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The craftsman
Vol. V, No. 4 (January 1904)

Urbi et orbi: to the city and to the world,   pp. 358-362 PDF (1.8 MB)

Page 360

also reward the effort. The restoration of
town-halls and corporation-houses, now so
active throughout the small country of what
may almost be called city-republics, is no
attempt to galvanize a dead civic life. The
"museums of the streets" residing in the
restored public buildings stand as familiar
and powerful witnesses of the times when
Ghent and Bruges, Brussels and Antwerp
stood before the world as models of munici-
pal constitution, of financial honor and suc-
cess. They suggest to the alert, intelligent,
laborious people who daily throng the
squares above which they rear their high-
stepped gables and their brilliantly gilded
faqades, the possibilities of industrial enter-
prise and colonization. The memories of
the Oriental and Italian commerce so suc-
cessfully pursued by the Fleming of the
Middle Ages, inspire the Belgian of to-day
who transfers his capital to the Congo Free
State or to the forests of Canada.
   The extension of this principle to Amer-
ica in a broad, general sense is both possible
and practicable, as has been proven by a
number of highly successful experiments.
A strong sense of nationality is an impera-
tive need in our cities of the coast and the
Middle West, which receive the first force
of the shock sustained by our institutions
from the contact of immense masses of for-
eigners. Our "Americans in process" re-
quire that "element of education" which
resides in such memorials as the Shaw Tab-
let in Boston, the figure of Nathan Hale in
the City Hall Square, New York, and the
great Lincoln statue in Chicago. It can
not be regarded otherwise than as a melan-
choly fact that the historic quarter of Bos-
ton has been abandoned to a population of
poor Hebrews, Italians and Portuguese;
that the belfry which stands as a beacon-
light in our history, now sends out the voices
of its bells to mingle with the Yiddish of the
Ghetto. "The museum of the street," as
constituted by the "Old North Church," is
even more necessary to the place which it
consecrates than are the town-halls and the
corporation-houses to the public squares of
Belgium; since the Church represents the
purest and highest ideal of self-sacrifice, of
devotion to an uncertain cause, and of a
patriotism sentimental, lofty, and far re-
moved from a love of city or country which,
if closely studied, is found to have its root in
the impulse to accumulate riches and to
surpass one's rival in splendor.
   Surely the "museum of the street" is a
crying need of our cities. But in our new
country, it must serve a new purpose. It
must be oriented toward the future, rather
than toward the past. Its task is not to
restore, but to educate. There must be no
"art for art's sake" in the studio accept-
ance of the term: that is no tours de force
of the architect, sculptor, or decorator,
should be imposed upon the public by mu-
nicipal authorities, who must, if worthy, be
at once the guardians of funds and the pro-
moters of taste. Let us hope that the pres-
ent impulse toward civic improvement may
be carried forward to all that it now prom-
ises; so that, at no distant day, the typical
American street may display a simple,
structural style of architecture expressing
our national ideals of democracy; that our
city parks, by their unadorned beauty, may
perpetuate the memory of the great lover of
Nature who devoted his life to create them
wherever population had massed itself;
finally, that our public squares may, in their
monuments and statues, witness the influence

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