[Hpn] lest we forget what the words actually MEAN...
Sat, 23 Jun 2001 17:47:05 -0700
Utne Reader Online
Jun 23, 2001
A Quality-of-life Checklist
to help sort out what really matters in your world
By Jay Walljasper,
A fierce but friendly spirit of local patriotism: We should all feel
comfortable boasting about our hometown microbrews, amateur sports teams,
theater companies, cuisine, architecture, nightlife, political
accomplishments, and natural scenery.
The lost art of leisure: Our lives should not be so ruled by the clock that
we can¹t occasionally take the scenic route, soak in the tub, hit the snooze
button, or linger over coffee.
Great dividends on your tax dollars: First-rate schools, libraries, parks,
recreation facilities, transit, public health programs, and other government
services make all the difference in a community.
Grins. Giggles. Laughter: At home, on the street, in stores, offices,
factories, schools, buses‹everywhere.
Your very own Blair Witch: The popularity of the Blair Witch Project attests
to our craving for stories to which we don¹t know the ending. This fits into
a broader need for rekindling local history through the arts, the schools,
the media, public monuments, and good old-fashioned storytelling.
A wealth of funky businesses: The vitality of any community depends on an
interesting array of idiosyncratic and often financially marginal little
businesses: friendly diners, bookstores outfitted with old sofas, wild and
woolly garden shops, affordable antique dealers, magic stores, art
galleries, eccentric fashion boutiques, record stores with clerks who know
their stuff, and cheap ethnic eateries from five continents.
Places far from the maddening crowd: Quiet sanctuaries where you can watch
sunsets, hear crickets, and see stars shining brightly in the night sky:
woods, desert, lovers¹ lanes, fishing holes, nude beaches.
Not-at-all-random acts of kindness: Adequate public assistance, widespread
charitable giving, effective social service agencies, affordable housing
initiatives, and good wages.
Further evidence of deTocqueville¹s enduring insight: Bowling leagues, book
clubs, religious congregations, and union locals bring us together, weaving
the strong fabric of a healthy community. So do performance art collectives,
immigrant associations, wicca covens, gay and lesbian pride committees, and
active chapters of the Bobby Darin fan club.
A bit of vice to keep things interesting: Bars that stay open til 4 a.m.,
gambling dens, relaxed enforcement of marijuana laws, dessert cafés, sexy
diversions, and at least some spot around town that looks provocatively
seedy. On the other hand, counseling programs and active 12-step groups are
lifesavers to people for whom these pleasures become disasters.
Diversity with a capital D: Immigrants, people of color, gays and lesbians,
poor people, the elderly, plus free thinkers and free spirits of all
stripes‹these folks should not only feel welcome in the community but feel
they have something to offer everyone else.
Ways to go out of your mind: Modern society tends to imprison us in our
heads, locked away from natural rhythms and a sense of spiritual wonder.
Dance clubs, yoga studios, hiking trails, sports programs, and a relaxed
pace of life can help us escape back into the realm of the senses and our
bodies. A full platter of spiritual offerings‹from high mass at a stately
cathedral to impromptu meditation in a public garden‹also remind us there¹s
more to the world than what¹s rattling inside our brains.
The great American hangout: The spirit of community is measured not by the
number of your friends, but by the number of your acquaintances‹folks you¹re
not likely to invite over for dinner but with whom you enjoy an occasional
chat. This explains the importance of bustling shopping streets, block
parties, public squares, pool halls, parades, and other places to bump into
people from all walks of life.
Lovable eccentrics: The sculptor whose medium is used baling wire. The
world¹s leading authority on Mr. Magoo cartoons. The old couple that spends
five weeks decorating their yard for Halloween. People who have founded
their own religions. You know the type.
Body and soul: Easy access to massage therapists, natural food stores,
homeo-paths, tai chi classes, midwives, botanicas, archetypal therapy, and
other holistic options, along with open-minded physicians and HMOs.
Safe streets: Violent crime claws at the soul of a place. Community
policing, which involves citizens in the job of protecting their
neighborhoods, not only lowers crime rates but also raises community spirit.
And safe streets mean protecting us from traffic as well as muggers. Traffic
calming and strict enforcement of driving laws give pedestrians a sense of
Salute to the seasons: Solstice and equinox rituals. Singing-in-the-rain
celebrations. May poles. Midnight swims on sweltering nights. Harvest
festivals. Sledding parties.
Where the wild teens are: It¹s a balancing act to maintain places where kids
can feel boisterously on their own yet not be hidden away from the rest of
society. Skateboard parks, all-ages music clubs, open gym programs, and the
old malt shop are among the range of possibilities. A local rite of passage,
like climbing the water tower or swooshing down the ski hill in your
skivvies, also instills youngsters with a sense of belonging in the
Our inalienable right to walk: We Americans may love our cars, but that
doesn¹t mean we want to climb behind the wheel each time we venture out to
buy a quart of milk. Everyone deserves to have a grocery, coffee shop,
playground, hardware store, school, video rental, friend¹s house, and Asian
take-out restaurant within easy walking distance (or a manageable bike ride
if you live in the country or outer suburbia).
Feisty local media: Let a thousand voices rise. Community radio stations.
Competing locally owned daily newspapers. Competing locally owned
alternative weeklies. A flowering of community-minded Web sites and
neighborhood newspapers. Arts reviews, satire rags, zines galore.
Brightness at the edge of town: A definable spot where urban development
ends and the countryside begins, ideally within easy reach of most
Graduate seminars in the meaning of life: Ample opportunities to keep
learning, ranging from adult education classes and personal growth workshops
to helpful reference librarians and lively barroom discussions.
A commitment to making sure the kids are alright: Children should figure in
every decision made around town, from how neighborhoods are designed
(sidewalks and crosswalks, please) to how our tax money is spent (playing
fields instead of sports stadiums).
The sensuous city: The sound of street musicians and church bells. The smell
of blossoms and bakeries. The sight of children playing and adults kissing.
The taste of organic local vegetables and unpolluted tap water. The feel of
the wind in your face and grass beneath your feet.
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