Topic: New York / Commack
A recent paternal visitation to Takotron HQ was characterized by a number of unsolicited comments by strangers on the physical resemblance between father and son. It also marked a continuation of good intergenerational, enlightening conversations. A recurring topic was suburbanism (my origin, immediate family's locale) and urbanism.
Much can and has been said about the development of America's suburbs. A common theme is their underlying sinisterness. I'm not being sarcastic or ironic, and I'm not building off my past as a teenager, sick of the provincial conformity of my environment. Like I've said before, living away from LI has allowed me to even take up a peculiar pride in my suburban background. That said, everyone is familiar with some sort of hidden anger, violence, exclusivity beneath the thin, fragile crust of manicured lawns, good HS board scores, and houses. Whatever suspicions we all have are only confirmed as we look further into the situation.
Fundamentally, the suburbs are a product of decentralization, during which the concentrated populations of our cities dispersed themselves outward, away from the dangers and inconveniences (as well as diversity, culture, and tight communities) of urban life in favor of privacy, space, and personal control. But by the age of American suburban sprawl, urban 'dangers' were on a new, unfamiliar, and unfathomable scale. Not pickpockets and gang-violence, but total annihilation:
...the postwar planners argued that the only effective defense against an atomic attack was to rechannel urban development into a series of "linear" or "ribbon" cities that would, as one planner put it, "produce a dispersed pattern of small efficient cities more attuned to the needs of modern living, modern commerce, and modern industry and far less inviting as potential targets." ...U.S. News and World Report touted "fringe cities" as a counter to the bomb, noting that in New York City, where a million families would be added in the next several decades, "plans are already being made to guide the growth of these centers, so that they will conform with the needs of atomic defense." ...Horatio Bond, of the National Fire Protection Association, went so far as to suggest that "it will be proper for our military establishments to veto further concentrations of urban centers. No more skyscrapers. No more concentrated housing projects. If slums are cleared, leave them clear. Build new buildings in such a way as to keep down the concentration of people." -Tom Vanderbilt, Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America
However, by the time my teenage life in the suburbs peaked, these concerns were irrelevant. The rise and fall of nuclear culture in relation to suburban development and its implications are explored by writer Tom Vanderbilt (and www.designobserver.com contributor) in his book above.
It was my grandparents' generation who brought their families to the suburbs in an attempt to protect them from whatever global destruction would have begun with those first, anticipated, strategic nuclear assaults on our cities. I was 8 when the Berlin wall came down, marking an official end to the fading Cold War. But my suburban town could only continue building ontop of itself, regenerating its broken down strip malls into new ones adorned with fake stucco and more parking spots to be filled with SUVs, themselves an exaggerated extension of the Cold War paranoid desire for more privacy, more protection, and less outside contact. Not suprisingly, no one saw the historical transition as an opportunity to discard the layout of selfish individualism and paranoia--its results remained and its origins were long forgotten.
And yet, as overgrown, decentralized, private fortresses, the bitter irony is that in the suburbs lots of fucked-up dangerous, violent things still go on, just as they do in cities (and small towns, too). The difference is that cities are expected to contain these, but the people of the suburbs are repeatedly shocked each time it happens, lapsing into amnesiatic denial between incidents--"I never thought it would happen here, in our neighborhood, i moved here (to white America) because I thought I would be safe". As it turns out, a decentralized place like my hometown has its strip malls (and behind them our neighborhoods) built around the region's deadliest road, Jericho Turnpike, according to Newsday. Phil and I proposed a nickname to underplay the dramatic Biblical imagery of destruction ("Ol' Jerry"), but it never caught on. It's layout is designed to accomodate and necessitate the vehicle, (not the teenage pedestrian walking to Taco Bell), which it also endangers.
More danger can be found on the Commack Fire Department's interesting website, which has pages of photographs chronicling gory vehicular accidents, strip malls on fire, and suburban homes burning, their vinyl siding transformed into dripping, molten plasm. And then, last month a guy I knew in junior high and HS, not a good friend, but someone I saw at concerts in the city and talked to every now and then, was beaten to death in a fight outside a strip club, located at the convergence of two commercial highways in my town--all it is is these convergences of commercial highways.
It's easy to bash on the suburbs, and I bet I've been doing it since prepuberty. But the truth is Commack LI NY and other (supposedly) innocuous, typical whitebread suburbs are not such bad places to grow up. By definition they offer proximity to cities. Access is of course a problem, since getting there means you need money and a ride to the nearest station. But it's there. What makes a big difference is who raises you, who you know, and how hard you look for what you want. I was lucky to have a family that emphasized culture and exploration and made regular trips to NYC. At the same time, I grew up with kids that had never been to the city--cultural capital of the world and an hour away. It's also true that suburbs have their own regional particularities. Though there are plenty of similarities, my friends's towns in the Chicago suburbs are totally different from mine in terms of ethnicity and culture (I'm used to much larger representations of Italian and Jewish Americans. Both places are, horifically, plagued with racial segregation).
TAKOTRON loves the city life.
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:38 AM CDT
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