Where would you rather be? The main street above or the one below?
We’d guess you’ll pick the one most at top, even though these images show the very same street — photographed about 100 years apart!
It’s Commonwealth Avenue in West Concord, MA about 15 miles west of Boston. What’s changed? The cars everywhere! In 1906, the approximate age of the postcard up top, the space was welcoming and inviting with the horse and buggy in the distance. Today, the color photo shows the same street can’t quite compete; it’s too full of cars, making the place feel congested — like its mostly for motor vehicles and not for people at all.
No one would think of making a postcard of West Concord today looking down the same street. And guess what? None exists!
And that’s the loss we all carry — not just charming postcards of local places — but the very idea of the public realm, inviting spaces that draw everyone in, encouraging people to safely walk about, linger and meet up.
Cars gave us mobility, and we paid an incredibly steep and rarely-spoken-of price: the loss of the spaces we most need to see and be in — and even the very notion that such places could exist!
What’s most surprising about the old postcard? Showing it to other people and seeing their surprise at how nice the local street once looked! We live in such a car-brained world, people simply can’t imagine places without them. Cars vanquished the public realm along with our ability to create spaces that we most need to see and be in to be at our best. To build a healthier future, we’d do well to remember what cars took away, how the spaces are still needed, and ways to bring them back.
The image below shows the back of the post card, with postage set at 1 cent domestically, which was the price before WWI. Imagine!