Thursday, February 7, 2008

My Life in Tract Housing

I've discovered that the ghost in the blog machine won't let me transfer my blog posts from wordpress to here. I don't know why. If you're interested, look for Dinorobot at wordpress. I think you'll be able to find my posts. 

Podcasts are my saving grace at work, and I particularly like listening to To the Best of Our Knowledge from PRI. The last segment I listened to was about sprawl. In the interest of fair-handedness, they spoke with someone for sprawl and someone against it. I'd have to say that based on my own experiences with sprawl I would be opposed. 

I grew up in a medium-sized city in Utah. We moved into the suburbs after living in Montana for a time. My initial thoughts of my new home were all positive: I loved the different spaces I could squeeze into and I liked all the empty fields around the house. With time I began to lose my that feeling. 

My neighborhood consisted of a one-mile square block of houses. There were no businesses nearby, but there were plenty of churches and schools. When we first moved in there was a huge field behind my house and I used to go out and build forts. An even bigger parcel of land rested half a mile away, and my friends and I used to wander around there for hours, discovering old irrigation ditches, burned-out cars, and elk. 

Things changed though when everyone realized what a wonderful place it was. Houses were crowded in the field behind my house. After that I couldn't build forts anywhere, and I had to listen to the inbred family from Idaho scream about going to Wal-mart. After several years houses started popping up in other previously vacant land areas. To make matters even worse, every damn family moving in wanted so much land. On it they grew grass, which they never stepped on. I hated lawns from there on out. There was no more magic to my neighborhood. It was just full of tract houses and Mormons. 

I wish that more real estate in my neighborhood had been made up of stores and other places to congregate. As teenagers, we had nowhere to go. We toilet-papered houses and then called it a night. The lack of proximity to anything also meant that we had to drive wherever we went. One of my favorite things to do was to wander around the neighborhood by foot; I hardly ever saw anyone doing the same. Apart from church, there were few places to meet and engage with anyone else. It was isolating. 

Although I was sad to leave my house and all of the memories I had constructed there, I wasn't sorry to leave the neighborhood. There was nothing to tie me to that place. All the open spaces I had loved had been choked by poorly constructed houses for white people. It was like living in an ant farm. 

And so, I think if I had the opportunity to plan a residential community I would gladly sacrifice some lawn space from each house to create public spaces where everyone could come together and get to know one another. I would also promote a car-free epicenter in the town where emphasis was placed on the walking, not driving, experience. And stores would provide a means of employment and entertainment for all the neighbors looking for some stimulation. 

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