The Graduate Christian Fellowship at Carnegie-Mellon University has a group that meets weekly for discussion of various articles. I rarely make it to the discussion, but this week's topic was David Brooks's articles on Patio Man and the "Sprawl People".
I was asked for a summary of the conversation; hopefully, I did an ok job of representing the opinions that were spoken there.The conversation was pretty good. People generally agreed that David Brooks's assessment was accurate, that this is what is happening across the country. A couple people know people who live in "Sprinkler" cities, and one even in the county specifically mentioned in the article, and could vouch for the conditions there. One guy wondered if Patio Man, et al. is really all that bad, and if people are not interested in community, and wish to live one place, work another, and go to church another, and not have any connections in between, than that is their choice, and isn't necessarily wrong. A couple people thought they would like to have a nice, big grill to cook all sorts of things. In response to that, someone pointed out that the above situation happens in most places outside of small towns. Two of us agreed that small towns are the best. As to a solution, which we mostly thought the writer didn't have one, other than describing/lamenting the current situation, we didn't think of much. One person talked about a group of people who intentionally moved to the same neighborhood to make a community in the city, in a somewhat depressed area (East Liberty, the same section that those people in Squirrel Hill who thought Heather and I were going to get killed if we lived there). Someone took one sentence from the author and expounded on it a little, saying that the main problem with American culture is that when faced with a problem, particularly a social or relational problem, they either ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist, or else run away instead of dealing with it. The Europeans in the group thought possible reasons for this phenomenon is that America has tons of space, so there is somewhere to move to, that Americans care less about family, and want to prove something to the world, perhaps a "keeping up with the Jones's" attitude. They did say that it is easier to make friends in the US than Europe, because everyone is moving around so much, everyone is new, so there isn't the case where families go back generations, and so if you aren't living the same place as your grandfather, then you are new, and not part of the community, at least in small, subtle ways. One person pointed out that while the "educated elite" are the ones talking about this problem/phenomenon, that really we are the same people contributing to it. My high school is planning their 10 year reunion, so we are trying to contact people, and I realized that a number of the people who declared in high school that they wouldn't ever stick around Hillsboro, and would be gone the day of graduation, and never look back, are still there, working blue collar jobs, and the majority of the people who didn't particuarly want to leave Hillsboro, or thought it might be a nice place to live, went to college, and are now not living in Hillsboro. There were some examples of professors who go one place to undergrad, one place for their masters, perhaps another for their PhD, then get their first professorship, but probably are looking for another, better school. Then, if they don't get tenured, maybe they end up at a community college somewhere, hoping to leave, and thus never really settling down. Another example given was doctors, with the rotations all over the country, and then a residency somewhere way out in the middle of nowhere, so they are 30 or so before they get their first real job, and again, perhaps are planning to stay there the rest of their life, and are looking for the next big thing, and so also don't get settled. Certainly there are exceptions to this, perhaps more so in the small towns of NH than in the cities or suburbs.
Posted by Jon Daley on July 29, 2004, 7:31 am | Read 8611 times
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Thanks, Jon, for posting this. Naturally, I have thoughts about it, and hope some day soon to have time to think them -- and write them.

Posted by SursumCorda on July 30, 2004, 9:14 am

Thanks. Good summary. Check out the link for this week's conversation: Christianity Today

Posted by Tom on August 3, 2004, 10:40 am

Okay, I've given up the idea of finding any time soon to put together a coherent, reasoned response. Until then, I will throw out a few random comments.

(1) As I said before, the people described in the article are like no one I know. I admit that my knowledge is pretty much limited to Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York (upstate), Connecticut, and Massachusetts, which leaves out any state that doesn't touch the Atlantic Ocean. This is a big country, and a bigger world. But it's hard to comment on the article when I feel that the author might as well be describing Mars.

(2) I'll also confess that I find myself resenting the author's tone, which makes it hard to view objectively what he writes. I hate stereotyping, and have found that getting to know people shatters whatever shallow impressions I've had of them.

(3) I did not get the impression from the articles that people are trying to avoid community, but are rather looking for affordable places where they DON'T have a two-hour commute to job, church, etc.

(4) My impression is that no one WANTS to go to church far away from home, but has what he thinks important reasons for doing so. You live within walking distance of the church I think I would love to belong to if I were there, yet you choose to travel a long way to another church. We do the same here. It's far from ideal, but my point is that there are reasons that have nothing to do with lack of interest in community.

(5) I'm all for stability! You know very well how I feel about moving, especially if children are involved, or if it takes you further away from family. However, I do want to point out that there is also value in living in different places. One of my favorite quotes is, "He who knows only one culture, knows no culture." That goes as much for the cultural differences between Massachusetts and Nebraska as it does for those between the United States and Algeria. I'm the last person to deny what's lost in a move -- but I have to admit that I've gained from our moves, too. I don't know how to balance the need for stability with the need for a non-parochial view of life. Perhaps Academia's idea of the sabbatical is a good model: a solid home base from which you occasionally venture far afield for long enough to be more than a tourist.

(6) With regard to the "travel soccer" mentioned in the articles and a subject of a previous conversation: I said I'd ask our friends who participated in it what they thought. It turns out that they will be the first to tell you that no one in his right mind would do it! Unless, perhaps, you have more money and time than you know what to do with, and only one child. But sometimes you have to do it once to realize the costs.

(7) This is for your friends who expressed a desire for Patio Man's grill: Everyone I know who has succumbed to the desire for all those bells and whistles soon reverts to using only those features found on the basic, inexpensive grills anyway!

(8) Speaking from the other side of Hurricane Charley, I firmly assert that some form of gas grill is a VERY GOOD THING to have.

Posted by SursumCorda on August 18, 2004, 10:00 am
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