Looking to the Past to find a Better Future

We are seeing a lot of ugliness in our society. Violence, cruelty, narcissism, poverty, and apathy abound. There are many reasons for this, but in this post, I’m only looking at our physical environment.

I spend a lot of time reading about and researching the past, and it always shocks me to see how clean and open the living conditions were a century ago.

If we look at public life 120 years ago, the buildings, decor, architecture, signage, currency, and other aspects of our shared public life were designed to be beautiful and they were well maintained. It was not acceptable to have dirty streets or to abandon our public places to ruin.

1900 vs. 2014 coin


This isn’t intended to be a pessimistic post, nor to suggest the past was perfect. It’s a suggestion that we resurrect what was good and lovely in our past with the aim of softening and improving our world today.

Are our external conditions responsible for the crime and lowered standards? Not entirely, but they make a difference. Our behavior tends to match our environment.

We replaced the ornate and dazzling Victorian and Art Deco structures with brutalist architecture. We discarded beauty for a sanitized uniformity.

Romanesque vs. Brutalist Architecture


Metro – Late nineteenth century vs. today


We substituted distinctive and elegant signage and currency with bland, mundane alternatives.

Vintage vs. Modern Restrooms




Vintage and modern street signs


And in this new setting, we overcrowded. In our cramped conditions, our standards for cleanliness, behavior, accommodations, and nearly everything else greatly diminished.

Air Travel 1920 vs 2021


What would be the good of recapturing our lost elegance? It wouldn’t make things faster or cheaper, but is that what we need right now? My theory is that generally speaking, people treat each other more kindly when they are in lovely places.

Art Nouveau hotel vs. modern Archer hotel


We make wiser decisions, including in how we choose to govern ourselves, when our environment is serene and conducive to happiness. We behave better when we dress better.

1896 vs. 2004 currency designs featuring President Grant


Luxury car design 1922 vs 2022


I don’t know how we could do it. But I think we should try.

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