Flutterby™! : Happiness, ecological footprint & the 'burbs

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Happiness, ecological footprint & the 'burbs

2006-07-24 14:50:17.729464+00 by Dan Lyke 1 comments

Mark Hershberger had an interesting note recently contrasting rural living with the big city: An Urbane Hicks View of New York City. While taking nothing away from his life out in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (a place bike racer Floyd Landis talks about leaving because "...I wanted something else") and rural Arkansas, Mark notes that maybe the big city life may not be all that bad:

I'm still not sure if I'd want to raise my children in New York, but after reading more about the city, after watching children wandering around Manhattan, after seeing a group of 12-year-old skateboarders ride the PATH to New Jersey by themselves, I begin to see the fascinating possibilities.

And in the essay he links to an article that claims that New York is America's Greenest City, talking about how that population density allows for economies of scale that just can't happen elsewhere.

Then in Arts & Letters Daily I run across a link to Some Dark Thoughts on Happiness (alternate link) which points out that a quiz at the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center shows rural areas tend to be happy, and Manhattan... well... the author starts with the happiest place in the country, Branson Missouri, and continues:

Nonetheless, I think the results are kind of interesting. Missoula, Montana. Rural Minnesota. Rural Indiana. Rural Alabama. Savannah, Georgia. The Outer Banks. Is there a theme here? There's a theme here. It seems to run through the Bible Belt and go straight up north. And if you want to know the absolutely most miserable Zip Code — and this is based on a very large number of people — it seems to start with 101.

Thats the prefix assigned to many of the office buildings in midtown Manhattan. Staten Island is also miserable, he adds.

This is, of course, something that I've struggled with, and that we've even touched on here with the discussions about quality of life in Chattanooga versus other places.

At a very young age, when we lived on a block of "little boxes" in San Jose, I remember my dad musing about what it would be like if this were restructured with all the families living in one tower in a corner of the block, and the rest of the block as open space. Shortly afterwards we moved to upstate New York, to a house miles from the nearest store, with hundreds of acres of woods around it (ie: It was to where I live now as where I live now is to the small town we moved from a little under two years ago), where we raised our own sheep, goats and ducks, and had a garden that was over half an acre, and was headed bigger had we stayed there.

As an adult living near San Francisco I now look at urban parks and think "that's what my dad was talking about", but somehow it's not, because despite the advantages of population density there's something lost in the madding crowd. Heck, since moving out to Lagunitas from Fairfax I now know more of my neighbors, and we do more neighborly things together, than occurred in the nine and a half years I lived in closer proximity to them. And yesterday a tree fell across our road and someone else got it cut and moved aside in the time it took me to walk home, grab a saw, and walk back. Contrast that to any number of maintenance of public space issues that I've experienced in higher density areas.

I think that part of this is the thing I've come to most appreciate about Chattanooga: When the population density of people like you is lower there's more of a need to cluster together; out here in the Bay Area every little sub-fetish has its own support group, so us generalist weirdos just never find our tribe.

I don't have any answers, but I do know that it's a regular struggle with me to look at some of the career things I might have if I were willing to be more in the thick of things, and yet examine the isolation I find when I get in higher population densities.

How do y'all experience it?

[ related topics: Psychology, Psychiatry and Personality Bay Area Sociology Chattanooga Architecture New York Real Estate ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-07-25 02:01:58.704058+00 by: meuon

I've put a lot of thought into this area lately, and it keeps coming back to personal perspectives:

Chattanooga: Lived here in various modes, ranging from the pseudo-single sole white guy living upstairs from a business in the center of crack-whore/dealer urban-industrial-void district, to living in the upscale neighborhood Nancy and I live in now. - I'm currently riding a bike 8 miles to work, around downtown during the day and evenings, and home or nearly so. Working downtown is a great place to be, feels good.. I was even half-joking about a 'Kayak to Work Day' just to jibe Eric, but my point is: even with all fo Chattanooga's faults, and EVERY community has some, it's still an incredible place to live.

Nancy and I just got back from N. Myrtle Beach and Ocean Isle from a short beach trip.. Neat towns, and I'm sure if we were making a living from the tourist trade we COULD live there, but as a community all they seem to offer is beach access (not all bad). It was interesting how all these people get together for a share love of the beach... and they don't connect. They ignore each other. They stay in their tight little family or tribal units... and when I would randomly talk to people I would often get puzzlement as a response: why is this bald dude talking to me? - I love those moments at Burning Man where you just talk to that person with the 47 tattoos like they are family, and they respond as if they are.. calmly, not jostling for position.. and you share that moment comfortably.

As for finding a "Tribe". I'm not a member of any -one- tribe, but my choices in Chattanooga are wide, and I'd say I am accepted in many of them ranging from: Cavers, Bikers, Recumbent Bikers, Dancers (Contra and Others..), people who live on Lower Brow.. Chugalug/Geeks.. friends of Nancy..kayakers... I like having lots of tribe sto be a small part of.. to not have to be labelled so tightly.

But most importantly, I think it comes down to choice (borrowing a line from Nancy): I chose to be happy, What do you choose to be? - It works wherever you are, and the important ingredient is YOUR perspective. If you are not finding what you need to be happy where you are:

But what happens, I think in higher population densities was revealed best by Mick Dundee (Bad Aussie Redneck moves to N.Y.C.) misquoted: "Wow, all these people live in on place because they like each other!" or something like that. They don't. Hence a lot of the unhappiness.