Monday, May 25, 2009

Normal Depersonalization

As the town of Normal grows, it seems that greater emphasis is placed on buildings than on individuals. When people talk about how much the area has grown, they talk about all of the new subdivisions, apartment buildings, and businesses. No one talks about particular individuals (or families) by names – “The John Doe family used to own that property but now, it’s owned by the Smith family.” We don’t know very many people in our own town, so we can’t think in those terms. We can see the buildings going up, so that’s what we focus on.

Similar to the depersonalization of the local phonebook, maps of the local area have become much less personal. The “Official Plat Book and Farm Directory of McLean County Illinois” (1963) has a fairly close-up map of Normal Township showing individual properties labeled with property owners’ names (written by hand, sometimes in very small letters to fit the smaller properties). The focus is on who owns each property (or multiple properties, in some cases). When I look at it, I think of the people who lived around here.

But when I look at the “Physical Features” map from the “Town of Normal Comprehensive Plan” (2006), I see an aerial view with dark shapes (buildings) lining the streets. (In a few areas, there are individual dots lining the streets. I guess those are houses that have larger yards.) Of course, the title “Physical Features” tells me that this map is not about people, so I shouldn’t expect that kind of information. Still, I think the two maps reflect a change in our perception of Normal: from a town where so-and-so lives, to a town with x number of subdivisions and businesses. It’s much less personal, probably because we don’t have the time or the motivation to get to know the people living here. I’m sure that’s true in most urban areas today. It’s normal. How appropriate!

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