Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I've been noticing lately that people in my neighborhood are building big new houses without having much front yard or backyard space anymore. All the newly built space is inside. Big houses; the whole lot being taken up with the house. Which makes me think: where are the kids going to play? Inside, I guess... bigger playrooms and computer rooms, I sometimes think these new houses are portents of a changing (changed) society? We are more inner oriented, our senses focused more on our own selves and families; rather outer directed toward others.

I remember when my wife and I were raising our children, there were twenty-five kids running the streets within the two blocks of our suburban house, playing in the front and backyards, Now there are none. In fact, whole days go by without the sounds of children outside and playing (maybe there are being replaced by twenty five neighborhood children in a chat room on their computers? But computers don't laugh, though, and shout and giggle and scream with delight when a ball is thrown far or caught one-handed.)

James Mitchner, in his big book "Texas", said that Texas as a territory developed more rapidly when it moved from the insular home-building of the Spanish, with their outer walls and inner facing home sites, walled-off inner courtyards all built in towns with centrally enclosed plazas, to German immigrant flows who rejected tightly compacted town life, moved out to far-removed places, with house placed amidst expansive fields and farms, with room and space or everyone.

Is Los Angeles, my home, with its influx of Hispanic people (half the town now), is it losing its Germanic (read: European) desire for space and neighborhood breathing-room? Oh, well, we can enjoy our take-out and delivered tacos and other delicious Spanish food inside, not on our outside and/or front yard barbecues and porches.

And we can all sit inside with our paranoia I (I can't blame Spanish culture for that...it's very much more WASP-ish) about safety for our kids, keeping them away from rapists and kidnappers. In this regard, I offer a memory: No kids were raped or kidnapped among the twenty five kids who played outdoors on the street in front of my house everyday in the 60s and early 70s; without major adult supervision, by the way.

Which reminds me of my youth (Eastern inner city lower middle class) in the late
40's and early 50's: we not only played safely outside, but no neighborhood home or car door was ever locked...and I don't remember any house being burglarized or kid being raped or absconded.

Times change, I guess; and living styles change. As my mother used to say: "It's all relative; and to each his own." So big houses now mean more rooms, and more inner space. That's good, I guess. More room for everybody to "do their thing", as they used to say in the 1970's. However, I must admit I miss the sounds of kids (I even like the sound of kids crying on an airplane); although perhaps I've changed too: maybe I wouldn't be so nostalgic for their screams and hollers, both on the streets outside, if they were coming in and out of the house twenty times a day, if my two grown-up kids were four and five years old again. But no. I could handle the chaos; I first wanted children when I was twelve years of age; and nothing's changed there,

I miss kids playing outside. In fact, I miss outside itself. I miss unobstructed views. Which these big houses don't allow me anymore. I guess I'm just an old man missing my youth. Or maybe I'm right. Unenclosed space, and seeing others, neighbors and their kids, their sights and sounds, everyday is important to a functioning, happy and successful society.

What do you think?


Blogger Linda said...

I think you're right on the mark, Cliff. Linda

4:05 AM  
Blogger Ziyah said...

I've lived in Santa Monica for over 7 yrs now... before that Pacific Palisades for 3yrs. As I look, and have looked around at developing properties one thing always comes to mind. "Smaller houses, bigger lots people." There's barely enough room for the trash cans. Distraction and gluttony seems to have consumed the masses in one way or another taking us further from consciencousness rather than closer to it. God help us all. Enough w/the "stuff"!

7:34 AM  

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