Tuesday, May 15, 2007


The lushness and vitality of the rainforests can be seen in the diversity of its species - birds with their colour schemes and mating songs, monkeys with their calls and social structures, plants and trees with their flowers and leaves, etc.

Diversity allows the rainforest as a whole to survive and adapt to internal and external changes. For example, suppose a horrible disease were to wipe out several species of plant and animal in the rainforest. Although a tremendous loss, the great variety of the rainforest will have allowed some species to survive the disease. These would repopulate the rainforest and, over time, re-introduce diversity.

Compare this to the plant and animal life found in the suburbs. Squirrels, eh? Pigeons, never seen those before. Hey look! Similar-sized fields of the same species of green grass! True, the range of life in the 'burbs does depends on a number of factors, but I think it's safe to say that the diversity of life in the area was greater before development, reason being that only certain species are equipped to adapt to the changes wrought by humans.

Compare this also to the architecture found in the suburbs. Whole neighborhoods are sometimes based on the same basic exterior and interior designs. They use the same bricks, the same stones, the same hardware, the same paint, etc. Seen one, seen 'em all.

This lack of species and architectural diversity is often paralleled by the lack of market diversity in suburbs. Chain stores inhabit the thin strip of land right off the highway. They have tall, brightly-lit signs, ample parking in a black tar top treeless parking lot, and similar store layouts no matter where you go.

One of the joys of living in the center of Austin is the varied and unique, locally-owned businesses. Small business owners have something to prove; they're the little guy. But they also offer outstanding quality service (in general, compared to large chains), as well as a style and air all their own. By being so close to their customers, some of whom they call neighbor, they can respond to new trends and community concerns. In a time when flexibility and ingenuity are required more than ever, redundant examples of inefficient and bloated outlets suggests a remarkable inability to adapt.

Compare this to the range of job titles and positions at these chain stores. It's either the bored, punk kids who live in the suburbs or the trucked-in slave classes who work at them. They usually work in one section or department, helping snide customers that look down their noses at them find crap made in China they probably could do without. They follow the corporate guidelines (local behavior patterns may cut into profit margins) and sometimes are made to wear uniforms and company logos and such, to display their wonderful diversity of clothing and individuality. By being limited to one section, to one outfit, and one set code of instructions, the workers lose the opportunity to grow and improve their skills and themselves. But that's perfectly alright, because the fewer skills a worker has, the more expendable she is; and a crushed and diminished spirit is submissive and subservient.

And if we were to peek inside the brain of one of these workers, we would see that the lack of diversity in the workplace, in architecture and store layout, in clothing and interactive behaviors caused it to atrophy. The ubiquity and blandness of their surroundings failed to stimulate them adequately. Our brains need new and unique sights and sounds if we expect them to stay sharp. Like the stores where they work, like the economy these stores compose, and like the suburb that supports this economy, the minds of its inhabitants and workers begin to look awfully similar, especially in the way they stagnate. In a time when flexibility and ingenuity are required more than ever, why would anyone want to live in the suburbs?


Blogger breakerslion said...

"Welcome to Generica. Please Stand By."

Your post reminded me of "Silent Spring", and the reverbration of Biological Scientists commenting on the danger of specializing in one variety of hybrid corn, apple, etc. Sure you maximize yield, or breed for other desireable traits, but one blight destroys all. I try to support small business owners (especially Diner owners) who are fighting the good fight. "Chains" are aptly named.

18 May, 2007 18:53  
Blogger Delta said...

One of the common criticisms of 'communism' (rather USSR-style state capitalism) is that all the products are the same, and that there is no diversity and freedom of choice. Turns out that this idea also pertains to USA-style state capitalism. I mean sure, if you're extremely wealthy there are a vast array of designs and types of products that you are able to buy. But if you're like many Americans (and this number is of course increasing in proportion by the wealth concentrating nature of capitalism) then you'll be buying the generic brand at the local big box store. Diversity and freedom of choice is a luxury that you simply cannot afford. Just another example where the freedom to do something is irrelevant if one does not have the means (or the freedom to acquire those means) to do it.

21 May, 2007 10:12  

Post a Comment

<< Home