Saturday, April 10, 2010

The unbearable loneliness of entitlement

Bucolic suburbs, natural beauty, neighborly strife?

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with NIMBYism. It’s horrid (NIMBYism that is, not being obsessed by it). Not that it’s a recent phenomenon. It’s just that lately I’ve smelled some particularly nasty odors of it in my own community.

New Urbanism guru Andreas Duany has said: "People are intelligent in the abstract. They just get stupid when they talk about their own back yards."

NIMBYism rears its ugliness in both urban and rural places. Consider my blog a few weeks ago about civic entitlement in Toronto. Or Wendy Sarkissian’s about her rural community in Australia.

Somehow, though, NIMBYism has particular stench in suburban places. It fouls the air of civility among neighbors who should know better.

There is a great story about this by Seth Bauer of the Huffington Post you must read called American Suburbia vs the Planet.

Says Bauer:

We build homes with giant foyers because we have no public squares. We need media rooms because it's not easy or pleasant to drive to a multiplex theater, cross a parking lot through an ocean of cars, and pay a fortune for popcorn. We build bars in our basements because there are no neighborhood pubs. We have giant refrigerators and ever-growing storage needs because shopping is both far away and unpleasant (hello, Costco). The result? We heat and air-condition unused rooms in oversized unpleasant houses. And because our home bars and foyers are empty and our media experiences private, we're lonely, to boot.

Yes, that's it exactly.

Check out Bauer’s article in Huffington Post.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

todd said...

Greetings Mr Saville,

My father-in law bought a house with the rooms you describe. He bought it as a meeting place for the rest of the family; holidays and regular weekends can turn into a gathering of 30 people. Kids and adults alike are far from being lonely. Is my extended family in a seperate category or an anomaly?



GSaville said...

Thank you Todd. I appreciate your candor and important perspective.

Is your extended family an anomaly? Of course not! You are fortunate to have such a wonderful and thoughtful father-in-law. Good for him for the foresight and resources to create a weekend family space.

I should point out the point in my blog wasn't only about family, as important as that is. It was about neighbors, NIMBYism, and our limited choice for truly interesting housing options in today's sprawling suburbs.

What else can we do when all we are offered is suburban homes with big garages and nowhere to walk?

I suspect the intentional community folks have a point - especially those who choose co-housing as their option. In co-housing (check it out on google) all those rooms your father purchased are already freely available. As well, should they choose, neighbors in co-housing have far more options and community resources for other types of social, recreational, and leisure activities - right in their own neighborhood without driving miles to a "community center". All that is in addition to family weekends.

True, suburbs can offer a small measure of those things. And, as your father-in-law teaches us, we do need them in our lives.

But in my view traditional suburbs are a distant last place in the marathon toward truly healthy, vital and interesting neighborhoods where family, neighborliness and abundant social choices ALL cross the finish line first.

Thanks again for your important thoughts.