I struggled for quite a while over the title of this post, going back and forth between what you see above, and just spitting out the very politically incorrect term that first came to mind, deciding ultimately that in the interests of avoiding white supremacist spam and dodging search engine inquiries from the less desirable neighborhoods of the interwebs, the former was the wise path. Either that or I’m just a chicken shit. This phrase, you know the one, commonly used in an earlier era to describe a tendency among some to over compensate for their lack of money by using what little they have to purchase flashy material goods rather than the more mundane necessities of everyday life, was unfortunately ascribed to a particular race of people and so has been justifiably banned from polite conversation. This tendency to play the peacock when your bank statement at the end of the month tells you in no uncertain terms that you are a Rhode Island Red used to be confined mostly to a lower end demographic economically speaking. In recent years however it has become normal behavior for much of the middle class as well and has even infected those who manage our municipalities, who on the taxpayers dime have determined that when times are fat, rather than saving for the thin times, that brand new Cadillac or BMW simply must be purchased if they are to be able to hold their heads high among their government peers in other cities and towns.
The picture above is of downtown Seattle’s Rem Koolhaas designed public library. Built in 2004 at the height of the internet boom for a cool 170 million in tax payer dollars, it was considered at the time to be an absolute necessity for Seattle in establishing its position as a world class city. Completed to much acclaim by the politicians who sold us the bond measures and by architecture critics who touted its ground breaking form as finally ridding Seattle of its provincial design habits and ushering in a more sophisticated European sensibility, it was less loved by the residents of the city who still had to drive the thing so to speak, and couldn’t quite figure out where the steering wheel and control pedals were located. Like most new things it held everyone in thrall until after a while the shiny finish began to dull a bit, the new car smell disappeared, next years model came along and then next years, rendering that which turned every head in the neighborhood just yesterday a bit dated. Finally the critics turned their backs and a new crop of politicians began pitching the next latest and greatest project that once and for all would convince the Jones’ of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami…that we were deserving of their respect.
Once upon a time the acquisition of things, particularly things that were unnecessary and were meant only to impress was considered to be a sign of bad character. Of being unserious. An indication of not being wise enough to recognize that life has its ups and downs, and that those who deferred immediate gratification usually ended up with enough to sustain themselves at the end, with maybe a bit left over to pass on to their children, while those who acted as if their money were burning a hole in their pocket died destitute. Take a good look again at the picture above, follow the links, and then reflect on just what the purpose of a good public library should be. Civic pride is to be admired, but when pride becomes envy and envy becomes a compulsive need to outshine the neighbors no matter the cost, ruin can only follow.