Conquent: Without Limits
Land Use Planning Division

John Bissell & Associates

You can't build life

By Michael Bissell
Posted: 2007-11-24 12:00:00
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I was watching a program on video games, of all things, where they said that Japanese kids go out in a way that kids never go out in the US because their homes are so small that they HAVE to go out.

We've had so much space in the US for so long that it's hard not to think bigger. Look at the homes in suburbia now. 5,000 square feet for a family of four is getting to be normal. We don't need public squares or centers anymore, because our houses are all the space we need.

Community was built, or is built in other places, by chance encounters. You're forced into being with people -- college dorms, the ration queue during the Blitz, and summer camp are all places people have been forced together and talk about simultaneously as painful and the most wonderful places they have been.

We don't NEED the companionship the way we did in the rough places that shoved us together. And while I'm not a fan of bashing entertainment, television and interactive entertainment give us a substitute for human contact.

Our public spaces today are bars, which are fleeting places. Coffee houses don't count, because we've learned how to insulate ourselves and sit quietly. Churches might count, except for the fact they are constructed to mold a mindset, control belief and homogenize the congregation.

This is where we get to the basis of my philosophy on life. Life is not staged; it isn't a safe, insular place. Life is what happens along the way. We learn from experiences, and if all our spaces and experiences are constructed and scripted, we never learn.

I truly believe the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But that's because the parts behave in ways we don't expect. We gain new insights into ourselves and our world by being surprised, not by getting exactly what we want.

What ails American culture, and has for so long, is that desire to be safe, to live in a world of our own creation. And with the wealth and power so many of us enjoy, it's not only possible to live in a fantasy world but it's happening. We're safe, we're comfortable, and we're stagnating.

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