Editor's Notebook: New Deal-era spirit lives on

| January 2009

  • KC Compton

  • KC Compton

Many of the memories from my childhood and youth feature community buildings or park structures or bridges and streets that came to us courtesy of a remarkable program that my parents frequently referenced: the WPA.

The WPA started its life as the Works Progress Administration, the largest agency in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, created to provide jobs and income to the legions of unemployed Americans during the Great Depression. Later renamed the Works Projects Administration, the WPA featured a multitude of projects that built public buildings, community projects and roads, and operated large arts, theater and music projects.

I’m so grateful for that program and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC kept my father employed through some very dark days, and the WPA filled our communities with sturdy structures and lasting works of art that even my grandchildren will be able to enjoy. The WPA cost more than $11 billion by the time it was complete – an enormous amount then, and not exactly peanuts these days.

According to president-elect Barack Obama, a similar program soon will be implemented and millions of Americans will go to work rebuilding this country’s terribly neglected infrastructure and creating entirely new and “green” projects that will make use of environmentally friendly designs and technologies in unprecedented ways.

I know some people will badmouth and resist these projects, but I’m looking forward to seeing what we can create with sufficient political will and capital. So much in this culture seems focused on tearing down and discarding, I hope we can direct ourselves now to building something lasting and oriented toward meeting public need. Our schools, our highways and bridges, our senior centers – all need attention and the infusion of resources.

Our story on Page 2 shows that our current political and economic times have sparked an interest in these New Deal sites. I hope that in another 75 to 100 years or more, future generations of Americans will be able to look on the public works of this time with pride and appreciation.

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