I regret to inform you that today’s shopping experience did not produce the level of happiness described in the picture above. Sometimes it’s just rote provisioning. Sometimes it’s spoiled by people who get into a zone of contemplation while looking at Cheese Whiz and cannot sense the presence of others. There was a woman who’d blocked an aisle - a very wide aisle at that - with her cart, which was angled sideways, and she took up the rest of the available transit space with her own self as she contemplated a container of processed cheese product with an expression composed of stupification and amazement. I scraped my cart wheels to the side to indicate that she was not, as some theorize, alone in the universe: behold, madam, the proof that solipsism is a false concept.
It did not work. I said “excuse me,” and she looked up and bleated I’m sorry with irritation.
I wish I’d said something, but you never do. You never screw in your monocle and say “Would you stand still, that I might fix in my mind forever the sight of a person whose casual selfishness and general obliviousness have combined to make someone so disagreeable that God himself would return in physical form so that He might key your door? For heaven’s sake, woman, you’re irritated at me? Do you really want me to go to the other end of the aisle and traverse the adjacent lane because you cannot to be bothered to perform the simplest act of common courtesy obvious to all who enter this place?”
Anyway. Now I have to write a column, but earlier I wrote something based off a piece that found something good to say about the suburbs. It might not be what you think. It’s like someone of a certain young age and intellectual sensibility saying something good about Notre Dame’s future; you brace yourself for the words “rethink,” or the need for inclusion, or an “opportunity” to fix the past, the existence of which is a metal sliver in the gums of some people.
Let's go right to scripture:
Back in the early 1960s, Malvina Reynolds wrote a song called “Little Boxes,” inspired by a drive past rows of lookalike pastel-hued houses in a new suburban housing tract in the Bay Area. (Her friend Pete Seeger had a hit with the song in 1963.) Reynolds saw the cookie-cutter houses as both symbols and shapers of the conformist mindset of the people who lived in them—doctors and lawyers who aspired to nothing more than playing golf and raising children who would one day inhabit “ticky-tacky” boxes of their own.
Right. And the smugocracy has held that disdain in their gas-filled noggins for decades.
Reynolds no doubt seared for the rich diversity of the brownstone:
I guarantee all those tacky-ticky houses at least had different colors.
But Reynolds was wrong about who lived in this suburb, Daly City, just south of San Francisco. It was not originally home to the martini-chuffing doctors and lawyers she imagined, but to working-class and lower-middle-class (white) strivers who were the last group to get in on the postwar housing boom.
This makes them a bit more sympathetic, I guess. The author notes that the area went on to host “the highest concentration of immigrants from the Philippines in America,” which isn’t surprising - around here, the older suburbs have a high immigrant population, because they’re affordable and desirable.
Clichés and misconceptions still define suburbia in the popular imagination, and it drives me crazy.
I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C. I’m a suburbanite, but my life doesn’t revolve around manicured lawns, status anxiety, or a craving for homogeneity.
She may overestimate the number of people whose lives revolve around those things, and “homogeneity” is a loose concept - physical, intellectual, ideological, aesthetic? People tend to personalize anything within a certain set of parameters - give them all the same house plan, and they’ll paint it a different color, put a stone goose on the yard wearing a football jersey, and of course the interiors will all be different. Individualized.
My suburban experience is riding the bus as people chat around me in Spanish and French Creole. It’s having neighbors who hail from Tibet, Brazil, and Kenya as well as Cincinnati. It’s my son attending a school that reflects the diversity—and stubborn inequality—of America today.
The suburb is good if it is diverse, that being the quality that bestows some sort of moral authority over monocultures. How about the mostly Philippine suburb she describes above? Does it have the same virtue if everyone on the bus is speaking the same language?
But hey, even back when suburbs weren’t diverse, some were okay, because they were radical! One of them was a communal suburb with no private property (awesome!) Unrelated people lived together!
