City of the Future: Screeching Halt

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When my wife and I first moved in together in an upstairs apartment in the Reed Park neighborhood just north of the fairgrounds, one of the first things we noticed was the Friday night buzzing. It was a mystery to us for a couple of weeks (we’re not really into motorsports) but we eventually figured out that it was the sound of weekly stockcar racing at the state fair speedway. Over time it came to be one of those predictable, almost comforting ambient noises, like a distant train or the Saturday afternoon tornado sirens.

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As I said, I’m not a racing fan, so I suppose I shouldn’t care that the speedway is gone. Aside from my flagrant sentimentality and aversion to any change in the built environment, I really can’t think of any reason it should make me sad to see this structure go…but I do care. I am sad to see it go. The inimitable Lynne Rostochil sent me these photos last month, but I wasn’t really sure what I could say about the speedway. Then I went to the fair.

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I love all of the fried and stick-bound food and tornado shelter booths as much as the next guy, but I think a big part of what keeps me coming back to the fair every year is the fairgrounds itself; a quirky mid century worlds fair in microcosm. The whole grounds, from the atom sculpture on top of the space needle to the monorail to the angular modernism of the art center and the now remodeled and rechristened Kitchens of America building (a topical dig at the soviets at the time it was built, in the wake of Nixon and Khrushchev’s “kitchen debate”), were a monument to a sort of postwar scientific positivism that has since washed up against the rocky shores of reality.

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I know it’s an illusion; I know we won’t be getting across town by monorail or pneumatic tube or jetpack any time soon, I know that scientific progress isn’t the answer to every problem, I know that the 21st century isn’t about the forward momentum of the speedway but about the stop and go of the traffic jam. I know all of this, but I’m still sad to see the last little bits of that illusion torn away.

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(c) 2010 Lynne Rostochill and Colin Newman All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce photos without Lynne’s permission.

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