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      An Online Edition

edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers

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Saturday, June 27, 1914

[Helter-Skelter Civilization]



     ["]Ever wish your were a man, Gray Pigeon?" asked the Sparrow, watching the strolling groups which the evening coolness brings out upon Georgia avenue.

     "Not I!" cried the pigeon, sitting erect on an iron ram's head. "Never in the wildest dream! For all his alleged mastership of everything on earth except himself, I am thankful not to have been born human! Imagine having to be swathed and swaddled and smothered, during weather like the present, in yards and yards of discomfort and inconvenience!"

     "That superior intelligence, now," began the Sparrow.

     "Superior intelligence is too uncertain in its working. For instance, the poorest negro who cultivates in his back yard a truck patch as big as a pocket handkerchief has some kind of plan by which he lays it out--he will have corn in rows here, and tomatoes there where they will get the sun and the stakes will not interfere with hoeing the rest; he marks off his rows with a hoe handle, and makes an attempt at intelligent order. There's at least a thick-headed practicality about the result, when in the course of good growing weather it begins to produce food for him. But look at the city--at any city built by man! They, the great last word of the century, a tremendous expression of the human intellect, grow up wild, according to no plan or intention, allowing nothing for expansion, discommoding everybody, causing intolerable civic growing-pains, and utterly upsetting any adventitious efforts toward beauty or dignity of proportion in the whole."

     "They might, at least," agreed the White Pigeon, "take advantage of facilities close at hand for their own comfort. I see every day the waste of material and of opportunity in this ramshackle, helter-skelter civilization of theirs. It disturbs my rest at night when I think of the hundreds sweltering in trap-like rooms where the air is utterly still and seems to burn. They add to the heat of their closed-in dwellings by fires for cooking. How they must suffer!"

     "Some of them go out in autos to cool off," said the Sparrow.

     "How many can do so?--one in fifty?--and how much intelligence do they display in joy-riding? Gliding through the open country, breathing the sweet evening scents from the fields, is one good way of resting the overstrained system; but a mad rush is another thing--the unrestrained impulse to speed that rests nobody, and leads to fearful calamities."

     "If more autos traveled tortoise," said the Sparrow, "there wouldn't be so many turning turtle. But let me tell you that some folks have learned how to sleep. More and more beds are made in the open air as old superstitions are overcome, superstitions about malaria and night air no less than about ghosts and wild beasts that might get you if you don't watch out. There are families in the suburbs who eat on one porch and sleep on another almost year round."

     "There ought to be plenty of such families right in town, too," said the White Pigeon.

     "Oh, yes; that proves what I said, or began to say," declared the Gray Pigeon. "That Man is capable of planning well enough for his own individual needs, but has never learnt to think collectively; for the good of all. Now, above these same sleepers, just over their heads, in fact, there are acres and acres of cool open space where hundreds might sleep in comfort under the stars if they only would, lifted clear of the noise and dust of the streets, continually filling their lungs with a sleeper's deep draughts of life-giving oxygen, and never missing the lightest breeze that stirs the night. But these broad roof spaces that might be such a blessing every night through the hot months to tired throngs of toilers, remain an undiscovered country, an utter desert. No one ever makes the slightest use of them, except when I walk across the gravel with which they are covered and choose a few for my crop."

     "Not all cities so neglect this opportunity," said the White Pigeon. "The Swallow tells of splendid roof developments in some parts of the country. There are roof gardens, and hospital tents, and even schools for anaemic or tubercular children of rich and poor who would perish in the ordinary confined schoolroom."

     "Well, sometime it will be so here," said the Gray Pigeon. "Sometime when property becomes too valuable to let an inch of space go to waste. Overcrowding will go on as it has elsewhere, till the growing pressures causes an upward burst, and then the Overhead country will be discovered, utilized, improved, and made the most of in all sorts of ways, to the benefit of everybody who lives or works in the crowded portion of the city."

 

 




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