Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Jul 5, 2006 6:32pm

people and the public

An excerpt from The Power Broker, Robert Caro's 1974 tombstone on Robert Moses:

Underlying Moses' strikingly strict policing for cleanliness in his parks was, Frances Perkins realized with "shock," deep distaste for the public that was using them. "He doesn't love the people," she was to say. "It used to shock me because he was doing all these things for the welfare of the people. ... He'd denounce the common people terribly. To him they were lousy, dirty people, throwing bottles all over Jones Beach. 'I'll get them! I'll teach them!' ... He loves the public, but not as people. The public is just the public. It's a great amorphous mass to him; it needs to be bathed, it needs to be aired, it needs recreation, but not for personal reasons - just to make it a better public."

I'm reading this to fill in some backstory to Death And Life Of Great American Cities. Aside from being a dramatic account of urban renewal and destruction, the world of the 1920's and 1930's is a perfect context for similar "social architecture" taking place on the web, right now. Net Neutrality, User Generated Content, and Social Software all gain historical continuity from this story. Perkins's quote above throws an especially harsh light on the ink spilled over (Stamen client) Digg, which is one of a few examples used by writers like Nick Carr and Scott Karp to demean the quality of user-submitted Digg stories, MySpace profiles, and blog entries.

The interwar years are fast-becoming one of my favorite historical periods all-around, partially because so many of the lessons of that time are being forgotten as that generation passes on.

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