I found clarity in the gen-x rebellion against what for years has been the prevailing culture of excess. Life in North America during the second half of the twentieth century has been an experience in consumption, accumulation and exceleration. The hardships of the second war in Europe in my grandparents’ generation was soon forgotten in a haze of new affluence in my parents cohort.
The appeal of innovation drives forward every field. The quality of life for humans has generally improved, but has led to excess. Increased productivity, technology and population during the baby-boomer years have resulted in a frantic, exponential pace.
As a kid riding on the coattail of the 60’s / 70’s counter-culture, a change to the rigid formula of post-war measure of North American wealth, suburbia was inevitable. It was thought once boomers began to take over all facets of society, they would curtail the growing excesses of their war-torn parents.
Yet it became clear that the counter-culture ‘revolution’ only partially represented the cohort. Most fulfilled and exceeded the aspirations of their parents, embracing and extending the consumer dream.
The radical sixties were explained away as simply the rebellion of youth. The boomers ‘sold out’, and bought into the car-centric culture handed to them. Cars drove new tract housing and ring highway projects across the continent, with appointments in distant quadants. Habitual traffic, roadrage, MADD, seatbelt laws, EZPass toll roads, express lanes became part of the cultural landscape.
North American state and provincial governments offer municipalities property tax as the mechanism to finance themselves. This allows local municipalities to compete to attract higher revenue properties and taxes.
It is usually agricultural land on the urban periphery that goes up in value. Higher property values mean an increase in property tax, although agricultural revenue remains unchanged. Unregulated, municipalities change the composition of their communities. Locals give up farming in proximity to urban areas. Such ‘fallowed’ land are in turn often re-zoned to be suburban residential.
Not having urban planning at a more regional level led to urban centers were left to those who didn’t or couldn’t buy into the model. Career workers moved their family to the suburbs as a sign of achievement. Kids who grew up in such neighbourhoods were frightened by the urban core. They also stayed a part of the suburban donout. Without young affluent families to fill neighborhoods, cities centres declined.
Yet somewhere towards the end of the twentieth century, the push came back. Words like environment, conservation and sustainable made their way back into the discussion. Not in a revolutionary way, as much as a quiet shift back, a trend sometimes referred to as ‘market forces’.
Millenials are considered to be driven by other priorities than their parents and grand-parents. City governments became savvy at setting up their cities to be desireable. The shift to communal resources was finally becoming part of the Zeitgeist.
We are learning to share.