I’ve read in many places to beware the grand sweeping explanation for all things; “A theory which explains everything explains nothing”. What I would propound is not a clean mathematical hypothesis which can be proven or disproven but, what is even worse, just a sense of any idea which exists as an underlying truth. It is the reason a coffee shop in one community sparks a revival and another, just as quaint, just as folksy, stumbles and fumbles on and on and on but never engenders a renaissance. It is the reason one campaign for revitalization strikes a chord and is remembered as the beginning of a new day in some benighted city, while a second becomes yet another in a long list of punchlines used to mock the pretense of a shithole.
What is this all encompassing existent? Retirement. Not only the concept that we all spend our working lives in pursuit of the dream that we may one day become nothing but consumers in the capitalist utopia, but the overarching idea that all but a handful of places, and most of them located in Florida and Arizona, are unworthy of receiving us as we achieve the nirvana of our species: active uselessness. With that everyplace not deemed worthy of being a worry-less playground for septuagenarians is nothing but a purgatory where doing and making and being are the punishment and only the much worshipped (Disney) vacation represents a momentary liberation from the torture of Tantalus.
And if your current, temporary place in the world has no ultimate meaning, why grant it even proximate meaning? Your true community, the one which awaits you at The Villages, is that which will bring you total consciousness.
And that sweeps everyplace from Youngstown, Ohio to Schenectady, New York on to the rubbish heap of civilization. If heaven already awaits…elsewhere…then your current “material shell”, you know, the place where you may spend decades with your family, and perhaps your parents and your parents parents spent decades with theirs, is nothing but a way station, a temporary shelter from the elements which deserves, perhaps at best, enough care only to keep it from collapse while you seek protection underneath.
This revelation sprang from finding myself, unexpectedly, in a room with an advocate and activist for the revival of dying places. To nearly everyone else present the topic was a bizarre tangent from our daily operations, but I found it fascinating. What was most fascinating, astounding even, was that this former mayor of one of the Rust Belt’s fastest shrinking cities, called to Washington D.C. to assist all such cities, had now come to greater Hartford to take part in its turnaround and, with total awareness of the absolute need of that city to be seen as the center of the revival of the entire region, this man had chosen to take up permanent residence…in its most prosperous satellite community.
If there’s one thing cities need it’s more people on the sidelines telling us what to do; successful suburbanites with absolutely no skin in the game who earn their fortunes telling us how to make our current residents more successful, and how to attract more successful people to our communities…just…not them.
Think of it: As a former mayor of a struggling city he has to know that what Hartford needs more than anything else is prosperous people living there who care about it. Not being willing, even temporarily, to live inside the city’s boundaries shows that, by his own measure, success means NOT living there, and not being seen as rooted there. Which means not only that Hartford is a charity case, but that his commitment to the region runs as deep as his next paycheck.
When you run through the list of significant people in the Hartford region, I wonder, is it the case that, much like Springfield, everyone but the politicians who have no choice lives somewhere other than the city? I wouldn’t be surprised. And do they live somewhere else because Hartford is deemed unworthy of being a place of ultimate destination?
What are the qualities, the characteristics, the values, the rationalizations which can make someone so blind to the importance of embodying what you claim to support? What if I didn’t even live in Springfield? What if I wrote these essays from Orem, Utah? What would it say about my actual belief in the ideas I was espousing? Whether it’s Hartford or Springfield, Dayton or Syracuse, shouldn’t it just become an understanding, a part of the zeitgeist, that a new economic development director, or the president of a cultural association, or the head of a philanthropic organization will live in your city? It shouldn’t even have to be in the contract, it’s like expecting the Pope to be Catholic, the military to attack foreign nations, or firemen to put OUT fires.
When is it going to stop? Have boards of directors grown so accustomed to hypocrisy that they just accept it? Or do they not live in these cities either?
The other people who were forced to listen to this particular speech with me, not one of whom had any interest in the topic, all noticed the screaming duplicitousness of the speaker who one minute called on all of us to come to grips with the inequality of opportunity which held back this region and then in the next breath admitted that his commitment to that end was to give speeches regarding it and take his paycheck therefrom and get as far as f#<€ away as he could from confronting that reality.
It’s not a Superstar Place, nor are there palm trees, or desert golf courses, and therefore it should expect no more than mercenary services from people who view themselves as too good for these communities they serve. If you live in a place where the transit chief takes a train, or your community development boss lives in the community count yourself lucky, you must live in a place which is actually considered ok to view as worthy of a decent person’s care and affection. The rest of us just have to hope that one day we have the chance to move to The Villages.