Friedrich Engels wrote admiringly of the Harmonist social system—minus the religion. The sect gradually dwindled in number and finally dissolved in 1905.
Preaching celibacy will do that. Also, the main leader was dead, having lost some credibility when his predictions about the return of Christ failed to materialize. But it’s the Engels-approved lack of private property she admires, you suspect. So our first radical suburb was a monoculture based on adherence to religious codes. Okay.
Ten years later, in 1915, a loose band of anarchists and socialists boarded a train in New York and disembarked in central New Jersey, where they set up a colony and progressive school—and evaded police scrutiny back in the city. When they flew the red flag from the water tower, locals climbed up and tore it down. But they were more or less left alone, and the Stelton colony lasted, through the Great Depression and much political infighting, into the 1950s.
So it was a failure, then. I mean, no one’s saying “Levittown flourished for a while, but eventually it was abandoned and replaced with high-rises.”
The thing about the non-radical suburbs you might notice today they’re still around, since they don’t have a centralized ideological foundation. Participation in the society’s dominant ideas isn’t the same as organizing your suburb around a narrow creed, unless you think that the free market is a narrow creed.
After the war, private homebuilders—armed with techniques of mass production and boosted by government policies—stamped their “little boxes” across thousands of square miles of suburbia. But there were alternatives and challenges to the new tract suburbs.
For example, one unusual homebuilder named Morris Milgram contested the white supremacy of Levittown almost in its back yard. A former socialist activist, Milgram opened an integrated subdivision of 140 houses called Concord Park in 1954. It was just northeast of Philadelphia, and a few miles away from Levittown, Pennsylvania. Homebuyers included several interracial couples, a few communists, and many nonconformists. Their children played together, while their parents formed a babysitting co-op and bowling, photography, and sewing clubs—just like the residents of any other new suburb.
And that’s great. Then the author shifts to the present, where the suburbs are bad because people drive and get diabetes and we have until 2030 to save the earth. The solution will be more density and mass transit, and while I think better bus lines in the burbs is a good idea and the dense nodes a nice addition - you always get a Trader Joe’s and it makes the transplanted urbanites happy because there are apartments for other people (not the poors; the new nodes are usually too expensive, and the poorer people live in apartment buildings that are already in the first-ring surburbs) it’s not going to change the existing reality of suburbs as they were constructed: spread-out cities that require a car for most people. Bikes are nice. No one gets a week of groceries for a family of four on a bike.
So you should bike every day to get groceries.
Thanks, no, but you’re welcome to, and yes, that walking path by the bike path is nice and we use it some evenings in the summer and fall.
No seriously you should bike every day to get groceries.
We only have 12 years.
I’m closing the door now. Have a nice day.
Back to the piece:
But what if we chose to embrace suburban in-betweenness instead of condemning it? Over the past 150 years, suburbanites have lived in large communal dwellings and tiny shacks, Modernist apartments and neo-Gothic mansions. They’ve been renters and homeowners, domestic servants and corporate executives. They’ve cultivated both emerald lawns and food crops. They’ve sought escape from social progress, and freedom from convention.
Heavy-handed zoning and land-use regulations might try to make time stand still, but nothing is predestined about the future of suburbia, where most Americans live. Instead of despairing over the suburbs’ problems, we should be inspired by suburban history to try to solve them. As the anarchists at Stelton knew, and the Concord Park residents who stood vigil over the Myers’ house in Levittown: Suburbia is what we make it.
It always was that. But it’s not anymore if the “we” involves government planners who tell you what you’re allowed to make.
From a Quilette piece on the decline of aspirations in the younger generation, which includes “aspiring to a nice place to live”:
So why has home ownership fallen? Largely due to regulations that have placed new affordable housing beyond the reach of younger Australians, something we also see in major cities in Great Britain, the United States, and Canada. In all these places, the main culprit has been “smart growth,” a notion that encourages the reluctant to move closer to dense urban cores and give up the dream of owning a home.
