Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Real Hometowns Are Not Homogenized
The small towns in rural America are all suffering the same complaint: that of the newcomers, be they retired or developers, who come into a town saying: "What a 'cute' town this is. BUT let us 'improve it' for you by building gated subdivisions, fancy restaurants and malls for the new discerning retirees who demand a "higher standard".
One such incident inflamed an entire region of three mountain counties which is peopled by a hard-working population that survived the Depression, multiple wars, and still invited you over to supper if you were hurting. There are many PhDs in this region too who also go home after a full day's work and keep a garden or volunteer with their church to help others.
A group of residents from the new gated and exclusive golf course subdivision complained about the old man's saw mill located too close to their exclusive community. The old man had been in the same locale for more than 50 years and supplied high grade lumber for 1/3 the price of the local home improvement mall. But these residents felt that he brought down the tone of the neighborhood with his piles of saw dust and stacks of logs and lumber.
Never mind that this old man refused to accept government assistance though he was well into the poverty level. Never mind that this man would donate lumber to people who had damaged or devastated homes from the tornadoes that occasionally appear. The new residents all wanted him to tear down his livelihood because it offended their "neighborhood ambiance". This, in spite of the fact that this old man had owned his land and worked there 47 years before the exclusive community was built.
They did their best to oust him by supporting pro-developer candidates and mounting expensive campaigns to “standardize” the county zoning codes. Eventually the four families who tried to force this old man to shut down his mill had to move themselves as no one would wait on them in the stores anymore; no one would speak to them nor invite them to the local events. In short, their own behaviors excommunicated them.
Were there local senpectae who tried to warn these people that the old man was a solid, valued and welcome member of the community? Yes.
Did the exclusionary residents listen? No.
Eventually, like the stubborn monk of St. Benedict's rule who excommunicated himself, they made themselves unwelcome in three counties.
The new exclusive subdivisions have become the equivalent of the medieval European walled town. They want their "vision" of small town life to imitate the slick magazines and they throw money at any problem rather than giving a helping hand in person. Sadly, they lock themselves behind their standardized gatehouses and expensive doors rather than appreciating the diversity of culture and life in the area around them. They do not recognize Christ in the old mill operators, the small hand-built homes with the wee vegetable gardens or the deeply lined face of a hard-working local man or woman who has raised 10 children through the worst economic crises.
In the rural counties of small town America, it is the "BUT let us 'improve it' for you" mindset of newcomers and developers that has defined the new bourgeois attitudes. These attitudes envision a homogenized community that controls the colors of homes, the kinds of garbage cans permitted at the curb, and the latest fad food restaurants. Never mind that these fad restaurants take business from local eateries who serve food fresh from gardens. Never mind that the very essence of the "cute" hometown is the diversity of its homes and its residents.
What can we do? The local parishes and churches can do what was done in the old days: they can accept the help of parishioners who are willing to donate their time and talents to build new parish halls or renovate. Instead of depending on expensive budgets and treasure from parishioners, they can empower the parishioners who have little treasure but abundant talent by letting them help the parish whittle down budgetary outflows with their skills.
We can visit Jesus in the wee houses and gardens; we can support Jesus in the old man who runs his sawmill; we can spend our money to support local hardworking people rather than buying mass-produced foreign imports of planned obsolescence. We can patronize the local monasteries, businesses and their goods. We can offer a helping hand by volunteering often and in person to assist the less fortunate neighbor instead of walling ourselves up behind a gate with a guard and a security system.
Let us be bourgeois-minded no longer.
That's me away, then.