Thoughts appeared on the pages of my notebook this evening. Whilst I sat out on the deck after a surprisingly hot May 13th, enjoying the only subtly cooler dusk air. I had been out and about for the day, enjoying the 30C weather, after only a few days before it being 11C. It was welcoming and worrying at the same time but I allowed myself to simply enjoy the suns warmth. Everyone was out and about as well it seemed.
The more my eyes roamed, my ears overheard and the airs breathed, it seemed that despite our sense of individualism and desperately trying to be so different we are all starting to look the same. We feel that the clothes we wear and how we keep our hairs defines us. The powers that be want us to be as individualistic as possible because they know it makes it more difficult for us to get together and discuss issues that concern us all. We continue to judge people by how they look. And in reality, everyone stereotypes. It doesn’t tell the whole story about a person of course but it says a lot and it keeps us separated.
During my walkabout today I watched a Nissan “Cube” drive by, a Dodge “Viper”, which peeled around a corner and sped off, the new Ford “Mustang Shelby” muscle car sitting inside a car dealer’s window waiting to get pulled over for speeding, a couple of those Dodge cars that look like those big engine, low profile mafia/ gangster cars from half a century ago, many Mercedes “Smart” cars and a couple of 4-door Jeeps on steroids. All looking like they had just jumped off a page of a comic book.
On my way home I sauntered past one of those instant neighbourhoods that had arose; seven distinct, character homes, each painted a different shade of colour, yet oddly, they all looked the same. Nearing the community I live in, I passed a dozen wives of young professionals travelling mostly in pairs. You could hear them talking way before they arrive. The carriages are machines unto themselves, able to withstand the twister that stole Dorothy away to OZ. Tied to every carriage, obediently trotting alongside, the dog, the majority of which were either chocolate or black Labs. And of course the black, elastic Lulu Lemon pants and thick foam soled jogger’s shoes the women wore obviously once again all the rage. I also observed many young men who are proud to walk down the street like a penguin with their pants hanging down to mid thigh. Why anyone would want to emulate the look of someone who had just shit their pants is beyond me.
But while I walk I greet everyone who makes eye-contact with a smile and a friendly hello. And nearly every time, no matter what they look like, you get one back. So that’s encouraging.
While I watched dusk melt into the darkness I remembered what had probably set me off on such a tangent. I had recently read the brilliant but chilling book by the American, James Howard Kunstler, “Home from Nowhere”. A seemingly dystopian, but very realistic look into today’s society if we do not stop “insidious corporate colonialism that does not care about the places from which it extracts its profits or the people subject to its operations” and get back to communities where the people who lived there cared about their community and which were supported by local economies. Kunstler has written many books, been a reporter, and has worked in a psychiatric hospital and in construction. He always seems able to see past the self-gratifying illusions we cloak ourselves in and give an honest, well summed up analyses of contemporary society. Kunstler is renowned for being “the guru” on new urbanism and the sustainable city.
And the words that he had put together, that had been rattling around my head, compelled me to pull out his book and seek them out. I quickly found them. And though he is talking about America, it can be compared to many places, including, sadly, cities in Canada.
“The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world yet its inhabitants are strikingly unhappy. Accordingly, we present to the rest of mankind, on a planet rife with suffering and tragedy, the spectacle of a clown civilization. Sustained on a clown diet rich with sugar and fat, we have developed a clown physiognomy. We dress like clowns. We move about a landscape filled with cartoon buildings in clownmobiles, absorbed in clownish activities. We fill our idle hours enjoying the canned antics of professional clowns. We perceive God to be an elderly comedian. Death, when we acknowledge it, is just another pratfall on the boob tube.”
Kunstler accurately points out that suburbia is what brought all of the above into being, and the quicker we get rid of it the better. He feels the box-like architecture of today diminishes the value of the individual and the significance of public space. Suburbia has brought a “carton landscape of car-clogged highways, strip malls, tract houses, franchise fry pits, parking lots, junked cities and ravaged countryside.”
Though the above words may seem harsh to some, it’s a fact that reality does bite at times, especially when you are not aware of it. And like Kunstler, I also believe what is needed in cities today, where nearly everyone now lives, is more sense of community. A small town feel in an urban landscape. Communities where people actually care about each other and their surroundings, they work there, there is mutual concern for the energy they use, what they do about their waste, and they are places where people could drop the need to be individualistic and simply be themselves, a place where after wiping off the face paint, the freedom exists to say what one really thinks and feels, and being honest and respectful about it.