Thursday, November 01, 2007

Space or civility?

This week's New Yorker includes "Digitization and its discontents," which begins with one of those charming and amazing recollections of the good old days at the N.Y. Public Library on Fifth Ave. and Forty-second Street. "In 1938, Alfred Kazin began work on his first book, 'On Native Grounds.' The child of poor Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, he studied at City College. Somehow, with little money or backing, he managed to write an extroardinary book, setting the great American intellectual and literary movements from the late nineteenth century to his own time in a richly evoked context. One institution made his work possible ... 'Anything I had heard of and wanted to see, the blessed place owned ...'"

The rest of the article goes on to speculate that the digitization of printed matter will soon render the blessed place obsolete. We will have gained something as well as lost something.

But it is mostly lost anway, Google or not. The LA Times describes libraries in L.A. today as places of thuggery and assault where security guards are required to keep the peace ("Refuge for readers can be risky.")

Public spaces in America are not what they once were and do not compare favorably with their European counterparts.

There are always push and pull forces that work together to keep us away.

Planners and others plead for "more open space" but it is not a matter of acreage or square feet. It requires civility which has receded in too many places and which the open-space advocates never mention.