Living in places where nothing is connected properly, we have forgotten that connections are important. To a certain degree we have forgotten how to think. Doesn’t this show in our failure to bring these issues into the public arena? There is a direct connection between suburban sprawl and the spiraling cost of government, and most Americans don’t see it yet, including many in government. Likewise, there is a connection between disregard for the public realm — for public life in general — and the breakdown of public safety.
These issues will not enter the public discourse until something of a paradigm shift occurs in American society. By paradigm, I mean a comprehensive world view shared by a critical mass of citizens. At any given time, enough people agree upon a particular model of reality and do whatever is necessary to sustain it. Ideas themselves may evolve slowly or rapidly and credible proofs may lag behind hypotheses. But a collective worldview is made up of many ideas, all operating dynamically, and when the consensus about what they add up to is shaken, the result can be convulsive social change. Enough people move to one side of the raft and suddenly the whole thing flips over. The rapid demise of Leninist communism as a believable model of economic reality is an example.
When I suggest that something similar may happen here, I do not anticipate the demise of capitalism. Capitalism in some form is likely to endure, whatever its shortcomings, for it is the only way known for managing accumulated material assets. I do foresee a necessary change, however, in our effort to create a capitalist society appropriate to our circumstances — namely, a sustainable economy as opposed to our present exhaustive economy. And we can’t have a sustainable economy unless we build a physical setting to house it in. The physical setting we presently dwell in itself exhausts our capital. It is, in fact, the biggest part of the problem. The future will require us to build better places, or else the future will belong to other people and other societies.