Crossroads by Carolyn #72

    The class war is in my backyard in the form of a monolith being erected a couple hundred feet from my backdoor.  I watched day after day as the concrete got poured and the grass laid down, gritted my teeth as the hammers and earthmovers polluted the air with noise and dust. For months I knew there was nothing I could do (yeah, yeah, I thought many times of molotovs).  Now the construction is done and the family is about to move in.  They bought the house I rent during the school year with the plans of tearing it down.  After our garden is ripped up and our home destroyed, they’ll tear up the earth again for a subterranean garage for the husbands thirty-five vintage cars and place a tennis court on top.     The house is fucking huge.  From what I’ve seen through the windows, there are numerous entertaining rooms, offices, bedrooms, etc.  All that square footage for a family consisting of a father, mother, and baby.  I swear you could comfortably fit about thirty punks in that house, maybe more. The house is my backdrop as I read the morning paper, which always has something to say about the housing crisis here.  Not enough affordable housing, too many people moving here, etc.  But as far as I’ve seen, nobody has identified the real problem, which I see every day.  It’s these huge single-family homes and the sickening excess.     So, all these people want oversized houses to display their financial success.  All this requires more land to be used, which means there is not only less land for trees, wildlife, and parks, but less for housing. This forces people to move farther away from their work, schools, and stores.  Mass transit never develops as quickly as the houses are raised, and people of this demographic generally don’t use it anyway, so more cars enter the roads, giving off more pollution, and creating the need for even more roads.  Furthermore, it takes a lot of energy and resources to maintain a house of that size.    This is repeated all over the country.  Everyone has seen those seemingly endless acres of cookie-cutter houses, those ‘master-planned’ communities.  What the hell is the master plan? Very, very few of these houses were built with any consideration of energy efficiency.  No photovoltaics, solar hot water heating systems, not even passive solar.  And often these developments are built on farmlands quite some distance from grocery stores and the like.  I used to have to pass by a development like this on the way to my old house and whether I was in a bus or car, it took about fifteen minutes to get four blocks.  Adding insult to injury, as you sit in gridlock, the construction crews are busy building more houses three or four at a time.  And in this area, you see the sad remains of bulldozed prairie dog colonies, their bodies poisoned and their homes filled with dirt.    There’s kind of ironic twist here in Boulder, Colorado.  We have lots of open space, trails, and community groups patrolling growth, but ironically the open space also takes up land, which leads to all the aforementioned problems.  Stupidly, we have restrictions on how many unrelated people can live in a house.  They were implemented to try and fight all the partying of the local college students, but really, it strains the rental market, allowing the landlords to charge egregious rents. There are also restrictions on how high buildings can stand.  One solution to the lack of housing is to build high-rise apartments, like you see in many European cities struggling with growing populations and limited land.  The right design and furnishings can really maximize space (for examples look at buildings in Sweden and Finland).  But, let’s face it, they are ugly and imposing, and middle to upper class Americans are so hellbent on privacy that few people who are accustomed to gross amounts of space would happily move in.  Even if the buildings were designated for lower-income people, I can guarantee that the community as a whole would not be willing to sacrifice the view of the mountains and the surrounding scenic beauty. Plus, I lived in one of those communist-style buildings when I lived in Finland, and while it was efficient, it was also rather dehumanizing and demoralizing.  So what is the solution?In the first day of any economics class, you learn that economics is the study of choices we make in dealing with scarcity, the fact that humans wants will always exceed the available resources.  I definitely agree that humans seem to have an insatiable lust for stuff. It’s apparent in those huge houses; obvious in the number of gadgets most people own.  Is it so radical to just be happy with what we have, to stop wanting more and more, especially of things that have such high environmental costs? Why do people crave more cars, bigger houses, more technological devices, more convenience, etc? What are these things truly worth? I came across a common saying from the Middle Ages. It says, ‘No excess is worth anything.’ Of course, we all have different opinions of what constitutes excess, but it’s a nice sentiment.     Let me tie this into punk for a moment. I feel I need to address punk consumerism.  After all, here I am talking about excess and people’s consumptive patterns, when just today I came home with $88 in records from Extreme Noise, as regular an occurrence as I can afford.  What makes my consumerism different from anyone else’s?  As my roommate HJ pointed out, we are all consumers, there is no getting around that, but at least we are aware of the implications of our choices.  I try not to use more electricity, water, oil, land, etc than I need. I buy locally made stuff when I can and do the reduce-reuse-recycle thing.  When I consume punk records, zines, and other punk rock goodies, I am supporting an underground DIY network, supporting the economy of something I love and believe in.  Many times I am supporting my friends, as opposed to some profit-driven corporation.  But, also, it’s not like there are bunches of punks sitting around weaving cloth or running pressing plants. Yet, punk fosters creativity and poses a challenge to the banality of homogenized society.  Obviously I think this is a good thing.    It is impossible to be ‘perfect’, as everyone must consume to survive.  Consumption itself is not evil, but there are good choices and bad ones.  Building huge houses for small families is wasteful.  Driving everywhere in an SUV is irresponsible.  Buying loads of stuff is ridiculous.  But I still feel a little weird as I type on my computer, surrounded by records, books, clothes, and miscellaneous stuff.  I mean, if someone told me to stop consuming records, would I listen?
—Carolyn
carolynchaos@hotmail.com