Half Past the Month: Conceptually, We’re OK

May 13, 2016

POLITICIANS LOVE those architectural conceptual images — the brightly colored prints showing various official improvements in the Proletkult manner. They project civic tranquility and well-being but there also is the hint of the power in collective action. You will see a lot of them this election cycle.

There was one published in my hometown newspaper the other day. It encouraged the viewer to imagine what might be done, given enough money, with an area dominated by an ugly, abandoned, downtown railroad overpass.

Now, one of the reasons we love these architectural images is that they are generally financed up front (unlike the actual projects they depict) as part of a consulting package, Also, they are trouble free, so far.

This particular project is promoted as building on the past work of a world-famous architect who designed our much-touted art center and performance venue. The world-famous architect, accustomed to working in more temperate climates, specified a brick and mortar that did not weather well in northern Indiana.

As a result, for many years the art center/performance venue looked from the street as if it were falling apart. In front of it, fittingly enough, they placed a huge, ironic piece of orange Soviet-style girder art.

But in today’s image the brick work is flawless and the girder art has been moved to the rear. The homeless who used to sleep under the overpass have disappeared as if air-brushed away. The overpass stanchions are covered with imaginative designs.

And just to make sure we appreciate the full possibilities, there is a sampling of young, good-looking, middle-class citizens making use of the new space — jogging, strolling, swinging on swings, walking hand-in-hand, admiring the artistry, loving the day.

They could have used stick figures, perhaps they should have used stick figures. For the young, good-looking, middle-class citizens depicted often don’t look as if they belong. “Too good to be true,” says the mind’s eye. Sadly, such people are not that common here — or at least not as common as they once were.

A story in the same day’s news cycle reported that my city ranks second in the nation on a scale of communities hardest hit by the recession. Specifically, according to the Pew Research Center, in a four-year span it lost 11 percent of those pictured in the halcyon image. My city’s middle-class, hand-holding, strolling, jogging families ($54,000 to $161,000) are losing ground as a share of the population, and their share of aggregate U.S. household income is also declining.

Nonetheless, this project has attracted interest from more than 36 design firms in the United States and Europe. The renovations, cost undetermined, will boost downtown pedestrian “connectivity” and the total patron experience, increasing community gathering space and enhancing “ADA-approved” accessibility, according to the newspaper.

We are excited. If only it were possible to renovate the citizenry with the same precision and flare.

— Craig Ladwig



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