So long as I drove a car, here in Connecticut, I considered the New Haven intersection of Interstate Routes 95 and 91 an abomination, a dangerous example of the “technocratic fix” imposed by the automotive age of the 20th Century. Like others of their kind, the interwoven highway loops tore up much of the city’s downtown and separated it from its waterfront. In this, of course, it may have merely added insult to the injury the petroleum industry was simultaneously allowed to impose with it’s tank farms to feed the vehicular traffic that was somehow considered so vital. Trucks replaced freight trains. Short-sighted convenience and privatized profits!
Even so, New Haven persisted, if lamely. Old-timers recall how disruptive the Oak Street Connector was, but it is a wistful complaint, lest they be considered negative. This is now what most adaptiveness consists of, the more interdependent we become: “the good old days”, and the half-blind Thatcherite notion that there is no alternative. Transatlantically, Reagan raised the stakes by foisting the lie that government is the problem. How quickly we forget the compromises that made democracy promising for hardly a century.
So now, from the 17th floor outlook of a downtown residential center, I overlook this tangled mess and am surprised that it has an aesthetic appeal all its own. Distanced from its noise and its fumes, I am intrigued by the kaleidoscopic flow of boxlike truck forms during the day, and the colorful play of lights, golden or red, every evening. Beyond this circus is the gentle arch of the Quinnipiac Bridge and the docks of the inner harbor; to the right, the bay-like enclosure of the two-mile open harbor.
But given our pronatalism and both widespread individual and institutional insatiability, one would be stolid not to ask what this scene will look like fifty years hence. Elide the more difficult question of regional habitability due to global warming constraints, whether sea-level rise or insufferable climate. What will running out of cheap gasoline do to the traffic patterns and the supportive infrastructures I now wonder at? Will we recapture the waterfront for higher uses than storing and moving ephemeral resources? Will current tastes clue us in to what such higher uses might be? Shouldn’t such questions be natural for a species the taxonomist Linnaeus called Homo sapiens?