Privatopias, McMansions, and
Texans tend to wax nostalgic
of bygone days when we sat on front porches,
never locked our doors and invited our neighbors
over for "coffees". We sat and talked or played
dominoes while the smell of hay and bar-b-que
drifted in through screened porches that kept
lightning bugs and mosquitoes at bay.
Not very long ago most Texans
lived in rural communities and small towns.
Even the biggest cities were seemed to have
a lot of room; Houston in 1950, now the third
largest city in America, had a population less
than Austin does today and even Dallas and San
Antonio were comfortably-sized.
Now, most Texans live in urban
and suburban cities where we've "paved paradise
and put up a parking lot," as Joni Mitchell
warned. Not content with living in the homes
and with the lifestyles of our grandparents,
we have built bigger and bigger.
In my own suburban neighborhood,
I've seen the sprawl of "privatopias" - gated
subdivisions where pizza delivery boys need
access codes - as my fellow citizens seek invulnerability
behind walls. These parts of town have names
like "Forest Bluff" and "Warm Cove" that evoke
images of refuge and safety while proclaiming
their superiority. They are filled with "McMansions",
some that even Saddam Hussein would approve
Now there's nothing wrong with
wanting a bigger home, and longing for a bit
more security, but do families actually need
1,000 square feet per person or are we just
distancing ourselves from one another? Does
a Hummer make a person smarter, prettier, or
a better friend?
Elsewhere in town, often in ramshackle
WWII-era homes that haven't been painted since
they were built, folks still attend quicineras
and get-togethers while the children try to
keep cool with hoses. Neighbors walk down cracked
sidewalks and everyone seems to be invited.
There, under cottonwood s, oak trees, and pines
people gather because it's too hot to congregate
in tiny houses without air-conditioning. Someone
usually brings tamales or a homemade cake.
Back in privatopio it seems like
the only time I see my closest neighbors - strangers
all - is during National Night Out. We shake
hands awkwardly and talk about how great it
would be to get together for a barbecue if we
could only find the time. Then we scurry back
to the shelter of our homes, turn up the AC,
and cocoon. Our feed our need to connect to
the world via broad-band Internet.
Is this the America that we want
for ourselves and our children?
We have a choice of retreating
inside private communities, building more McMansions,
and abandoning our fellow Texans when we sell
our businesses and go offshore. Or, we can remember
our roots and work toward simplifying our lives
and opening ourselves to one another.
Texans have always known what's
truly important: not how much a person has,
or the size of their wallet, but the comforts
of the heart that make this our "home" state.
We can return to the good ol' days at least
in spirit if we work to become neighbors once
Was there ever a time when we
needed each other more?
Peace - Charlie