I read with incredulity of the $16-million Long Beach proposal to disguise oil derricks as redwood pillars, conceal shabby properties with wave-decorated walls, attempt to cover street noises with the "music" of a giant whale chime, and refer to a city of 500,000 as a "village" (Times, Nov. 4). The thought that kept running through my head was "Potemkin Village."
Over 200 years ago, a powerful Russian leader, charged by Empress Catherine II with the task of colonizing the Ukrainian Steppes, undertook vast and expensive developments. As so often happens today, the cost far exceeded projections, forcing Grigori Potemkin to abandon his ambitious projects halfway to completion. Then came word that the Empress would be touring the area to view the wonders he had wrought. 'Twas said that he "disguised the weaknesses" in his program, giving rise to tales that he had erected artificial villages--in truth, mere facades--to impress the Empress as she swept through the region.
Today, the definition of a Potemkin Village is: "any pretentious facade designed to cover up shabby or undesirable conditions." History does, indeed, repeat itself.