55. Carlos and Joy

“The Spanish had very clear ideas about what their cities in the new world should look like,” Carlos Juan Baker said to his good friend as they walked along the riverbank between the Labyrinth and the water’s edge, “much like their cities in the old world. The English who came seem to have been of two minds. The Puritans who settled the New England colonies came mostly from the English countryside and their clearest idea of what a community should look like was modeled on the English country village with its church and burial ground, houses scattered about helter-skelter along roads and lanes, and in the case of market towns businesses strung out along a high street, or sometimes at the cross-roads of two main roads”

Carlos and Joy had taken the PRT to Eden from the stop nearest what they called their refugee camp — the FEMA trailers which had been installed at the edge of the physical remains of Barley Mill. They had been living there ever since the twin disasters more than a year ago. Carlos and his friend Joy had both lived in Cibola before the flood. It was a beautiful early summer day and they had decided to get off one stop early and walk along the river on the walking/biking path through Eden Center.

The couple — not a couple, really; more a pair — had agreed to share an apartment for the coming year in the Bridgeville section of Eden. They had been told that their building would be ready for occupancy within a month. Bridgeville spanned the entire gap across the river between the ridges on either side more than 150 feet above the river. Each unit in the complex had a balcony and those in the bridge span overlooked the river with wonderful views several miles down to the bend. “It’s sort of the Ponte Vecchio meets the New River Gorge Bridge,” Lil… told them.

“That’s right.” Joy Chen said, continuing their conversation that was already well along. “That idea of a ‘city on a hill’ proved not to be much of a planning ideal. It just didn’t scale. Except in the smallest villages with their commons and village greens, it proved to be mostly a muddle with no overall plan or design.”

“Ah, I see you’ve been to Boston!”

“Actually, that’s true just about everywhere in America,” Joy told her friend, “except maybe the Old Town area in Savannah. Even the few places where Thomas Jefferson’s checkerboard greenspace plan was built have since papered over the plan and filled in the spaces.”

Such conversations about urban planning, community design, housing, and rural life were becoming surprisingly common among the young people of Dare County ever since the Institute had opened and construction had begun on other parts of the Eden villages. “That’s why they called it New England! Not only did they name their towns after English antecedents, like Boston and Greenwich and Manchester. They relied on the same principles of English urban design.”

“Isn’t that pretty much true of all the ethnic groups that came to America? You can’t just hang that on the Anglo-saxons. Look at Chinatown in San Francisco or the Sante Fe style in New Mexico.”

“Maybe, but you won’t find any Italian hill towns anywhere in Appalachia,” she replied “And we’ve got lots of Italians here.”

“The plazas in Albuquerque, Sante Fe and Taos are definitely hold overs from the Spanish colonial past, but even though the adobe look in Sante Fe may be partly authentic, it’s mostly the result of some very modern community planning.”

“I guess you’re right.” Carlos had to admit that Joy knew what she was talking about. Besides, he really enjoyed watching her get really enthusiastic about just about anything. He just enjoyed spending time with her! She had just completed her master’s degree in modern urban design from Case Western in Cleveland, and was one of the kids who grew up in the isolation of Cibola — they both were. They had both moved back to Eden to teach at the Eden Mechanical Institute. He had completed a bachelor’s degree in communications at Marshall University before accepting a position at EMI, to teach his real love which was masonry. Retaining walls were his absolute favorite, and God knows there would always be a need for retaining walls in Appalachia! He was currently studying construction techniques in some of the larger old mining and railroad towns where some walls eight and ten feet high had been standing for almost a hundred years without a crack in them.

But today he was just listening to Joy, who could get quite wrapped up in whatever subject she was expanding on. He just smiled and felt the sunshine on his face as she continued.

“Most indigenous American cities grew up out of towns that were founded largely as market towns. The English village pattern started by the Puritans was gradually replaced in the Midwest and South by the town as a service center for the surrounding farms in the countryside all across the regions. This pattern became nearly universal among rural communities in the United States in the 19th century when subsistence farming gradually disappeared and farmers came into the national market economy. Towns became the connections between the once self-sufficient farms with their cabins in the woods, and the distant markets of the eastern Seaboard, and Europe.”

“Yes. And Philadelphia and Charleston, not to mention Savannah, Alexandria, Providence and New York. I have to admit there is a certain patina and beauty in the result — after a couple of hundred years. But that really shouldn’t blind us to the fact that absent the farm-to-market role as intermediaries, most small towns today are simply dying on the vine. They have no real purpose, and yet people — some people — seem to love living there. They like the idea of living the way their ancestors before them lived. ”

“The typical rural town in the U.S. everywhere west of Philadelphia is just a commercial afterthought! It’s a city that never grew up.A few blocks of downtown businesses — central business district, they call it. Somewhere in or near downtown you can expect to see a highway heading in and out of town, and quite likely a crossroads where two highways meet. And blocks and clusters of houses spreading out in all directions, with an interruption here and there where land was available at a reasonable price at the time for churches, schools and a few assorted other ‘public’ buildings.”

“More than likely, sometime in the last century there once was a railroad running through town. Somewhere close to downtown. Perhaps there still is, with a siding or two, although that’s all mostly gone now. Towns turned them into “rail trails” for walking and biking, or simply abandoned them entirely. In much of the country, towns got located where the train tracks, water supplies from navigable rivers, and roads such as they were, came together. The term “crossroads town” has real meaning in this part of the world, particularly where two state highways, or a state and federal highway intersect.”

“So, what you’re saying, Joy, is that the small town today is largely an anachronism that grew up in response to the re-positioning of the family farm from a self-sufficient household economy to an agricultural producer for the regional and then national economy?”

“That’s right. That’s where they all got started. Some of these places grew into large towns, and others grew into huge cities. But they pretty much all share similar origins, except in the Southwest. Cities like Albuquerque, Sante Fe, Tucson and Los Angeles were founded by the Spanish as actual cities. “The Spanish came to the Americas with definite plans for building their ideas of proper cities, with plazas, cathedrals, municipal buildings and all the rest.”

“And this is not the first time this happened on this continent, either. Just like 19th century American towns, Mayan cities were not formally planned. At least I don’t think so. They just grew outward from an original core through the addition of palaces, temples, sacred ball courts and, when the people eventually gave up hunting and gathering lifestyles, complex residential complexes. Urban cores were usually ceremonial and administrative centers, in some cases separated from residential areas by walls. Ruling elites lived in the center, which was also where people gathered for public activities.”

With that, Joy was running dry and their conversation turned to other subjects as they approached the escalator that would take then from the river level up to the entrance to the bridge with its housing units. At the lower end, there was a short all-weather escalator with a covered overhang that took them up to the level of the PRT station, where they walked past a row of rental bikes and from there they stepped into a glass-walled elevator which took them up to the main entrance of The Bridge, where they were to meet the realtor who would show them their unit.

As they stepped off the elevator, they were greeted by a woman’s voice, “Hi. You must be Joy and Carlos. I’m Amanda. Did you have a good trip out here?”

“Yeah” Carlos said, “It’s a beautiful day and it’s always nice to get away from the refugee camp.” Amanda looked puzzled by this. “That’s what we call the FEMA trailers.” Joy added, “We’re really looking forward to getting out of there and getting settled here in Eden.”

“Well, let’s go look at your unit. It should be ready in a couple of weeks. There’s not too much more work to be completed yet.”

Amanda gestured to another elevator, marked “Residents Only” and as the door opened she said, “Your unit is on the third floor not too far from this end. It’s got a gorgeous view down the valley. I can’t wait for you to see it when there’s a bit of valley fog!”

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