I come from an academic tradition which focuses on the Norman Rockwell stories of streams and tree forts, suburban idylls under a tree in the backyard. My professional mentors have talked about the barbecues in the backyards of two story SFDs (single family dwellings) and the family secrets overheard by children who listened from the top stair, when they were supposed to be in bed. I have listened to stories at the other end of the continuum--the stories of loss and homelessness, of violence and fear, of the rejection of home, and of longing so profound that it is palpable, visceral. But now as I begin to release the valve on the dam, I have heard a new story--new to me anyway. A colleague and friend is moving to an "airpark community" in Florida. Their house will be on a "grass taxiway a few streets from the paved runway." I suppose they will walk out the door, get in a plane and drive the plane to the supermarket. I imagine a place on the plane will have to be established for the grandkids' diapers. And I suppose they will relish listening to the sounds of aircraft engines at night. I wonder what a community potluck will be like.
My friend married a colleague who is also a pilot. She has learned to fly planes as well and has built part of her business by working with women pilots who, I guess, are a relatively rare breed. She grew up in a suburban community which was based around a car culture, so I suppose this is what passes as moving up in that world: "That's a hell of a big car you are driving, missie!" But I can no more imagine living in a place based around planes than I can .... well, wait....
Another old friend spent most of a decade or two living on a boat and traveling around the world. They were enmeshed in boat culture, which if I had spent the appropriate time taking notes, I could tell you about. Alas!
There is a whole culture of people that live out of their Airstream trailers, or their motorcycles with sidecars and back-ends that can hold everything from a tent to blueberry pancake mix.
These are all communities in some sense, but what are the circumstances that bring neighbors together? Or are they part of a virtual community that does not require that they help out when one of them is sick or another on hard times?
Then, the other day, I discovered that there is an architectural firm that specializes in the development of retirement communities for gay men and women.
"The high-design space geared toward LGBT senior citizens is the result of a collaboration between principal Matthias Hollwich of the New York architecture firm Hollwich Kushner and nine other architecture firms...Each firm was given a piece of the 100-acre plot and total freedom to inject their personal style into the space. The only requirements for the architects were that their structures had to epitomize high design in order to fight the stereotypical look of retirement communities, and that none of the firms could have ever done work around aging before, so they could come to the project with fresh ideas."
OK I will have to do another blog post on architects hired because they have NO experience with the population they are serving. And a blog post on an architectural firm designing a retirement community that "ignores those stereotypical architectural motions...a ramp here, a wide doorway there...because inconvenience will empower residents... and get them to do a little bit more activity than they think they can," but that will come later. [Breathe deeply... calm down...]
For now, it's about community and home.
I understand the draw to live with those of similar values and sensitivities. I understand that California and Florida are a kind of frontier of warm weather fun and few restrictions on the right to live as we choose. But I can't help but feel that there is a certain loss in the development of micro-communities that screen out those who don't believe as we do.
In any case, it would seem that there are two parallel threads that are emerging these days in the search for home. Theorists like James Howard Kunstler and Christopher Leinberg would have us believe that rural and suburban communities are dying as people are fleeing toward the cultural life and diversity of the cities. But I am hearing more and more about these playgrounds for those who can choose to see only others who value what they do.
And I am worried.
Worried that our politics will continue to reflect an opting out of the diverse set of values where seniors also pay taxes to support the public schools. I am worried that in the drive to build single purpose communities, we are also building single issue politics and the PACS that drive out the discussion of shared concerns, in the effort to protect self-interest. (And that Florida frontier has been a hotbed of self-interest politics.)
As the damming of the stream of consciousness is leaking, I am exploring what it is in us that draws us so deeply to these ways of spending our aging days and nights...to the sounds of those we recognize, and the pacing of a day that mirrors our own.
I grew up spending summers at the beach where everyone slept late, and walked to the beach at late midday, showered and started fixing the hors d'oeuvres in the late afternoon, and sat on each other's decks until it was time for the walk to the tiny hard-seat movie house in the center of town. Ice cream followed the movies and then.... But these were people who were weekend escapees from the city, people who were there as singles to mingle, and seniors who had spent their lives at hard work and had found this little bungalow place near their jobs on the mainland that they could afford. And everyone shopped in the downtown and went to the Community House for the movies. It wasn't possible to ignore neighbors whose houses were close enough to throw an extension cord through the window for the phone or for extra power for the blender. But this place too has changed, and is now a place of hard core identity politics though it is still relatively welcoming to moneyed families with children, and to the singles who mingle.
I suppose I am wondering how what is shared in these communities can be tapped to support what is needed outside them. I suppose that there are networks formed on the tennis courts or golf courses or swim clubs. But I can't help wondering how we build community in places that we can leave behind at the turn of the key in an engine. And I am wondering whether this is what underlies the dichotomies in the political sphere and in the impacts on social (in)justice.
And I am wondering what else I think I know as the dam is beginning to leak, even in places where I have not yet removed the debris. And I am wondering where H and I will land when we are done with what occupies our days. What are you doing the rest of your life? [You can click on this link!]
I still think we belong here in the place that married us, in the place that allows for people who don't quite fit, in the place that (so far) supports its own school financially and in the annual Living History event that turns the entire town into a history classroom.
A friend told us yesterday about the loss of the downtown commerce and the services in the nearby town of Proctor. He said that a town which seemed stuck in the 1950s, with all the community interdependence and small town lifestyle that that represented, now sported boarded up store fronts and the electric company had merged with the big dogs. Our friend thought about moving there with the granddaughter he is raising, so she could have kids on the streets to play with. But they are thinking of moving somewhere else now. Not sure where. Someplace their child can play outside with other kids. Someplace where he doesn't have to confront the politics of working and living in the same town. Someplace that will welcome them and support their growing grandchild, someplace to walk at the end of the day, someplace that is accepting, someplace like here..