As I took a pause amid my usual year-end chaos, I decided to pass along some decade-ending reading. We’ll start with Ross Douthat at the New York Times, who put a pretty good bow on the 2010s as the decade of disillusionment and assesses the disconnect between the widespread political sense that everything is in decline and the relative boringness of world events over the past decade. I find it a compelling take on the American moment, and also made me think of a few pieces I’ve read on how most interpretations of late 20th century history can track directly on to baby boomers’ life stages. Much the same could be said about Douthat’s chronology of decades and the lives of millennials, as this soon-to-be 30-year-old can attest. The 90s were the era of optimism and childhood bliss of the post-Cold War world and unquestioned American supremacy; the aughts an era of teenage troubles that we thought we could overcome through battle and righteous angst and a political hero; and the 2010s were a decade of decadence, a steady appreciation of the challenges we face and resignation to twentysomething life. What will the 20s bring us, other than an increased state of Torschlusspanik?
(The Germans really do have a word for everything.)
In a more entertaining though still illuminating retrospective, the Times’ Upshot blog provides pictures of how American cities transformed over the decade, as exurban growth began anew, inner cities revitalized themselves, a logistics economy exploded, transit developments emerged, and cities grappled with natural disasters.
Sticking with the urban planning theme, Celebration, Florida, was to be the New Urbanist paradise when Disney developed it in the mid-90s to fulfill an ages-old dream of a city of the future. So much for that, Tarpley Hitt tells us. The culprit here seems less the urban planning and more a vulture capitalist, but there’s trouble in paradise, and that piece somehow fits nicely with the last two.
On a more upbeat note about cities and wisdom from the past, I’ll grab this Reuters story about Teotihuacan, the great pre-Aztec ruins north of Mexico City that I visited in the first year of this decade. In addition to building some pretty big pyramids, new archaeological evidence is showing us that the people of Teotihuacan built the most egalitarian pre-modern society by a long shot. What secrets might we learn from this city that was so great that the then-nomadic Aztecs, when they found it centuries after its demise, assumed it could only have been built by gods?
And finally, to end it all on a lighter note: I haven’t included much in the way of sports journalism in this feature to date; I don’t know why, because there is a lot of incredible sports journalism, and I read a lot of it. This Yankee fan will restrain his urge to rub in his glee over the Gerrit Cole signing (oops, too late) and instead hype the bandwagon he’s climbed aboard for the college football playoffs: the Louisiana State University Tigers. They toppled the Alabama dynasty in the Southeastern Conference. Their all-American boy demigod of a quarterback, Joe Burrow, turned his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech into a teary, off-the-cuff riff on the poverty in his hometown of Athens, Ohio. Their head coach and owner of the coolest voice in sports, Ed Orgeron, most likely swung a gubernatorial election with his endorsement of a rare Deep South Democrat; this marriage of sport and state is, apparently, something of a tradition in Louisiana politics. The ESPN 30-for-30 will write itself if they can finish off Clemson in a week and a half. Geaux Tigers.