The problems of urban life often seem impossible to solve. Proposals for the renewal of our cities are either meaningless, inadequate reactions to symptoms of underlying problems that remain ignored or huge, seemingly impossible attempts to reorganize urban society. These proposals come and go, a few of them becoming initiatives that mature into committees, or even organizations. In the meantime, nothing much happens, and most of us keep on living our lives as we always have. We're used to the failure of attempts at change.
The proposals made in these pages are the same as any others. They cannot succeed on their own. They are probably unrealistic and overly ambitious. Is our society really ready to give up driving cars, use mass-transportation exclusively, and live on commonly-owned property that is converted for maximum ecological benefit?
No. The changes of the sort that I have described in this essay depend on a radical set of societal changes, including the disappearance of classes separated by income, a weaking of the practice of consumption for its own sake, a reevaluation of the idea of private property, and the development of a genuine commitment to an ecologically-sound way of life. In order for the ideas presented in these pages to work, Americans would have to stop being selfish. They would have to start sharing with others, not just family members, but with complete strangers. It doesn't sound likely, does it?
The rebirth of our cities will remain unlikely so long as individuals wait for others to make the necessary changes for them. Practical mass transit will remain out of reach until individuals who believe in mass transit actually start using it themselves. Individual houses with chemically treated lawns will remain the norm until people start deciding that it isn't what they want anymore.
Our cities will never change unless their citizens change. If you live in a city, hate it, and wish it were better,
do something about it! If our society as a whole isn't ready for these changes, then our job as individuals is to prepare the way, to make society ready. Yes, it is that easy. In the end, we have no one to blame for the failure of our cities but ourselves. It doesn't make sense to point fingers at others so long as we ourselves are not doing anything to make the situation better.
It doesn't have to be difficult. Here are a few things that you can start doing right away, instead of waiting for your city government to catch on:
- Stop driving your car so much
Think about it. Do you really need to drive as much as you do? Probably not. Now, you don't have to go ahead and sell your car right away. It's okay to ease on into this idea. For example, just for this week, try buying some of your groceries from a neighborhood store instead of that big megagrocery halfway across the city. Walk there, bringing your own bags, or ride a bicycle. That's right, you're going to have to exercise a little to make this work. Don't worry, you'll feel better for it. If you keep it up, maybe you'll even be able to stop going to that gym.
- Buy from local businesses
Of course, this goes right along with driving your car less. Buying from locally-owned, smaller stores can help keep your city from becoming like every other city in the United States. Buying from locally-owned businesses strenghtens the economy of your neighborhood and increases the amount of social contact you have with your neighbors. Although small, local businesses aren't always able to carry as many products as national megastores, they are much more responsive to the particular needs of different neighborhoods than large chains. Buy local, and your community will be in much better shape when the time comes to make those big changes.
- Use public transportation
The more people use public transportation, the more financially successful these transit systems become. Financially stable public transit systems are able to support more routes, making inexpensive, efficient transportation available to huge numbers citizens that otherwise would be driving cheap, unreliable, polluting old gas hogs to work. The act of taking a mass transit system can also be a significant social statement in some cities. If you're living in a city like New York City or Washington, D.C., it's no big deal. But in someplace like Los Angeles, using the public transit system is not a normal thing for many people to do. Do you notice that the people on the bus with you are not your kind of people? Maybe it's time for you to ask yourself what kind of person you think you are.
- Take a walk
Yes, that's right, go and take a walk just for the sake of taking a walk. You'll find that it's a lot easier to meet your neighbors if you actually leave the inside of your home. Neighborhoods where people get outside and walk are more secure than bedroom "communities". If you're living in one of those new areas that don't even bother with sidewalks, this is a bad sign. Move to a walking neighborhood as soon as possible.
- This brings me to my next point: evaluate where you live
Signs of a bad neighborhood:
- no sidewalks
- residents all have roughly the same amount of income
- ethnic diversity is present only among domestic servants and landscaping crews
- there are gates, guards, walls, and towers separating it from the rest of the city
- the street names contain words such as "grove", "forest", or "orchard" where there are no groves, forests, or orchards
- Plant an organic garden
Yes, you can do it. There are many plants that are easy to grow, just ask a local nursery for help. Remember though, not to buy the chemical products that they push on you. If you don't need steroids, then plants don't need to be pumped up with fertilizers. Growing plants will make your yard more attractive, and you'll benefit from the easy access to fresh herbs and vegetables. If that doesn't motivate you, just think about how envious the neighbors will be.
- To make your garden grow, start a compost pile. The compost that comes from the pile will dramatically improve the quality of your soil without the use of dangerous artificial garden products You'll also be sending a lot less garbage to the dump, which will help your city meet requirements for more sustainable solid waste disposal.
- Above all else, DON'T move to the country
You can help to make the city a better place to live. Instead of bringing your troubled way of life to the relatively pristine countryside, why not try to make things better where you are? It may be more of a challenge, but at least you won't have to keep on running away from all those other people who are trying to escape along with you.
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