Late Night with Richard
(Scanning Planning, Indiana Planning Association, Winter 2000)
By Richard Carson
O.K., I've been to a wedding and had a few beers. I sat at my desk and I read the Northern News. It is the chapter newsletter for the northern section of the California chapter of the APA. One sentence stands out, "New Livable High Density." Is this an oxymoron? It seems to appear on a real estate sign somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Is this a biblical tract from the planners' mantra? Hmm... or is it the dream of some planner who wishes he or she is a developer, or at least ruler of the earth.
A question comes to my mind. Is the dream of our mothers and fathers wrong? Seriously. My parents rebuilt their lives at the end of World War II. My father was a good man who ended up in the March to Baatan. In other words, he was captured in the Philippines by the Japanese and sent to a concentration camp to die. My mother graduated from college during his imprisonment. After the war was over they were reunited and bought a house in a tract home on a cul-de-sac. Their dream was to forget the war, to have children and to live happily ever after. Not a bad dream by any standards.
And being raised in a cul-de-sac was a good thing. It did not make me too dysfunctional. Well, I never was arrested. Their dream was to buy a home. The American dream. To own two cars. One for her and one for him. Women learned a lot by the end of the war. It was a good life. We had great neighbors and did a lot together -- despite what some folks would tell you. Kids played in the cul-de-sac and the parents had block parties.
If Americans today are anti-social, it is not because of land development patterns or even traffic congestion. It is because of the failure of morality and the fact we are afraid of our neighbors today. A kid doesn't walk into a school and kill people because he was born on a cul-de-sac. It is because his brain is pumped full of hate and indifference from watching crap on television and movies, or from easy access to drugs. But then planners don't regulate television and movies, or drugs use. So we feel impotent and we often invent myths. To be honest, when I watched television it was Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo. Not a serial killer to be found.
You want myths? You want truth? Read Carl Sagan and Ian McHarg. You will learn that increased density at some point is a genetic poison that creates social destruction. Read the book "Manufacturing Consent" and you will see that we were fed lies once upon a time. I watch a lot of kid's shows these days. At fifty-one years old I am still an idealist. I believe a pig named Babe talks to sheep and guides them home. For you old farts, I believe that Bambi's father leads him from the fire. And I believe that the American dream is still a good one.
On the other hand, it is late. And I have to put my three-year old daughter to bed. And I worry about us. What are we doing? Why do we believe in false gods? Oh, and good night mom.
Richard Carson is an urban planner and a freelance journalist.