From today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:
Graterford Prison, home to some of Pennsylvania’s most dangerous criminals, could be on its way out of Skippack Township, ending a stay that has spanned eight decades.
Yet as word spread yesterday, officials and residents of the Montgomery County community voiced their fear that something worse could move in: condos.
Imagine that – Not In My Back Yard suburbanites are now preferring a prison to, uh, neighbors. Of course, they know that more neighbors means more sprawl, more cars, more congestion, more (ugly) shopping centers, more seas of parking lots . . .
We’ve sentenced ourselves to communities where cars are needed for everything – to buy a gallon of milk, to get the kids to school, to visit friends. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood that was built in the 1920s, a neighborhood where I could walk to two Italian delicatessens, two parks, a barber, a bank, the library, school (elementary, middle and high school), a bakery, and more. We didn’t have a 1.5 acre yard, culs-de-sac, or streets named after displaced wildlife. We had (by today’s standards) small houses on small lots, built so close together that you could hear your neighbors argue or be intimate. We knew our neighbors, had keys to their houses in case of emergency, shoveled each other sidewalks. It wasn’t perfect – far from it. Alcoholism gripped a few of the families on the block, as did domestic violence, and the police were often on our street investigating the smell of a certain potent weed. But it was a community, a neighborhood where people were in relationship with – rather than isolation from – each other.
But times are different now – we are different now. We don’t want to hear what’s going on in our neighbor’s house. We want to get our lunch meats from a mega grocery store instead of a corner deli. We bank on-line rather than down the street. We don’t visit parks because we’re glad to plant our kids in front of televisions and video games. The values of our society are changing. The market is demanding bigger houses on bigger lots. Neighborhoods such as that of my childhood are relics of the past.
(Please, don’t cop-out and blame the developers – they’re only giving the consumer what they want. If the consumer wanted row-homes, or duplexes, or smaller houses on smaller lots, developers would build them. It would be fair, however, to blame government. Municipalities and states could establish zoning and tax structures to greatly limit or end sprawl, if they wanted to.)
What does this mean for my girls? They are being raised spending much more time sitting in car seats than walking or playing on sidewalks. The closest playground to my house is at . . . McDonald’s! – and we can’t even walk there safely. Will my girls explore childhood independence, as I did, by making solo treks to the corner store to get milk and meats? Will they have have neighbors who allow them to run through their yards to play summer games of kick the can? What will their childhood look like?
A prison may soon be razed in suburban Philadelphia. But a new one is already being planned – with units starting in the low $300,000s! The sentence is just. We’re all guilty as charged.