Wall Street. Main Street. The Street. Shouldn’t all this trafficking in synecdoches be regulated in some way? The rhetorical devices are lagging behind the realities, and that means there’s a metaphor debt crisis looming in the future. That rhetorical bubble is bound to burst. Truth is, what once made Wall Street the physical, social and culture space that it was has decamped to Connecticut or Jersey. Main Street packed up for Route Whatever or Big Box Boulevard, leaving just a bit of itself behind, dressed now in quotes. Main Street became “Main Street.” It leads, of course, to “Towne Square.”
We’re left with streets as metaphors, because streets as real, vibrant, diverse, and beautiful civic places were among the first causalities of the automobile age. Before we knew it streets became roads and in late 20th century America all roads lead to home, but away from the city. It’s an old story, the post-war flight from the city, underpinned by centuries of cultural values but hastened and accelerated by deliberate policy as much as social crises. The engine that drove it--here metaphor and reality collapse—was fueled by cheap gas. For smart growth advocates, alternative fuel proponents and entrepreneurs, mass transit users the rise in gas prices this summer was cause for real optimism, even if it looked to the auto-addicted as schadenfreude. The last entry in our Time Core in the Green Community exhibition is the July peak price of $140 per barrel.
Of course, that’s all changed. Crisis over. Gas is cheap again so let’s dust off the SUV’s and get back to life as we knew it. Amidst all the other bad financial news, for me the darkest is the drop in gas prices. Now is the time for a gas tax. And, fortunately, I am not alone in that opinion. Allan Sloan wrote about the need for a gas tax in his recent “Deals” column in the Washington Post. (“A Danger to Detroit in Low Gas Prices”, (http://www.washingtonpost.com) His argument has more currency than mine as he’s a renowned economist, and I’m, well, not. He also makes it clear that he's not a “car-hating elitist,” proving the truth of the old Klingon proverb that only Nixon could go to China. An SUV driver calling for a gas tax has real credibility.
Unlike Mr. Sloan, I am a car-hating elitist, or at least a car-averse elitist.--I’m sticking with the elitist part—so my support for a gas tax has all the credibility of meringue, but I hope the planning and design community will make its voices heard over this. Economic downturns like the one we appear to be careening into hit the design professions hard. Architects my age know that the recent good times were an anomaly, while younger architects know nothing but good times. The profession has been so busy it’s been hard for clients to even get an architect’s attention. It’s easier in a recession…just hold your hand up, and say “waiter!”
Seriously, the street we should all be focusing on isn’t Wall Street or Main Street, it’s Green Street. This is an opportunity to break some bad habits and get our metaphors in shape.