Thursday, May 21, 2009

Revised American Dream

Queen Anne style house

The City versus Country Life
“The American dream” is an idea that has attracted people from almost every country in the world to come to the United States. As an American, this idea has never interested me, at least not what most people consider to be the American dream. To most people, the American dream means a house in the suburbs with a big yard and a garage big enough to fit at least two cars. I think that this ideal has been destructive and wasteful. Americans depend too much on the automobile and most people have to drive everywhere they go. As gasoline prices rise more and more people in the USA are beginning to move back to cites so that they don’t have to drive as much (as before). The American dream is becoming too expensive in this era of high oil prices.

I grew up in a neighborhood of large Queen Anne style* homes built at the beginning of the 20th century. There was a huge park with woods directly across the street from my house where I spent a good part of my childhood playing. I knew everyone in my neighborhood. I walked to school or rode my bike. It was a city of about 60,000 inhabitants.

As an adult I have lived in large cities: Athens, Miami, Washington D.C., Seattle, and now Valencia. I much prefer city life to living in the country or in small towns. I like to be near restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and shopping. I don’t like to depend on the automobile for everything as is the case if you live in the suburbs or in the country. I think that the automobile was the biggest technological mistake of the 20th century. Cars not only use a lot of natural resources but they are also extremely dangerous. Over 40,000 people die in car accidents every year in the USA and over one million are injured. And then there is the problem of pollution from automobile emissions. The roads necessary for cars are very expensive to build and to maintain. Cars themselves are very expensive to buy and maintain and you also have to pay for insurance.

The bicycle and the train are both 19th century inventions and are much better methods of transportation. Traveling by train is much better than driving, in my opinion. When you take the train you can relax with a book, watch a movie, sleep, or talk to people in the club (café) car. Trains are much more civilized than cars or airplanes. When people get on airplanes they act like complete assholes (capullos). Planes are like those experiments in which scientists put a lot of rats in a small cage and the rats kill each other. Flying in a plane reminds me of being in grade school. You have to have ask the teacher’s (the flight attendant) permission to go to the bathroom. You have to ask to get up from your seat.

In my neighborhood of Ruzafa (the center of the known universe, as I call it) I can walk everywhere. There are markets, stores, bars, restaurants, barber shops, book stores, and everything else you might need, all within a few blocks. On my block, without even crossing the street, there are over 40 businesses as well as a church. Without crossing a street I could be baptized, have my first communion, get married, raise a family, and then have my funeral. My block is like an island that has everything you need for human existence.

I think that we need to change the American dream to better reflect our need to be more conscious of the environment. Instead of a big house in the suburbs with a huge yard, the new dream should be a small apartment in the city. Instead of families needing two and three cars, the new dream will have families riding bikes together in the city on bike paths and walking.