Dad last night and be part of an amazing moment in American history.
Alex as cheerleader for Obama

the girls were media hounds for local and foreign press

Felicity and Felicity dance in Grant Park while the whole world was watching. There was no fear, no panic, no chaos but hope incarnate and an American dream not deferred but realized.

When I was young I read comic books, and there was a Catholic comic, Treasure Chest, that ran a serial about the election of the first African-American president. I can still remember that comic book and last night I watched it come true.