"This book is not written in anger. It is written in fury." As his preface promises, Peter Blake mounts "a deliberate attack upon all those who have already befouled a large portion of this country for private gain, and are engaged in befouling the rest."
Blake contends that Americans have created places for nearly 200 million people to live without making them liveable. He argues that:
Our suburbs are interminable wastelands dotted with millions of monotonous little houses, on monotonous little lots and criss-crossed by highways lined with billboards, jazzed-up diners, drive-In movies, beflagged gas stations and garish motels.
He declares that if present trends continue, cities will become the homes of only the very rich and the very poor. Moreover, they will lose their "most important asset," variety, as they are divided uniformly into industrial, office and apartment ghettos. This fear seems absurdly exaggerated, especially when Blake sneers at Lincoln Center as a cultural ghetto.
The destroyers of America's beauty include land speculators, local government and federal agencies. We can improve our plight, Blake says, by demanding "more stringent zoning laws...taking the profit out of land speculation...using tax policy to encourage good building and to discourage bad building, and ridding the country of bureaucrats who have strait-jacketed most government-sub-sidized architecture."
Conflict of Values
As Blake himself points out, these remedies only skirt the main issue: the conflict between traditional American goals and the preservation and creation of natural and man-made beauty. The drive for profits, the trend toward specialization and the urge to see only short-range problems with short-range consequences have conditioned us not to appreciate beauty but to worship expediency and the dollar. These characteristics, Blake implies throughout, are responsible for mass-produced suburbs and the wholesale destruction of our landscape.
Blake never actually analyzes this relationship. He mentions it specifically only in the preface and on the last page, and he avoids it altogether with the generalization that "We need creative acts; we need genuine leadership on the part of those capable of creating a new kind of city and a new kind of country."
Despite persistant oversimplification, Blake makes him point well: we have turned and continue to turn "our beautiful inheritance into the biggest slum on the face of the earth." He leaves little doubt that perversions of our natural beauty should disturb us far less than our failures to recognize and correct them.