We are forced to nod in agreement when someone says “If I want to live this way and do these things and I have the money to do it, hell, why shouldn’t I?” What can we say to this? If people can afford to live in mansion-like new houses with big lawns and ample garage space for their nice cars, why shouldn’t they?
Someone actually asked this in my class last semester. This has become an American mantra. Every part of our system bows down to what is affordable. We can’t even donate money to causes without fundraisers to give us some sort of entertainment in return.
But can we reconsider what we want from life a second? Why do we love Europe so much? Why is it every college girl’s dream to visit it? The sense of history? The beauty of the towns? Why not make that a reality in America? Why do we feel this need to get away every few months? We should be building places we want to be, inside and out. Americans love DIY home improvement, but beyond their front yards, it is generally assumed that nothing can be done. I don’t think anyone really loves driving that much, unless they are joyriding with their friends. I don’t see why we are fiercely defending this way of life when it is killing thousands of people in car accidents a day.
And as a second blow to our mantra, we are starting to not have the money to do what we want anymore. Our economy, within our communities, is based on services. We don’t produce goods anymore. Other countries do that. All we can do is create tourist destinations and make money off people from the suburbs and developments who don’t know they hate their neighborhoods. Holland, Michigan’s main source of revenue is from tourists at Tulip Time. Thus, the downtown 8th street has become cutesy and is teetering off the edge of realistic living space. People don’t see this area as a legitimate place to live.
What is legitimate then? Developers tell us we want to live in houses that have easier access to cars than to people, away from businesses and away from poor people. People either want a big city or the big country. Suburbia in some ways was an effort to squish the two together. But it sucks. Rural land just sits there–farms don’t really exist in America anymore. Not in any pleasant sense, at least. Where do you really want to live, and why? Why do we tell ourselves it doesn’t matter? Most of us need community. We need people, beyond family and church. We want a role in society. What is society anyhow?
The question isn’t if you have the money to get what you want, it’s about the want–what’s your real dream?