Changing Neighborhoods

Bill Neinast

Every small rural city with a history of a century or so is unique.  They do, however, have one thing in common.  Each has a lovely scenic drive loaded with history.

The drives are the residential areas circling the downtown business areas.

The first circle or two will showcase the large and, in some cases, elaborate homes of the professionals and merchants with offices and businesses within walking distance.  Most were built before the advent of automobiles and the businessmen walked between home and their bailiwicks.  Some even walked to and from lunch at home with their families.

Originally, the exterior of those homes would be multi-colored, as solid white denoted an owner with limited means.

The white houses begin appearing in the second, third, and outer rings.  These are the homes of the worker bees, who also walked to and from work.

They were constructed before the era of cookie cutter homes, so each one is unique in appearance.  There is, however, one cookie cutter feature.  They are all small.

There will be two or maybe three small bed rooms, one bath (maybe), small kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms, and a front porch--frequently the largest “room” in the house.  If there were a garage, it would be a small detached building for one vehicle.

These modest homes were cheap enough to build and maintain by single wage earner households.  So the wives were usually stay-at-home moms who were there to prepare three meals a day to be shared by the whole family.

Consider, now, how wretched and horrible that was for the kids.  Just imagine sharing one bathroom with four, five, or more other people.  On top of that, most had to share a bedroom and bed with at least one brother or sister, then sit around a dinner table with the whole bunch everyday.

Nonetheless, that crowded, smothering environment produced the Greatest Generation that preserved democracy for the modern world.

Those idyllic neighborhoods are rapidly disappearing from the larger towns and cities.  Comfortable, air-conditioned, sound-surround automobiles now enable the professionals and business owners to build mini castles on the hills away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.   The small family bungalows are now being bulldozed away so that larger homes can be built in place of one or two of those being reduced to scrap.

The new homes, however, differ considerably from the earlier models.  First, there must be one large bedroom with private bath for each member of the family, regardless of the number.  There must be a media room plus an office and “family” room.   The garage must be large enough for at least two cars plus space for storage and a sports utility vehicle.  And do not forget a swimming pool.

All this is required if one wants to keep up with the Jones, and that is the norm in modern society.  Unfortunately, these little trinkets require at least two income producers in the home.  

The result is that the occupants of those extra private bedrooms become “latch key kids.”  They come home from school to either an empty house or one filled with other kids of their ilk munching high calorie snacks and playing violent video games.

When Mom and Dad get home from their daily grind, there is not enough time or energy to prepare a meal.  So they order some take-out that can be munched around the TV set in lieu of a sit-down family dinner.

Driving through scenic old neighborhoods should bring this history to mind.  That history raises a question about which of the life styles reflected by yesterday’s homes and today’s houses is better.

Stretching out alone in your own bed next to a private bath after hours in front of a TV is more enjoyable physically than sharing the bed and bath with a sibling after a family dinner.  What, though, is the effect mentally and emotionally?

So here’s the perspective.

Unquestionably, replacing old neighborhoods of small family homes with enclaves of much larger homes on larger lots has been good for the economy.  The materials and labor required provided employment for millions.  

So what is the answer?  Which is better, life in yesterday’s neighborhoods of small family homes or existing in today’s gathering places for families?


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