Last weekend while visiting family, I got lost driving through a planned section of their central valley town – the Glenview. I often get lost when I drive through such planned subdivisions. This day was no exception. One house looks like the next. Paint colors are controlled. Trees have a sculpted clip that gives them the look of stage props. Streets have exotic tags like place, avenue, boulevard, or lane. Good old carbon-based life forms inhabiting areas like this one can look out of place – untidy and too organic – as they stumble about from one identical row of homes to the next.
I made a phone call and had a family member talk me in, but later that evening, I decided to look up the history of Glenview online. What kind of process resulted in neighborhoods like this one? Whose idea was this place, anyway? I found a description that had a soothing, medicated quality to it:
“Five miles south of downtown River Bend lies a suburban community within a meandering bend that follows the Old River. . .Easy access to Interstate 5, many parks, some huge luxury homes, lakefront property, a number of shopping facilities and services, good schools, older suburban ranchettes, and a well established, secure, higher-than-average-income community. .
For this little bit of river-side land, planning sat down like a huge concrete non-sequitur on top of what had been farms and “a riparian forest with woods of deciduous broadleafs growing beside the river and streams in the bend” Asphalt, lanes, and matching homes rolled over bends that had been burial mounds for indigenous dead who had lived there centuries before.
And, planning did not stop at the curbside nor at the matching front doors. These designers’ visions came right on in, shaping how people should gather, eat, and sleep. These plans chopped up existence into square footage, kitchen appliances, wall-to-wall carpet, and wood beam ceilings.
Environments have an impact on the people who live in them. Some people can fit within pre-sketched nooks and alcoves like those in Glenview. Some people can’t. If you fit, you can stock your bedroom with Hello Kitty dolls and sparkly plug in gadgets available for half-off at chain stores. It’s a wide open cul-de-sac for you. When you don’t fit, you feel this kind of planning as a gradual reduction in oxygen. Should you intend to survive, you will have to get out.
When we were kids, we didn’t live in a neighborhood like this one. That evening, all of us sat down to watch an old family video of ourselves playing as kids in our uncle’s back yard. The tape showed pint-sized boys flying down a slide. When we got to the bottom, each of us hopped off, screamed with delight, and ran to the back of the slide for another go.
The yard had nothing else in it but that slide and a one-of-a-kind fir tree, perfect for climbing on windy days. No sculpted shrubs or symmetrical lawn chairs. Video rolled on a setting that had a kind of chaotic look to it. Just as I remembered.
In my youth, we filled days playing without a plan, turning bit by bit into accidental men. The unplanned, though a less safe and contained, brought rewards that we were blind to at the time. In the jumble of the disorganized, I felt right at home – no shortage of air to breathe in my one-story bungalow, halfway down the block – the only bright blue paint job on any house for miles.