Progressive Voices

Progressive Voices

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An author and lauded historical geographer, Dr. Gray Brechin�s inspiring and lively presentation on the New Deal legacy, �Another World Was Possible� reminds those who have forgotten what government at its best can do to promote peace, education and the common good.


I GREW UP IN AND WITNESSED FIRSTHAND the conversion of California's from carbon- to silicon-based life forms. That epic transformation required historical amnesia among residents and promoters alike in order to keep the speculative bubble inflating, as well as to deaden the pain that might be occasioned by recalling what replaced in the course of its triumph. Witnessing that change from the organic community of soil to the commodity value of real estate there and beyond imbued me with a lasting concern for the environmental costs of perpetual and heedless urban growth.

During a winter sojourn in in 1985-6, I began to think systematically about the parasitism common to all great cities throughout history. I returned to the U.C. Geography Department in 1992 to write a dissertation that would use San Francisco as a paradigm of how cities historically use remote control technology, military force, and thought control to exploit far-flung hinterlands. The published "Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin" in 1999. The book spent sixteen weeks on the 's best-seller list and is now a classic. called it "a great gift" and Jan Morris "one of the very best books I have ever read about a place."

Seeking a way out of the gloom occasioned by my earlier writings as well as the related environmental, political, and spiritual crises accelerating in the 21st century, I began in 2003 to study the nearly invisible legacy of public works left us from President Franklin Roosevelt�s New Deal. That study led beyond the physical objects themselves to the humanistic vision, compassion, and projected courage of Franklin and and of those whom they gathered around themselves to alleviate the terror of the last ( In their example � and especially in FDR�s enunciation of an international �second bill of rights� as the only way to stop war in his 1944 address to Congress � I found a viable alternative to the gathering catastrophes of free market fundamentalism. I am currently vice president of the National New Deal Preservation Association ( and a visiting scholar at the U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography where I am writing a book. "Another World Was Possible" will remind those who have forgotten what government at its best can do to promote peace, education, and the common good.