Civic Life

7/1/11 – The great thing about a trip like this are the surprises. We drove east through the flat farming country from Midland to Abilene. Most of the towns had seen better days but Post, TX was a surprise. Its library was squeezed in between a functioning movie theater and an office building. The town obviously took pride in itself and had the economic means to look good. Stamford, on the other hand, was more typical. A WalMart had moved to the edge of town several years ago. What had been a pleasant little downtown was nearly abandoned. There is currently an effort to revitalize the town but with agricultural prices dropping and the long, severe drought there is little money available to bring back civic life. Surprisingly, Stamford does possess a Carnegie Library which is celebrating its 100th birthday this week. Once the pride of the town the library is now located in the basement of the building. The rest has been chopped up into little meeting rooms which are now mostly abandoned. One of the few remaining groups regularly using the library is Alcoholics Anonymous. We met the  young librarian in the basement and it turns out she grew up in California and went to Parsons School of Design in New York City. Small world. She explained how the outside of the building had been wrapped in tin siding in the 1950’s to give it a more contemporary look. Fortunately, they had recently removed the front section to reveal the beautiful brick work that had  been lost. The destroyed Carnegie of Pecos and the neglected Carnegie of Stamford point to a loss of civic life and the shared commons. Church, family and sports become the only things left. A vital, functioning library seems to be a part of and the result of civic engagement. We end our drive in Abilene, one of the most conservative cities in America according to a recent survey. We are both hot and tired and have been working and driving non-stop for a week. After posting a blog in our air conditioned room we head out to photograph a branch library in a shopping mall. We decide to photograph the other library in a mall tomorrow morning when the light is better. As we drive around Abilene on Friday night after dinner we are struck by how completely empty the streets are of any people. Religious or conservative billboards are everywhere and Walker is having a field day snapping photos of them. Although Midland was similar, it had a vitality that this town lacks. Midland’s economy is once again booming due to the rise in the price of oil. Perhaps the pickup truck driving oil workers just wanna have more fun than the buttoned down conservatives of Abilene.

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