If it ain’t broke…

Maybe pandemic confinement, heat and breaking teeth are making me grumpy, but I have two dissatisfactions with the recent Patagonia street resurfacing project. 

My first dissatisfaction is that we, the residents, were told this is what was going to be done to our streets, rather than being asked if this change is something we saw as needed or good for the town. It was a top-down choice, not a citizen-requested action. It was labeled as an “improvement project,” carrying the 20th-century idea that streets that are wider, cleaner, straighter, and newer are all signs of progress, modernization, economic development and general upgrading. As with advertising, word choice carries underlying beliefs along with it, and all beliefs are open for questioning these days. 

My second dissatisfaction is that as a pro-funk Patagonian, always enjoying the town’s many kinds of uniqueness, eccentricity and sociability, I think this project has quietly cost us some of that charm, by removing features like road bumps and small potholes, tree branches and diverse private uses of the right of way, all of which kept the traffic slower and encouraged conversations between people walking and neighbors (or their dogs). 

At slower speeds, vehicle drivers used to feel unpressured enough to stop in the middle of the road and talk with someone on foot or bicycle. With the new straightness and openness, faster driving is the natural result, and the previously normal street sociability becomes harder, because of removal of what the urban planners call “traffic-calming elements.” The street conditions used to silently say to people “Chill and look around,”but now say “Go fast.” Over the segment I live on, 25 mph would save you 7.6 seconds over 15 mph, but as with many aspects of so-called modern life, I challenge whether faster is automatically better.

Duquesne Ave. is no longer a safe, tranquil and somewhat irregular 15-mph residential street, and I view this as a loss. If asked about the desirability of this project beforehand, I’d have said “It ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.”

Robert Gay