Visiting Our Heritage

The 20th century has passed into history. What has our society created and left as a heritage? Let's look at what people seek out when the travel for pleasure. The most popular destinations in the US are natural wonders such as parks and beaches like the Grand Canyon. Another popular destination is a man-made amusement site such as Disney World or Las Vegas.

But, the one I wish to discuss is travel to our cities and towns. If you consult a typical travel guide you will find lots of information about the destination's historical importance. Places of interest include old homes and public buildings, battle sites and other commemorations of our early history. But, where is the attention to what has been created in the past hundred years? It's almost as if the 20th Century didn't take place. The only exceptions are a small handful of major cities which are visited for their contemporary interest. Most of these are related to entertainment, even so. The list is quite short: Manhattan, Hollywood and perhaps San Francisco and one or two others.

Did we create anything of lasting value in the past century? The achievements of American society were concentrated in heavy industry and transportation. The continent was transformed from woodland and prairie to farmland and towns. At one time we took sufficient pride in our progress, that farms and factories were tourist destinations, but not anymore. Large industry has turned so ugly and lifeless that factories and corporate farms are hidden away. In many cases companies don't even put their name on their plants anymore.

In fact, the number one travel activity in the US these days is shopping. So while the trip to the Grand Canyon is the destination, it's probable that more time will be spent in the gift shop and the nearby stores that in contemplating the natural sites. Free standing malls have become destinations in themselves. There is no longer even a need for a nearby cultural site as a pretense. The Mall of America has special flights going to it, and it's in the middle of nowhere.

Have we become so focussed on our own individual lives and wants that we no longer wish as a society to spend the resources on building a legacy? Or have we just lost our imagination? Is there any reason why a tourist would want to visit your community? Is it just another bland suburban development or a fading urban center? Can't we do better? Will someone writing this essay at the beginning of the next century say what happened to the last two hundred years?

Moral: "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours" -- Wordsworth

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Copyright © 2004 Robert D Feinman
Feel free to use the ideas, but the words are mine.