Did you know that we are trying to solve some of our countries health and wellness issues by attacking the symptoms per se, and not the cause? Diabetes is a symptom, depression is a symptom, hatred and hate issues are symptoms of the health issues plaguing the United States. But symptoms of what? A really bad idea called ‘suburbia.’ The very structure of suburbia has given rise to our countries physical and mental aches and pains. These ‘aches and pains’ have given rise to a behemoth health care industry that is failing at fixing us and only adding to our health and wellness problems. Now the two are having an ilicit and co-dependant relationship. We need health care to fix our depression, diabetes, and obesity and yet we are becoming depressed with not having ‘access to care’ or the cost of the care and prescriptives being outlandish. How can we circumvent this circular and sick relationship?
Can it be that “building community” is the answer? I am talking about “building community in a convoluted way, I am putting forth the word, “Building community’ in a physical sense. do we need a new scheme for the structure of our communities? Well maybe this isn’t a panacea, but it it might be a foundation.
As we all know, It is with an interest of ‘seclusion, privacy’ and division that Suburban America is planned. But do we really connect diabetes with lack of community? (Sure it’s about blood sugar and other factors but it’s also about community, or lack of it. How about teen suicide rates as the lack of evidentiary social interaction? or how about just plain old obesity? It’s the brain-child of an ill planned practically non-ambulatory community AND the lack of evidentiary socialization.
In the 50’s an agenda was born out of racial fear and tension. That agenda was to medicate it. That prescription brought us the creation of Suburbia. Suburbia kept people confident that ‘only people of a certain race and income could live near you, and that as a group of people from “the neighborhood” could circumvent intrusion and protect ‘the neighborhood’ from hooligans, noise unwanted traffic and transient people, later even renters were excluded. When ‘outsiders who weren’t ‘quite up to muster’ intruded by buying in suburbia we heard the phrase, “There goes the neighborhood” no matter what income level that part of ‘suburbia’ it was. I remember it. I think I heard my parents say it from time to time, sometimes as a joke and sometimes in seriousness as they felt that their ‘standard of living’ might be threatened. Even as mixed racial latin Americans, the phoney promise of suburbia was at work whispering in people’s ears.
So suburbia brought us an exclusionary sense of faux reality. We preceived that there were lions at the gate and if we stuck together we could keep things right. As time passed, children grew and families moved in and out, civil rights were pressed and passed and some minds changed, suburbia relaxed a bit, and spread like wildfire, under the promise of “security from increasing crime.” When more neighborhoods were planned they were planned the same way. Away from freeways, away from any downtown, and in circles, or cul-du-sacs. Our people changed, the neighborhood structures did not.
It serves to reason that if you are ‘secluded’ to a degree anyway that you are ‘far away from something.’ In this case suburbanites were far from everything! The doctor, the florist, the butcher, the fruit and vegeteble stand , the barber, the tailor, the school, and the park, any restaurant, bar, or place of leisure or socialization.
In suburbia there is no town square. There is no ‘Our Town.” We get in our cars, burn gas, deplete the ozone layer, drive several miles to take children to school, pick them up, take them to appointments… and sit supine exhausting no calories, creating no dopamine or seratonin so easily made in the process of walking. We are static and secluded.
We do not greet people in the street, we do not happen upon old friends and acquaintances which probably actually have an intentional role (in the grand cosmic scheme of things), in keeping us not only physically, but also mentally healthy.
We can go for days without happening on a friend, but maybe we’ll ring one up and hear their voice. Nowadays we can look at their profile, see videos of them and communicate via print, which is a small but insufficient substitute in the matter. Dopamine and seratonin levels may rise for a bit. Until next week. Our children do not fare any better. We set up “play dates” for our kids, driving them to their classmates friends’ houses in their own suburbia sometimes miles away, only to confer with the other parent about time of pick up and food allergies to look out for. Some of us forge friendships in this scenario, but most suburbanites point to the social roadblock when asked why they didn’t stay and visit, ‘he or she is not from our neighborhood” or they invoke the mantra “well, I don’t know them that well’ If you are leaving your child in another family’s care to play, then a connection should be forged! We are no longer adept at cultivating casual friendships! Seclusion breeds atrophy! Social atrophy! Which leads to depression…you’re getting the picture.
What if we could walk with our child to their ‘play-dates’? And walk back home? If our communities were structured differently with a town square homes and domiciles surrounding, we would be able to! How much better would that be? what if we saw that family from time to time at that town square, civic center or at the vegetable vendor in the town center? How much better would that be? ….as opposed to forced and tenuous intermittent socialization not initiated by people whom haven’t happened on the idea of possibly being friends in the first place?
Our communities do not encourage exercise, they don’t encourage natural socialization. Our children are obese, they crave socialization, their bodies are wired to acquire this knowledge! so they join virtual worlds, sims, Facebook, MySpace, online gaming etc. . Evidential Exercise and Natural socialization are two of the major components in happiness, health and wellness! and most of America’s current suburban communities don’t afford us those ideals. In ‘Connected communities the din of hate and prospect of hate crime is squelched via the natural growth of tolerance, experienced as children grow up with a variation races and personalities. The sound of the absence of these cultural needs is deafening. But we are so used to the sound that we no longer hear it! We see the problems the absence of these ideals has created but we medicate ourselves and the symptoms.
Some of the ways we medicate the symptoms: We need more exercise, we are beginning to see signs of diabetes and have gone past the limit we said we’d never ‘get to’ with our weight. So…we buy a Wii and begin an exercise routine! Since we live so far from our outlying ‘places of business’, necessary shopping, and places of enjoyment and leisure outside the home, we drive to them. But we have to account for traffic. There are many more people trying to get to their places of business and necessary shopping too! So….plan to leave our suburban enclave hours ahead of time. Do we have time to do the exercise that we will view vicariously? Most of the time, no…we do not. Do we get depressed and give up trying? A lot of people do.
Can you blame suburbanites for not wanting to walk miles and miles to their first destination and then miles and miles to their second and so on? I don’t. I live in suburbia or in a semi-suburbia. Above an art colony. I am trying to get out, I am still encased. I drive to better planned communities and partake in their inclusiveness and happiness, because I know that my ‘enclave’ is not good for me or my children. Yes, I have to drive my children to school and pick them up because their schools are much too far to walk. So I am looking for a new (used) home in an older, more well-planned community in the interest in changing these very things for myself!
In traveling to Europe last year i found that people in most of the towns in Europe are happier and healthier. In France, Greece, Italy, Croatia, and Spain they know not the isolation, the inactivity and yes the possible depression associated with ‘seclusion’ ‘privacy’ and ‘exclusion’. They are more fit than Wii Americans! (pun intended). European crime rates are lower and the rates of suicide make ours look like somebody’s giving out kool-aid!. It just works and Americans experience these cultures, most want to live that way. America should re-think it’s idea of community. No more whining about diabetes, depression, hate crimes, childhood obesity, let’s get to work. Let’s re-think “community” beginning on structure and focus on teaching our children that this is the root of our health and wellness problems. Let’s ask them to consider making a difference, to build better communities.
We need more civil engineers, more city planners (good ones, not corrupt ones), eco-designers and builders. We need a heap of other people in ‘helping vocations’ that push the agenda of physical change in our communities forward. We won’t need more health care administrators, fat farm coaches, lap band program counselors, Chuck E. Cheese’s, fitness coaches, addiction / rehab houses or Mac Donald’s restaurants.
We will build and re-build ‘connected communities’ that can’t help but support each-other in good good health, physical and mental.