and the life of a county clerk
I was also happy to see a New York Times editorial a few days ago:
A coalition of Internet publishers and others interested in defending the public domain argued in the Supreme Court this week that Congress's latest copyright extension went further than the Constitution's language permits and also failed to achieve the founders' goal of promoting art and science. They are right, and the court should hold the law to be unconstitutional.
Whatever the future direction of copyright law, it's critically important that Congress not be allowed to make copyrights perpetual, either explicitly or on the installment plan.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum.
Bad news from Boise. An anguished correspondent from Idaho writes:
In Boise our officials are allowing developers to tear out 2 full blocks of historic homes and an old school from 1894, which are all inside a national historic preservation district and a local historic conservation district. Century old trees are being killed as well, all for some generic box apartments and parking lots. Some of these old buildings are one of a kind. The location of the destruction rips into the safety, continuity, and function of the remaining neighborhood. The pain and loss is worse because there are 47 city blocks of redevelopment land available just within a stone's throw. We are all fearful of the precedents being set to destroy block after block of heritage. The city refuses to respond to questions about where they will draw the line, the preservation and conservation designations apparently having no value.
The developers have already stated that they intend to encroach further into this historic neighborhood, tearing down modest historic homes to build much larger and more expensive ones. Ironic that we aren't allowed to make changes to the fronts and sides of our homes, yet developers can come in and tear down houses and build new ones with vinyl windows, cheap siding, and bad roof pitches. Investing in Boise was one of the worst decisions in our lives, a decade of full out assaults by officials and developers. Greed determines everything here. Schools, children, neighborhoods, and heritage are given no value whatsoever. The air quality is getting bad enough that we will have to leave anyway, but we grieve for what this city used to be, and might have been.
Good luck to all of you who fight to save old places and authentic character. I feel driven out of my mind with the endless and senseless brutality and waste. In the case of our old neighborhood, it has been very much like seeing someone you love deliberately hacked to death, a prolonged agony. There is a term, Schadenfreude: "To take malicious satisfaction in the misfortune of others." This is what we are experiencing from too many local officials and developers, several of them constantly telling us they plan to bulldoze our homes and gut the neighborhood. At times the threats and stress becomes unbearable. Many have fled, leaving their homes standing vacant. The officials aren't even trying to go around the edges of the neighborhood, or respecting the function of what is here, instead choosing to rip the very heart out and to degrade every single school environment and pedestrian route. We are filled with the pain each and every day these many long years, with conditions getting worse every single month, every single year....
Some more about Boise's process:
As far as I saw in the testimonies and paperwork we picked up, not a single historic preservationist provided any information for the hearings regarding the destruction of the 1894 Whittier School and the vintage houses behind it. I know several of them care about the school and the negative changes that will occur all around it when torn down, so am not sure what happened. Three people testified in person, 6 others sent in testimony. In the development approval papers the city only recorded 3 parties of record.
The oak tree they are going to kill for the parking garage entrance is magnificent. The developers have been harassing the old woman across the street to force her to sell to them. All those headlights are designed to shine into her house, the developers smirking that she won't be there much longer. You can bet the P & Z [Planning & Zoning] Commissioners wouldn't have allowed this to happen to themselves or to their family members.
The highway district slipped their hearing on the issue past us, didn't even do a staff report, just approved the destruction without considering the fact that these streets are already over traffic capacity - or even that they are in a national historic district and a local conservation district. Our city hall is full of developer's reps, as is the highway district. Lots of talk of payola in this city. Too much money with this massive growth rate.
There was a recent citizens' effort to dissolve the highway district, but they called in favors with the big money development pacs and everyone was scared off before the public hearing. Only one couple on the petition even showed up to testify, against a roomful of big name developers. It was a party atmosphere when it should have been treated as serious business, but apparently they were celebrating the decision before it was official. I wasn't part of the petition, didn't know about it until it hit the news, but still received several threatening attacks to keep me away. This is the environment in this city for most people trying to protect community quality or even try to get them to follow the comprehensive plan and adopted policies. Lots of scared people, which is why the hearings are so poorly attended.
They've scheduled the hearing for the second block of destruction for this Wednesday - at noon - so very few people can attend. I don't think the media has even published a date for that hearing, or listed any of the issues. The neighborhood association recently got creamed in court by the City, on yet another approval based on broken agreements, so they haven't even sent out notices to the neighborhood about the hearing dates or issues. The Cathedral of the Rockies church is the developer, with several of our officials as members. A shining example of 'do unto others', along with community and family values.
I used to think that Idaho was one of the least corrupt states. Apparently I was wrong about that.
Delving into history and geography, as I do constantly in building my web site, I find myself developing images of places I have never visited. My site has a page for every county in the United States; sometimes a native of one of these places comes across the corresponding page and assumes it to be a stand-alone web site. "Why are you so interested in Dimmit County, Texas?" one wrote, with what I took to be an edge of suspicion in his tone. Maybe when somebody in far-away Ann Arbor takes an interest in your little county, which you had assumed had nothing to attract tourists or the news media, you wonder if you're being stalked.
Of course the first answer to such a query is that I didn't single out Dimmit County; the page was generated as part of a system as neutral and impersonal as the Census Bureau.
But the real answer is that I think every county is interesting. Each one has its courthouse, its county seat, with a collection of storefronts and law offices and industries, a grid of streets lined with trees and houses, neighborhoods successively newer toward the edges of town, with farms or forests or deserts beyond, and other small towns, located precisely here or here, on rivers or railroad lines or on favorable topography. The surnames, the churches, the names of streets, the styles of architecture, the methods of agriculture all reveal aspects of the history of the place, who came here and why, what kinds of lives they lived and struggles they had. And all that even before you arrive at the cemeteries, where a lot of this history is literally carved in stone.
What usually doesn't enter into my imagery is the powerful drive to destroy what is distinctive about each of these places, to forget their history, and make them more and more like the generic American suburb. And this is happening the fastest in the places that are forgotten, places like Boise which most people wouldn't suspect of having any historic neighborhoods.
As the Tip O'Neill paraphrase goes, "All preservation is local," but the places where the physical remnants of the past are most cherished and protected tend to be those which arrogantly assume that the whole world is interested in their streetscape details. Places like New York or Concord or Oak Park or Key West or, yes, Ann Arbor. But these are hardly the only places with landmarks and neighborhoods worth keeping.
Perhaps I mistook the edge of suspicion in those emails, demanding to know why I bothered to catalog and document the careers, misdeeds, and accomplishments of political figures who were born, lived, died, or buried in their particular county. After all, they have grown up believing that their community and its heritage are of no particular interest or significance. In other words, How dare you take more interest in our history than we do ourselves?
Perhaps it is no wonder that so much is being destroyed.
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum.
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