Jackal59, first let me say "Thank you for being such an intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful person." While reading your post, I not only found myself touched, but also adequately informed and entertained. I'll spare you the reason why i'd even bother adding this part; you know, but again, thankyou for helping us look good.
My take on your question is this: absolutely beauty matters, this is why I work as hard as I do and you OBVIOUSLY do, to add a little beauty to the world?
Why are American cities so ugly and more foreign cities more aesthetically pleasing: because we have more. I think when we have so much, we forget about the value of it and let it deteriorate. I think this ignorance of the details has a bearing on the dismal state of education in some parts of America. We have so many young people, we forget that they all matter and let them deteriorate too. People from other countries, that might be now or used to be ravished by war or political unrest cherish their young more. As a child, I used to always envy foreign students: they would talk about their schools and how strict their teachers were, how structured the learning environment, and how challenging the curriculum. All of my peers would sigh and say how lucky we were everything about our school was so lax, but I knew we were being done a disservice because the foreign kids were SMARTER THAN US.
They used to come to school dressed so sharp and with such poise. In class, they'd actually listen and add input. My peers dressed badly and misbehaved all the time. Some of them just because they were rude and poorly trained at home, others because they just weren't challenged by the work. The foreign kids always said their parents and teachers pushed them so hard and encouraged them to look their best because they were trying to work their way up and fit into America better. A place, I'm sure with all its excess is pretty intimidating, which is why I can't understand why immigrants rise to meet it and natives just languish and complain.
I also noticed this in college, the foreign students always dressed so nice, while my peers came to school in their pajama bottoms with their hair unkept. This lack of attention to detail and personal appearance seems ingrained and doesn't stop; at my old job, meatcutting, I used to get teased by the other guys because I dressed too nice. I told them "I don't care that i'm a meatcutter and these nice clothes might get dirty, I wear a coat and smock to protect them, which I have to take off during break, and I have to be seen when I leave the building after work, and when I return home." I think a lot of people allow themselves to look unkept because among all of this excess, they feel inferior, like the meatcutters I worked with who thought they didn't count enough to take pride in their appearance.
Naturally, I think this dirth in the way we see ourselves: if we aren't a celebrity or rich, we think we need to look as inferior as we feel, carries over to our buildings, our workstations, and the way we keep our yards and homes. In other words, America is getting uglier because more people feel ugly.
It's scary and I think it's directly connected to some of the stories I've heard people tell in the forum here: shocking tales about people jeering and throwing things at them when they cycle or jog in public. These jeering trash throwing people are the crabs that are low in the barrel and latch on to others they fear might actually crawl out.
Some might call me shallow, but I think everything hinges on pride in one's appearance: it all starts with that. I hate to simplify it to a possibly crass level, but beauty is the reason poor Cinderella could outshine her rich ugly stepsisters at the ball. She had nothing but her appearnace to fall on because they had stripped her of everything else. In that sense, I'm a little like her (I'm loving that I can compare myself to Cinderella) because I may not be rich or anything, but I do dress well and I do maintain an exceptional body. These things like PRIDE and a killer rack are things money cannot buy.
Everytime I see another BOX spring up I just wish they'd spruce it up a bit. Why does every building have to be a gray cube? Uuuugh, but look at the people who trace in and out of these ugly gray cubes, they are ugly and gray themselves.