What’s New under the Sun?

Now let’s look at some of the changes in things, which, coupled with the changes in people, may have an effect on the future of Hometown. One episode may give us a strong clue to future possibilities.

On May 15, 1941, Igor Sikorsky hovered over a Connecticut town for more than an hour to establish, beyond any further doubt, the fact that the helicopter can fly. It has been “on the way” ever since Leonardo da Vinci first conceived the basic idea five hundred years ago.

But here is our important clue. Did the man in the street snort in derision at a contraption that could fly straight up, backward, sideways, and hang dead still in the air as he jeered at the first horseless carriage? No indeed! The public went helicopter slap-happy. The newspapers and magazines broke out in a rash of futuristic articles forecasting suburbanites with helicopters in every back yard. Cartoonists had a field day depicting young girls eloping out of darkened upstairs windows into hovering helicopters, housewives drying their clothes under others, and bellhops helicopting through hotel lobbies “paging Mr. Jones.” Mr. Sikorsky had to return many checks sent in by people who wanted prompt postwar delivery.

All this uproar is a sign of the times. Other signs can be seen in plans now being made to plaster the roofs of barns, tops of big rocks, and other objects with tens of thousands of directional signs and route numbers, so that postwar air commuters will be able to find the airway home.

Such things don’t necessarily mean that half the people in Hometown will be commuting to work by personal plane or helicopter in a year :or so after the war. But they do mean that Hometown’s city limits are stretching. They show that the word “community” is beginning to take in a lot more territory. Bus companies and railroads as well as air lines are applying for franchises, to run postwar plane and helicopter services all over the country. Certainly they must expect that people are going to do a lot more back-and-forth traveling than they used to.

Will Hometown shrink or grow?

What will the net result be? Will more people want to live in the country? Will big towns grow bigger and small towns smaller? What will happen to the thousands of hamlets and villages that for years on end haven’t changed much either way? Anyone can guess. But the “experts,” self-styled and otherwise, say such things as these

Simplified wartime living and the general necessity of spending more time at home have reawakened people’s interest in homeownership, particularly of suburban homes of the type described on the real-estate pages as “a little place in the country with a yard, trees, a picket fence in front and a garden in back.” The experiences of raising victory gar-dens, doing home canning, repairing one’s own things, and making furniture at home have reinforced that interest.

Such conveniences as television sets, food freezers, self-contained heating, lighting, and even air-conditioning units, and so on, will give rural dwellers all the conveniences for good living that were formerly associated with city life. Also, prefabrication, new materials, and the savings of large-scale production will make homeownership available to many more people after the war.

Therefore, conclude the experts, the logical result will be a general spreading out of community life. Improved transportation and easier access to conveniences will no longer make suburban or even country life so isolated. Not only will old-established communities stretch out a little, but new villages will tend to grow up around the present limits of larger cities. Those will be of the “garden variety,” whose chief asset will be living space combined with convenience. There is plenty of room for such stretching to take place in America.

What if it does grow?

But beyond the influence of glass bricks and new modes of living on the future of Hometown, there is this deeper thought: The more easily and quickly a person can move around, the bigger his “community” or his “neighborhood” becomes.

The cave man’s “community” probably didn’t range much beyond sprinting distance from the mouth of his cave. In contrast, it is now quite normal to have a community spirit and acquaintanceship that takes in one’s whole town. More-over, thanks to their 29,000,000 automobiles (prewar count), most people in the United States know their way around a good many of the surrounding towns without the use of road maps.

Now let’s suppose that after the war-not necessarily immediately, but over a period of time-we have still more and better cars and that growing numbers of people .buy light planes or helicopters for personal use. Our concept of what makes up our community will stretch still farther. In time we may be able to cover our whole state in the time it used to take to get around our home county. Obviously, under such circumstances, a person will get acquainted with many more people as well as places. Each one of us will then have more information of all kinds in our “personal libraries of experience.” As a result, we will have a different outlook about Hometown.

Any serviceman can test this by turning over in his own mind some of the recollections of his home town that have grown in importance during his absence, others that seem less significant, now that he has seen so many other cities and towns in his military travels.

Won’t the good people still be there?

There is another aspect of community life that will probably withstand any amount of pressure from “mechanical” progress. That is the ordinary and universal desire of people to live together in neighborly groups. “Man is a gregarious animal,” says the sociologist, which means simply that he likes to live among his fellows instead of by himself.

Thus in Hometown, in 19xx or even in 20xx, kids will probably still be drawing cartoons in wet concrete, swiping apples, playing cops and robbers, and running away from home—until dinnertime. And their parents will still be talking about the neighbors, arguing politics, deciding to move, declaring that they don’t know what the younger generation is coming to, and bragging about the “good old days” that nobody really ever wants to go back to.