Hometown U. S. A.
In order to talk sense about what your town will probably be like after the war, we need to be a little more specific. If Sgt. Bill is thinking about Chicago, Pvt. Jack is mentally picturing the main street of Bismarck, North Dakota, and, Cpl. Tom imagines himself sitting on the drugstore steps in Sycamore, Georgia, we’re not going to get very far.
So let’s talk about a community—we’ll call it Hometown—with a population of around 10,000. Hometown is every-where. It is no place in particular because it is every place.
It is big enough to have a city hall on the central square, where the town officials, and perhaps a county official or two, have their offices. On Main Street there is the bank, the post office, the dime store, and a small combination hotel and restaurant. On several corners there are drugstores and filling stations. Down the side streets are garages, an ice and coal dealer, and the town’s-schools and churches.
There are all kinds of houses, large and small, some well painted, others needing repair. In them live all the kinds of people that go to make up an American town. And between Hometown and the next community, down roads in every direction, are the farms and the woodlands, the hills and the prairies.
The most important part of any town is the people in it. Even if Hometown were one-tenth its size or many times as big as it is, it would still be made up of “neighborhoods” in which people live and work and associate with one another.
What has the war done to things?
The war has changed Hometown and every other community in the country, large and small. Most of all it has changed the lives and the thinking of the people who live there. The greatest single evidence of that change is the new public office—either in the city hall, upstairs over the fire-house, or in an empty store, but always marked SELECTIVE SERVICE, Local Board #—.
In its files are the current biographies of the local citizens who have left the community to serve in the armed forces, scattered far and wide.
Another new community office is the local WAR PRICE AND RATION BOARD. It is filled with records which have affected the wartime lives of the citizens who are still at home: The number of miles they can drive their cars, the number of pairs of shoes they can buy, the amount of certain foods they may have, the price of many things they buy and sell-such things for the duration are determined by the OPA and administered through citizen-members of the local ration board.
There are still other new community centers in Hometown. There is the local RED CROSS CHAPTER and the office of the WAR BOND COMMITTEE. And if a person wishes to change jobs, he or she may have to get a permit from the U. S. EMPLOYMENT SERVICE office. If a man wants to remodel his porch, he will have to see if the material can be spared, which means a WPB priority, probably obtainable from some person who shares offices with the local ration board. War has demanded that every community conserve, share, and use to the fullest its time, its available goods, its manpower, and its patriotic common sense.
Are there more changes to come?
Victory will not bring an end to these wartime changes in community life. In due time, ration books may disappear and “A” card stickers come off windshields. But the dents of war are deep. Some of the men who checked out at the Draft Board won’t be back. Others will return to different communities. The “same old job” will be waiting for some, while others will have new skills and new desires to try their hand at something else-perhaps to go into business for themselves.
And Hometown itself feels the need of some new things in its life. A lot of new houses need building to catch up with the records at the marriage license bureau. Down at the bank there are new savings accounts; and packets of war bonds are hidden away in all manner of places around town. These savings will pay for many an individual’s “postwar plans” that, when they have all been put into effect, will make Hometown a much different place from what it was on December 7, 1941. It has already been years since Pearl Harbor.
Many of Hometown’s citizens have been away almost as long a time, and their return occupies first place in the town’s thoughts of the future. After the welcome-home celebration there will come those down-to-earth questions of a peacetime job and a fresh start in civilian matters-new friends, new responsibilities, and new objectives in life. Going home will not mean going back but going forward from wherever you and your community find yourselves when victory comes.
Before the war, the ordinary garden variety of community planning usually meant laying out new streets and parks, passing zoning laws, and, in larger cities, working out slum-clearing projects and the like.
There probably will be lots more such programs after the war. State and local governments are generally in better shape to stand the costs, many have stored up a “backlog” of planned public works, and every community in the country has had plenty of wear and tear during the war years. The ending of the war will undoubtedly be a signal for an extra-ordinary burst of community planning, rebuilding, and improvement to meet actual needs.
But there will be another reason for such changes. Our war effort, with its stresses and strains, has marked a great interruption in the normal put-it-off routine of peacetime. Its effect has been rather like having the big tree in the, front yard blown down. Not only do we repair the damage and clear up the mess, but we probably take the opportunity to straighten up the fence, replace the lost stones in the walk, and paint the porch.
And there is still another element in the postwar outlook of community planning. This is a human element. Hometown may have decided that now is the time to build the new high school or the library it has wanted. But in making that decision the town fathers have something more in mind than just getting a new building. They are thinking of the project also in terms of jobs for returning servicemen and women and a generally high level of local prosperity.
This new human side of postwar planning may in part explain the unusual growth of various community planning organizations throughout the country.