Tuesday, February 5, 2008

little boxes

If the path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst.
Thomas Hardy, 1887

yesterday I got around to watching the documentary, the end of suburbia: oil depletion and the collapse of the american dream. my sister-in-law p recommended this flick and fortunately the cleveland public library has it available - have I told you how much I love public libraries!

the flick is quite good. however, it was 'singing to the choir' - I've been singing this song for a looooong time! that being said, it the film was still worth viewing and I don't hesitate recommending it. the basic message is the suburban ideal of the 'american dream' is over. the film explores some of the forces which fueled the suburbanization of america. one analyst suggests the suburbanization of america has been the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. for the suburbanization of america has only been possible through (over-)consuming fossil fuels!

the film is filled with great 'one-liners' and insights and connections. in talking about suburban housing developments one fellow notes that housing developments are often named after the very thing that they have destroyed (think - quail run, fox meadows, oak glen). regarding the u.s. rail system the comment is made that "in the u.s. we have a railroad system the bulgarians would be ashamed of." (I don't think it's cool to slam the bulgarians, but lack of pc-ness aside, the quote is quite funny and I got the message) the same guy who made the crack about the railroad system also stated that we are stuck up a cul-de-sac in a cement SUV without a fill-up.

the film has it's weakness - for instance it doesn't adequately explore the issues of race. particularly how in the early days of suburbanization, the process was essentially a new form of 'jim crow' segregation (cf thomas j. sugrue's works). I was also a bit taken aback that all of the 'talking heads' in the film where middle-age white men - I can come up with plenty of academics and writers who don't share this particular demographic. but criticisms aside, it's a film worth watching.

the film offers hope at the end by bringing the discussion to how we can buffer the pain a bit and improve the situation if we embrace an authentic sense of community living and sustainability. the ideas of the new urbanism movement offer one such approach. people need to become neighbors again and that we really need to learn to live locally. more support for the ol' bumper sticker wisdom of "think globally, act locally"


Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

I've meant to watch it as well. It reminds me that I never felt as isolated and lacking community as I did when living in suburbia where I never knew neighbors, had absolutely no connection to anything local. San Francisco and New York are much more like villages where I have known all of my neighbors, feel community involvement, always know what's going on down the street. Much of that is due to walking the streets and seeing everything going on.

Barbara said...

It is really hard to convince people to return to the "good old days", especially if they never personally experienced them. I think more and more people are just going into survival mode with little thought to tomorrow. Sounds Zen, but they aren't Buddhists!

jenclair said...

I will look for this one!

Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

I was talking a friend last night about this topic. In my SF neighborhood, there are no chains, mom and pop businesses, first-name customer service. It's a "Norman Rockwell" image of a 1940s small town. When I go back to the Midwest or Great Plains, even in a small town, it's big box, multi-national stores. People are friendly, but they don't have the investment of it being a local business.

Colette Amelia said...

And what is so scary is this is the ideal, this is the big enchalada what we work more and more hours to get...even if we have no quality of life, we come home drive into the garage, go into the house eat our take out food and veg in front of the boob tube watching stupid shows to dull our disapointment of our over stressed lives.

kimy said...

jt - I hear you about how isolating it can feel in suburbia. I'm definitely a city mouse, although I do love the country - but I fear if lived in the country I would probably become a hermit as I'm prone to get wrapped up with my here and now.

I know we share a love of walking the streets and keeping an eye on all the going ons. I am a big supporter of small independent local businesses -- big box stores make me break out in hives (well metaphorically speaking)and outside of a trip to target a few times a year I avoid all the big retail places. you'll never catch me in a walmart - and I'm quite proud of swaying folks away from such places.

barbara - I'm so glad I've discovered your blog via reya!!! the circle grows! I don't know about 'good old days' were there any? the good days are the here and now if you make them so! I added you to the mouse's blogroll to insure frequent nibbling!

jen - I'm sure you'll find the flick stimulating.

ca - I've always revel in being a outlier! I will always put quality of life over quantity of anything! the only enchiladas I'm interested in are the ones I get in my local mexican restaurant! the important thing for each of us to remember is every action we take is a choice and be mindful of our choices and the consequences of those choices.

david mcmahon said...

If it's got great one-liners, Ill be there!

Steve said...

It's interesting that we now equate living in suburbia with not knowing neighbors and being isolated -- because that certainly wasn't the way it seemed when I was a kid. We knew everyone on our street and there was lots of interaction. I don't doubt all that has changed, though -- and I think there are deeper cultural forces at work. (TV, video games, even -- maybe -- the Internet!)

The irony is that as suburbs become less desirable the people living there will be the ones least able to afford the fuel to make them livable.

Thanks for adding me! I'm glad to do the same with your fabulous blog! :)