(Note: This was originally written as my first blog post on OpenSalon (account no longer active) February 6, 2009, where it was selected as an Editor’s Pick and People’s Pick.)
I have only a few fond memories of growing up in Colby, Kansas in the 1960s. Actually, I was raised on a wheat farm about three miles north of this all-white, conservative rural community of a few thousand souls.
Summers were hot, dry and dusty. My brother and I would ride our bicycles most afternoons to cool off at the municipal pool. After dropping our dimes on the counter and getting a wire basket for our street clothes, we’d veer left to the men’s dressing room, while women and girls went to the right.
Even then everything about the place seemed old, because to a 12-year-old it was. Built in 1935 as a WPA project,
the swimming pool has been updated and is still in use. [Update: the old swimming pool was finally replaced in 2011]
I’m reminded of those carefree times today, when I read of how some folks are opposing a big infusion of government spending to stimulate the economy by calling it “socialism”.
Salon.com’s Mark Shone recently posted a slideshow of memorable projects undertaken during the great depression. Many of these bigger-than-life constructions continue to serve millions of Americans, such as the Lincoln Tunnel in New York, or Tennessee’s Norris Dam, which still provides electricity for 8 million customers in the South.
Those accomplishments are impressive, but watching this current debate reminded me of the stories I was told as a kid of the WPA and CCC projects undertaken in lil’ ol’ Colby during this same period. This historical recollection of the depression and dust bowl there is quite an interesting read.
Colby has no fewer than four WPA projects that are still in use today, not including that damnable viaduct-sans-bicycle-lanes that has since been torn down.
(note: I was unable to find photos online for some of these buildings, but incredibly, they can be viewed via google’s “street view” camera, so I’ve posted links.)
If it were not for these WPA projects, I would not have been born in a then-”modern” hospital:
I would not have been able to attend high school in this building:
Nor could I have gone swimming all summer long for less than a dime a day while Mom worked in Dad’s insurance office a few blocks away.
Only now, as an adult, can I be impressed with the architecture of another WPA feat–City Hall, the only native stone commercial building in town.
That all of this was accomplished in one small rural community of a few thousand people in Northwest Kansas during the “great depression” is, frankly, astounding. I now realize how much I took for granted as a youth.
If this is an example of “socialism”, then an Obama-proposed stimulus plan scares me not at all. What I do worry about is whether we Americans still have the ability and the will to use this opportunity to create such incredibly diverse, functional and enduring structures for future generations.