Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Dead Cities

Thucydides came up here recently, and Thucydides fans (whoever else they may be; I'm imagining a gathering of men who look like the "historian" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail talking quite excitedly about the hoplite) will remember the section of his History of the Peloponnesian War that deals with the plague in Athens. Incidentally, Pericles' speech here is one of the highlights of Western oration (it was, of course, actually written by Thucydides). From the Chicago fire to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, to the recent hurricane, city disasters seem especially devastating- as if a place built so much in denial of nature shouldn't be visited by nature. But, Fernandez Arnesto notes that the destruction of "eternal" cities is quite common, and that our overpacked, outmoded and inefficient modern cities are particuarly vulnerable.

What he gets at here is something that is striking about cities like Buffalo- they're startlingly anachronistic. Like those tourist trap "Ol' West" Towns, many metropolises have become little more than a "living" reminder of what once was. Here's something strange to consider- the heyday of most American cities was the 1920s-1940s; the heyday of American suburbia was the 1950s- 1970s.

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