Ode to the User Friendly Sidewalk

Note that these signs aren't in front of a road, but a forest.

CNN is on and it depresses me. CNN is always on, alternating sound bites from democratic and republican politicians who reiterate the same buzz words every day. They always emphasize things like “American competitiveness,” “the American way of life,” and “freedom,” though what any of those words mean has been lost through inane repetition. I imagine their handlers congratulate them after each broadcast if they manage to slip in something as obscure, yet poignant as “family values.”  “Constitution” is the new buzzword, no longer referencing the foundation of America’s legal system, but some forlorn time that inspires insipid nostalgia for the epoch of “our” founding fathers. The Declaration of Independence wasn’t the birth of American democracy, but its historic glory, to which social conservatives would love to have us return. Mostly I ignore it, partly because it’s depressing, partly because I’m fond of the Marriot’s free breakfast, and CNN is always served with breakfast, along side biscuits and lumpy discoloured gravy.

After a delicious breakfast of waffles, I try and make my pedestrian way somewhere in Jacksonville. In one direction there’s a park (PPRIVATE: For the exclusive use of Deerwood Apartments residents – Trespassers will be prosecuted). In the other direction there’s a mall, though it’s unlike any Canadian mall I know (think of the biggest strip mall you’ve ever seen, multiply that in size by 20 and add a lot of drive-thrus). My two choices seem to signal the death and rebirth of the American community. There are no great public spaces left in Jacksonville, no downtown core, no civic cent(re/er). So much for parks as a natural habitat maintained by local government for the enjoyment of all. Parks here are private spaces.

What remains as public space centers on consumption. “Let’s go to the mall!” said the great Canadian philosopher Robyn Sparkles. And to the mall we go: it seems to be the only thing to do here. And before it sounds like I’m being scornful of permanently backward America, it’s important to remember that things haven’t always been like this. It was the Americans who invented a truly public national park system in the 19th century, in stark contrast to the aristocratic hunting grounds of Europe that kept game in, while keeping the commoners out.

A beautiful place for trespassers.

It isn’t just the spaces either, but the roads that connect people together. In Michigan, the government is ripping apart paved roads it can no longer afford to maintain due to its shrinking population. Sidewalks don’t exist in my neighbo(u)rhood. Not really. They are windy aesthetic boardwalks (impossible for bicycles), or a few blocks of pavement that end in bushes, not because of the overgrowth, because that’s just where the sidewalk happens to end. There is a straight sidewalk on the main road by the mall, but there are no crosswalks that allow pedestrians to cross eight lanes of traffic safely. I’ve seen more rare birds (cranes, cormorants, herons) than I have fellow pedestrians or cyclists.

The end of the sidewalk.

Not only are the no great public places in Jacksonville, but the very arteries used to connect people are missing, or end in a pile of bushes marked “PRIVATE: Keep out.” So I’m forced to turn around once again, and return to another day of shopping.

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Robert Putnam wrote a book about this phenomenon few years ago called Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Rebirth of American Community. In doing research Putnam discovered that while more Americans are bowling than ever before, they are not bowling in leagues, as they become increasingly disconnect from their communities, families and democratic structures.

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My next post is going to be all about microwaves! Which electrical appliance are you?

Re: Last post. For those of you who enjoyed the “God preferred” T-shirts, I bring you the “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite” button!

God's favo(u)rite!

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3 Responses

  1. Angrier and more depressing that I had intended. Ill try and be more chipper next week 🙂
    Great video about suburbia:

  2. I like your blog! Especially all of the photos and scathing social commentary.

    I identify as the brave little toaster.

  3. That hat in my profile picture makes me look like the crazy person in Florida who just yelled at me about doors. Don’t worry, I just pretended like I only understand French and Esperanto, so I think she is more confused than angry now.

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