The impact on prices has been severe. In Sydney, planning regulations, according to a recent Reserve Bank study, now add 55 percent to the price of a home. In Perth, Melbourne, and Brisbane the impact is also well over $100,000 per house. Australian cities once filled with family-friendly neighborhoods are now dominated by dense apartments. According to projections from the Urban Taskforce, apartments will make up half of Sydney’s dwellings by the mid-century, whereas only one quarter of Sydney dwellings will be family-friendly detached homes.
Almost as if that was the goal, eh?
“A man with a suitcase.”
Here's the story about the Man With Suitcase.
Paul Harold Orgeron, age 49, a tile-setter and ex-convict, had recently moved from Altus, Oklahoma to southern Houston, Texas with his seven-year-old son, Dusty Paul. According to Orgeron's ex-wife, Hazel, they divorced twice due to spousal abuse. Orgeron briefly rented at a nearby boarding house using the pseudonym Bob Silver. The landlord later said the father and son were quiet and had not caused any trouble.
Orgeron attempted to enroll his son in second grade at Edgar Allan Poe Elementary School but was denied since he lacked birth and health certificates for his son. He left the school office claiming he would return the next day with the documents.
He showed up with six sticks of dynamite in a suitcase. He approached a teacher outside, where the kids were playing for recess, and gave her a note.
Please do not get excite over this order I’m giving you. In this suitcase you see in my hand is fill to the top with high explosive. I mean high high. Please believe me when I say I have 2 more (illegible) that are set to go off at two times. I do not believe I can kill and not kill what is around me, an I mean my son will go. Do as I say an no one will get hurt. Please. —P. H. Orgeron
He gave her another note, which said much the same, and ended with “I would like to talk about god while waiting for my wife.”
More at the link. He killed three kids, including his son, and three adults, including himself.
In case you think Congressional inaction is a new development, and back then our solons got cracking on top issues right away:
What’ll it be this fall?
Of all those signs, one is recognizable as a brand. Do you know which one it is?
They had OCR numbers back then.
Could you pass this test today?
One of them stumped me.
The Rapacki Plan: Rapacki Plan (pronounced Rapatz-ki) is from the Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki on 2 October 1957 the UN General Assembly presented a limited plan called demilitarization in Central Europe. The proposal provided for the establishment of a nuclear-free zone, which should include the People's Republic of Poland, the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. This area was later extended to Czechoslovakia.
NATO, smelling a Red ruse, gave it the kibosh. Rapacki died in 1970, the 25th anniversary of Soviet occupation of his country.
Speaking of Reds in the news:
It’s a Red Owl ad; I must have clipped it for the stylized family, which is rather horrifying and dehumanizing.
Uh - what?
I have absolutely no record of this, anywhere. Must investigate. It only lasted a decade and change; then the new Hennepin County building would occupy the site.
Good ol' Cedric, who'd been writing a column at the paper for three decades by now. We met him on Monday, remember? Tall, handsome fellow.
Just a humble ol’ Iowa Farmer:
Roswell "Bob" Garst (June 13, 1898 – November 4, 1977) was an American farmer and seed company executive. He developed hybrid corn seed in 1930 that allowed greater crop yields than open-pollinated corn.
He’s mostly remembered for the visits.
As an international agriculturalist, he encouraged modern farming methods to improve food production in many nations, including the Soviet Union, Chile, Hungary, Germany, and France. Garst was famous for offering (sometimes unsolicited) advice.
When Khrushchev visited Coon Rapids, Garst could not help but discuss the US-Soviet political situation, and told Khrushchev, "You know, for a peasant, you're a damned poor horse trader.” Khrushchev apparently liked Garst enough after his previous visits to the Soviet Union to demand that Garst's farm be included on his 1959 tour of the U.S., where he famously stated that Iowa corn was superior to Ukrainian corn.
Yes, but not Russian corn.
BUY MAVERICK ENDORSED HOUSES OR SOMETHING
That'll do; enjoy the update, and I'll see you around. --