'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, May 21, 2011

BART: One of the Great Modernist Projects 

Peter Hartlaub has posted a number of graphic photographs from the late 1950s and early 1960s at SFGate about the still unfulfilled ambitions of the planners of BART. Of course, there is the iconic picture of an imaginary BART train going across the Golden Gate Bridge, but are some other delightful ones as well. The introductory image is an early BART fare card from 1974.

Burrito Justice has also posted images of some of the early promotional materials used by proponents, such as the firm responsible for much of the construction of BART (yes, you guessed it, General Electric), obtained through Eric Fisher. Consider this one, Progress is Our Most Important Product:

If you look at the advertisement closely, you will see a graphic photograph of an above-ground train traveling through Berkeley in the lower right corner. The city of Berkeley passed a measure to provide for additional financing in order to have the system subsequently constructed underground, as any of you familiar with the East Bay undoubtedly know.

Looking at these images and advertisements, BART evokes a kind of Keynesian nostalgia. It is almost impossible to imagine a project of this scale being constructed today, except for the military-industrial complex and utilities insistent upon the generation of electricity through the use of nuclear power. As with any modernist endeavor, however, there is a suppressed dark side to the cutting edge allure of modern transit. Concealed beneath the glamour of these images and advertisements is the disruption, and, in some instances, destruction, of communities that resulted from the construction of BART, as well as the extent to which it facilitated the segregation of the Bay Area in a new form along lines of race and class.

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