February 25, 2017 (Saturday)

by Yule Heibel on February 24, 2018

I’m seething with emotion – anger, frustration, a kind of dead-lift into ennui. Outside my window, a fog as deep and dense as my mental dullness smothers houses and horizons. It replaces the quite different meteorological situation of yesterday, although my emotional, roiling turmoil has stayed the same.

Perhaps it started – or at least got kicked into sharp relief – on the sunny, extremely-weirdly warm drive to the airport just after midday yesterday: the pure, unadulterated ugliness of our built form could not be ignored. The highways and roads, with their weed-disheveled borders, their garbage strewn gutters, their dilapidated and rusting and falling-down-every-which-way cheap, unpleasant and offensive chain link fences… It all felt so oppressive.

I had been thinking again about how badly we do infrastructure around here, with federal or state grants for shiny (emphasis on shiny) new (ditto, emphasis) projects, but with zero budgets allotted for long-term maintenance. After a decade or two, those formerly shiny projects not only don’t look new any longer – they have become a visual drag, an assault, on the aesthetics of the environment. There’s only so much “urban” (and, let’s not kid ourselves: it has spread very much and is also “suburban” and even “semi-rural”!) – there’s only so much romanticized “urban /suburban/semi-rural GRIT” anyone can take before judging it all an ugly pile of shit that needs to be flushed away. The uncared-for commons. The degraded commons. Unacceptable.

That is where I’m at when I have to drive Rt.1 or Rt.1A, when I need to drive through all those areas the bigger highways (Rts.128, 93, etc.) over-pass, blur past at 65m.p.h. At a slightly slower, interrupted by traffic lights and a stop-and-go pace, you see the decay, and it’s mind-blowing. It’s the absence of maintenance. It’s personal (look at many of the shitty houses which are rented out by someone who does nothing but collect the rent every month), it’s municipal, it’s state-wide, it’s federal. The only “protected” areas are those which essentially are gated communities, insulated by personal wealth and apartheid. The commonwealth, however, is degraded. Trashed.

The lack of maintenance is ordained by its absence as a line item in new infrastructure funding. We’re on the cusp of repeating that on a “yuge” scale, incidentally. After we dropped E. off and drove home via Rt.1A (we took Rt.1 going in), I just got angrier and more depressed. How can I continue to live here? We stopped at the Lynn Shore Drive, which is relatively new – and shiny, and absolutely beautiful (for now). But right at the much tonier Swampscott town line, the new stuff (newer sidewalk pavement, but especially new railings) stops and Swampscott’s older seawall and railings continue. Just like that. And compared to Lynn’s new ones, they look like shit: rusted, cracked, peeling, etc. Swampscott is a much wealthier community than Lynn; Swampscott is where Gov. Charlie Baker lives. But the commonwealth there looks down at heel. And that’s what the “new” Lynn Shore Drive infrastructure will look like in ten or so years, too. The maintenance won’t be there.

And who, I wonder, would do it, anyway? With the current fervor to deport immigrants and restrict access for new ones, who will do this work of cleaning and maintenance? Who wants to do it? (Especially if it’s barely funded…) Who picks the fruits and vegetables in California or Florida? And who picks up our garbage every week? Oh yes, let’s see “the robots” handle that, < insert bitter laugh! >. Not going to happen any time soon: I walk down the street into downtown, a route “owned” by the state, which is full of potholes and cracked and raised sidewalks, I walk past too many ugly houses which too many rent-seeking landlords fail to maintain, and I see the massive amounts of garbage, higgledy-piggledy, which even these “poor” Americans can afford to throw out week after week after week after week. It’s astonishing. On a windy morning half of their shit is blown (or simply falls) from overflowing, unsecured barrels and bins, into the road, where it doesn’t get collected by the trash collectors (they simply grab the barrels – it’s not their job to scoop up the crap that’s flying around), and where it contributes to our aesthetic decay. The remains (paper, plastic bottles, dog poop bags) stay on the sidewalks for weeks and weeks on end: the abutters and residents don’t care, the municipality doesn’t care. There are no trash pickers to collect that stuff by hand, everyone shrugs it off as the job of someone else, our commonwealth is increasingly trashed, the enemy is us.

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