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Home sweet (albeit dysfunctional) home
Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
December 12, 2001
"Give me but one firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the Earth." — Archimedes
I have come to the conclusion that the best part of traveling is coming home. Of course that revelation is made easy by being a native of Southern California, and even more so by having spent time in places such as Cleveland and Detroit. I have also come to the conclusion that the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. In fact, I have learned there is no fence, and usually there is no grass, green or otherwise.
This is not to say the time spent away from our overcrowded paradise was not well spent. For months now I have pondered urban demise in a way not possible while relaxing in suburban splendor complete with hot tub and cappuccino. Insulated by our illusions of divine progress and singular invulnerability, we fail to realize that other regions have made the same mistakes being embraced by the planners and politicians currently having their way with the residents of San Diego county's coastal cities.
When I first told friends I was going to Detroit to work for a month and a half, they spoke of a dangerous and cold place, where arson and violent crime were commonplace. I found none of these things to be true. What I did find however was a metropolis reeling from neglect, poor civic planning, and an "every man for himself" mentality permeating every level of government. To say Detroit has seen better days would be a gross understatement.
There are quite a few things Detroit has in common with coastal north county, most notable of which is a inadequate public transit system that does nothing but foster a continued dependence on automobiles. As the birth place of the car culture, that is modern America, Detroit, like Southern California, is littered with fast food establishments and strip malls. Also surprisingly similar is a complete lack of open space. But there the similarities end.
When I first started my short theatrical tour I was at my wits end. Frustrated by the complete lack ecological honesty on the part of most elected officials, little did I know that here in Southern California we actually have it good. Granted we are living on borrowed time. This because concepts such as restraint, sustainability, and population management are as foreign to us as peace, prosperity, and precipitation are to the people of Afghanistan, but still we have the luxury of watching the world unravel from the relative comfort of "the good ol` days," something no longer available to the Motor City. Coming home, blue skies made the traffic stopped of I-5 seem almost natural.
Six months ago, if I had seen the corporate graffiti defacing the exterior of Oceanside's most recent contribution to visual blight, I would have gone ballistic. Now, after having experienced the blight gray exterior of downtown Detroit, even the surreal hotel overlooking Oceanside's municipal harbor seemed almost benign. But then again so did the Killer Clowns from Outer Space. At least the tourist trap can now be recognized for what it is. See? With just a bit of perspective one can easily shift from anger to amusement without all the messy ranting and raving.
Because of my adventures in the rust belt, I feel so much more at home here in the coastal fog belt. It's as if this canary had to visit other coalmines, for a refresher course in risk assessment. Not only do I understand how good we have it here coastal North County, I also have a better understanding of how much we have to loose if we continue on our current trajectory. We have been blessed with so much, yet we continue to squander it as if it never really mattered. Go figure.
Now is the time for all of us to make a commitment to sustainability. Within this commitment we will find the strength to tackle the big issues. Population, transportation, environmental restoration, and habitation are related in such a way that to ignore one is to ignore them all, and yet we continue to do this out of comfort and convenience. The world is changing faster than most of us are willing to admit. We have two options; actively adapt, keeping one step ahead of the chaos, or struggle in its wake.
The only way to prepare for the future is to first admit the mistakes of the past. By discarding policies and paradigms that continue to fail us, it becomes easier to remain afloat in the tempest of global warming and a world at war.
It's good to be home.