Paul Goodman’s classic book on American youth, Growing Up Absurd (1960), got it wrong on account of Main Street, which is not an absurdity, on its face, or façade—Disneyfication notwithstanding. Anarchists generally get Main Street wrong because the Promised Land inferred in Main Street’s place or capacity as gateway to the American Dream is already occupied territory. Ask the natives. Main Street is still properties along a thoroughfare, a set of developed plots in the ownership schema. This is problematic not only for the community, but for the local Chamber of Commerce. If or when the compartments lining the thoroughfare are not currently occupied by tenants, a basic function of the society—local exchange; and not just the exchange of goods, but the basic, face-to-face social exchange, the ties that bind: our free speech continuum—breaks down. If you connect the dots, you’ll get to why surveillance state cameras are so corrosive and Miranda rights, so important. Tyranny hates a corner market on Main Street, because that meeting place in a community exists as a shadow or casual town hall.
Squarification, and the re-occupation of the square, is problematic in the U.S.A. of democratic main streets where we are passing through or stopping for a piece of fresh pie and some company. In towns like Catskill, New York or Beckley, West Virginia, and thousands of others like them, the proposition of hanging out on Main Street is more a ghost-hunt now and, phenomenologically, like a William Kennedy (b. Albany, BTW) Ironweed-esque reverie. For locals it is an animated imaginary in very slow motion, a confrontation not with a fabricated nostalgic image, but with a very real and personalized episode of loss and despair, of creative obsolescence, waste and abandonment.
This individualized mind-screen cinema of uninvited absence, the dream of a futureless home, has replaced Hollywood, and the game machines will not satisfy as a distraction for too much longer. People lost in empty architecture and unfunded community plans are today the pervading 99% community dynamic, not of change or hope, but of self- and collective-consuming entropy. We should acknowledge the winners in this drama. The destitution of Main Street is always the legacy of extraction and exploitation processes. The 1% switch residences like suits.