By Arthur H. Gunther III
ANY TOWN, USA — Ironically, as Americans fatten up through fast food and lifestyle, it is also slimming down to overly thin in its public look, in its parks and on its once-shaded streets, those oak- and maple-lined boulevards that looked like “Andy Hardy’s” Hollywood set. That Mickey Rooney’s village of Carvel was purely fictional does not forfeit the fact that it was as all-American as ever can be.
Once, many U.S. communities looked this way, and some, fortunately, still do or at least have semblance. Yet post-World War II suburban development helped push aside the picture of tree-lined streets leading to downtown neighborhood shopping. Developments like the typical “Huggy Bear Estates,” “The View” or “Hillside Condominiums” offer landscaped lawns and kept shrubbery but lines of well-placed trees along sidewalks and downtowns are not usually in the mix. Walkable neighborhoods rarely happen in this relative anonymity.
That’s a loss, for while Andy Hardy was a fictional character and his father the judge, girlfriend Polly Benedict and friend Betsy Booth, played by Judy Garland, were make-believe but ideal composites of small-town Americans, these people did exist in true communities, with vibrant downtowns and tree-lined streets leading to and from them.
Suburbia took the population to development homes, and many downtowns then deteriorated. Even the oaks and maples so well laid out on the boulevards were neglected, first by a stressed tax base that deferred maintenance, then by disease and, worst of all, by the interference of some citizenry who presumed to speak for the majority.
“That tree is blocking my view of the Hudson River.” “That tree’s roots are raising my sidewalk.” “That tree might affect my utilities.” And, so, all at once six stately oaks or maples or whatever are gone in a flash, victims of professionals in bucket trucks just doing their job with a work order.
Elsewhere in both Gotham and suburbia, parks are without funding, as are shade tree commissions. In a nation that sees its upper class wealth grow exponentially by the Gordon Gekko factor, there are so very few old-style Rockefeller, Carnegie and other corporate trusts that built and saved our green space. They were parents to our downtowns, to our parks, and now there are many orphans.
Pity. Foolish. Short-sighted. America is so much more than just self-sacrificing individuals, highly productive and caring. They are the essence of the old downtown, whether they lived there or not. Every suburbia has its roots in a tree-lined small American Main Street, and when, metaphorically, those tree-lined avenues are neglected, or the parks of both suburbia and gotham are abandoned, we become less American.
The “Andy Hardy” set is long closed. Can we be next?
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org This essay may be reproduced.