Friday, August 1, 2008

The (Re)Creation of the Traditional (?) American Community

Depending on where you live and what your existing community is like, it might be inconceivable to think that in a few summers from now your summer will be spent at home. In modern times, “at home” simply means you are either at your house or within your community. It means you do not take a long roadtrip, you don’t venture to a foreign locale, in short, you just don’t go anywhere that’s more than, say, 20 or 30 miles away. Does your community offer what you need or want to make a summer at home tolerable? What is there to do, see, think about, explore, etc.?

One of the most beneficial (for the long term) but potentially difficult modifications American society will soon have to make as a result of generally unaffordable gasoline is the rebuilding of the true community. Or, should I say, the forced rebuilding of the traditional community. We are going to have to make our communities more inhabitable, more packed with opportunities to feed our ever-growing lust for diversion, and in general, more conducive to just plain hanging out in. We are going to have to create more on our own and learn to live without as much selection.

In this still golden (albeit quickly tarnishing)age of cheap-ass gas and a full tank that cost less than a good meal out, many of us have and often drive our cars. This means we can go places, shop around, have the world delivered to our doorstep by men in brown uniforms, get our food shipped in from across the country in less time than it takes us to get ready for bed at night. In short, many of our identities exist within but also outside of our communities because we have the potential to be somewhere else, do something new, experience something out of the norm…. all of those American “grass is always greener-isms” we share.

We have multiple options for goods and services presented to us and we are used to the idea of multiple providers of essentially the same thing, simply as a matter of competition. However, this competition that allows us the diversity in goods and services that we so value is all based on keystone of cheap transportation for the delivery of these products.

The lack of choice we will eventually be forced to experience will be the topic for a host of entries on this blog, as this fact alone composes one of the most potentially difficult social and consumer-related difficulties we will face. For now, that is something I just want to touch upon, but back to the matter at hand….

At this point I do not believe in a true community spirit exists (unless you live in a commune, which more power to you, I guess) that is universally accepted voluntarily by all of its denizens. This suggestion is likely to ruffle a few feathers simply because a lot of us (myself included) like to think we live in close communities. We feel good about our communities when we shop at the local farmer’s market or independently-owned grocery, volunteer for community-related organizations, attend community and neighborhood events and socialize primarily with people in the general vicinity. What we will come to acutely understand in coming years, however is that the concept of community extends far beyond what we do. It includes who we are; as individuals and as a society and this is a brand-new notion for a country obsessed with places and things from places that are only accessible by a drive, whether it’s a short trip or an extended journey. What will happen when we’re all forced to stay at home? We will create new, local and hopefully community-member owned enterprises, restaurants, shopping venues, etc.

It just has to happen that way.

As gut-wrenching as the economic (and, for that matter, recreational) effects of unaffordable gasoline will be for the masses for the next couple of decades, America’s loss of driving privileges will recreate the traditional concept of community with the added dash offered by internet, satellite, and communication technologies. In short, far from reverting to the “old world” community of yore with a singular community groupthink enforced by geographical isolation and a lack of diverse information coming in from the outside world, the new American community will be enhanced by easy access to global information, entertainment, news and worldviews while simultaneously being tight-knit and driven, economically, socially, and otherwise, by local interactions, businesses, organizations and educational/recreational outlets.

In the coming time of the New American Community where staying close to home is a necessity rather than a choice we are going to need to find new ways to make our communities somewhere we want to be. For far too long now we have been able to ignore glaring issues and brush aside the persistent notion that life is always better when we’re away from home, away from what we know… We are going to have to make our communities somewhere we want to live, work, and play in because as the years roll on with no realistic alternative to affordable transportation on a whim, it is the only place we can afford to be. We will have to learn with less of a choice but make the most of what we do have and take pride in what has been created out of necessity.

The complexities related to this issue are astounding and specific topics related to it will be added in future posts… In the meantime, however, think about your community. Is it where you want to be? Can you find common ground with your neighbors and build into something more, if for no other reason than that you have no choice? Can you imagine living with less selection, fewer choices?

No comments: