Thursday, February 4, 2010

land rant

(As the title mentions, this is somewhat of a rant. You can opt out and come back in a few days for another scintillating crazy knitting story if you so choose. But I am ready to bust and I have to get this off my chest.)

I live in NJ. Although its nickname is the Garden State, borne out of years of truck farming for the NYC and Philadelphia metropolises, that moniker seems more and more out of place as the years go by. Now, the most numerous thing that New Jersey grows is houses: the bigger, more ostentatious, more difficult to heat and wasteful of land, the better. Everyone, it seems, wants to live in a faux castle these days, and the developers are more than happy to meet the demand. House after house goes up, with pillars and stonework in the front and absolutely no charm in the back. After all, it's impressions that count in this game. Go inside the houses -- and as a high school tutor, I have been in many -- and you will be shocked at how many emperors are lacking clothes. Many, many rooms are furnished with rug remnants and folding tables. But that's OK that you are living in spartan surroundings inside the house, because everyone who drives by outside is suitably impressed.

Our township is no different. I am amazed by how long this area managed to resist development, tucked away right in the center of the state as it is, but things started to shift a few years ago when zoning regulations relaxed and the negative pressure drew the developers right in. Now we have plenty of developments with sidewalks to nowhere (I just love how they gracefully curve along the road; such natural charm!) and lonely old farmhouses on the outskirts, a testament to what used to be there.

I try not to be too deprecating about these houses. If you want to buy a house and light it up like a Christmas tree 365 days of the year so that we can all see what a beautiful (in the eye of the beholder) huge house you have, well then, OK. But for the love all that is holy, do your research before you buy the blasted thing. Spend less time choosing the color of your granite countertops and more time reading the local paper or even looking out the model home's window. See those dump trucks going by, more or less constantly? It's because the main road outside your development leads to and from the local quarry. Don't move in and then make a legal case out of moving the truck route because your kids have to stand on that road to catch the bus. Surprised by that fact? Ask anyone in the township, and they'll tell you, the school buses don't go into the developments. Ever. And I am as shocked as you are (not) that the developer failed to tell you that fact. Heck, if you had looked at the pathetic road (or perhaps I should say "lane" or "court") that they were paving in front of your house, you would have noted that two vehicles can barely pass each other, it's so narrow; the lovely circular dead-end turnaround requires a pickup to execute a K-turn to go back out the other way. But again, that's OK, because your front lawn is that much more sweeping as a result.

Our town still manages to mount a few bulwarks against this pressure. Evidence of this fact is the proud blue sign under our school's street-side message board, which proclaims that our high school is home to a National FFA Chapter. (FFA used to stand for Future Farmers of America; it is a national agricultural education program.) Our high school is a receiving district for kids in surrounding townships who want to avail themselves of the program, which is a combination of course curriculum and club. Local kids travel to state and national competitions as part of their schoolwork; they win all sorts of honors; several have even won full-ride college scholarships as a result of their participation in the program. The local newspaper is very good about covering the competitions and honors and awards the kids garner, so between the sign and the paper, the program isn't exactly under a rock.

Part of the FFA program has come under scrutiny to be cut, due to school budget pressures. The school board meeting was packed last night with FFA members, families and alums, as well as local farmers, vets and others involved in agriculture, to protest the decision to curtail this program given the importance of farming in this community.

As the testimony went on about the amount of preserved farmland in the township and the positive impact of the program, one audience participant stood up and said dismissively, "I don't know why we are talking about this so much. I mean, what's the big deal? I've never even heard of this FFA before now."

It never fails to stun me. Why bother to move to a community if you don't want know what was there before you arrived? In fact, it actually seems that you could care less? But I guess that's the point of these brand-spanking new whitewashed developments: to provide an insulated sense of belonging to those who live there, without the bother of researching the history of where you moved, or the messiness of finding your place in a community that is already established. Much, much easier to form your own out of whole cloth, with people who are no doubt just like you since they live in houses just like yours and have the same beef with the dump trucks or the noisy dusty tractors or the spray planes or whatever else was there before you plunked yourself down in the new country.

Now enough of my nastiness, and if you happen to live in a big house, don't take this personally. I live in a glass house myself. Don't we all?


  1. Ditto.. Well said. I am glad to hear that there was a good turnout at the meeting. So, now The BOE is willing to pay $23per drug test/ child but not willing to pay for the programs that fill their minds with knowledge and keep them busy rather then tempted. Also, keep in mind on this snowy week ahead that we are paying $.23/phone alert message (you know each family has 4 or 5 numbers). And they do not remove graduate families unless they call twice and raise cain. What happened to good old listening to the radio or even checking the website. Thanks for giving me the chance to vent too!!

  2. Kind of makes you sick, doesn't it? Let me know the next time such a meeting comes up. I know a few more people who would attend and yes, they do live and pay taxes in your community.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear that the creeping crud has invaded your pretty little area.

  4. That's why we left north Jersey 10 years ago for Maine. But we aren't immune here; I see the same thing beginning here, too.

  5. Unfortunately, the squeakly wheel is the one that gets the grease--and some of the ignorant newbies (yes, there I've said it) just want to recreate their "Ozzie and Harriet" environment (but as I recall, that TV house wasn't huge when compared to today's McMansions).

    Down here in the Pinelands, my gripe parallels yours--but adds another dimension: A full-scale assault on the environment.

    People move to a lake community and immediately start cutting down trees and adding lawns--which then require constant fertilizer that filters into the lake that spawns algae growth, etc., etc. -- and creates environmental chaos.

    So many ignoramuses....

  6. Exactly why we are leaving!!!!!!
    As I always say to Gary as we drive past the endless rolling sea of sameness, "I want the beige one!"

    At least you don't see houses built in 1789 every day. Hope someone will come to love her as we did.

  7. We're not leaving....what? and admit total defeat?

    Beige! YES!!! BTW, our house is blue. And it's considered modest and ordinary by most of today's housing standards.

  8. can't agree with you more. When we moved to this house we knew we were moving into farm country. I felt sad about losing those fields. I hoped we were not the first of many. My hope has been dashed. no more cows. No more the next town there are five new developments all "in the low 800's" big SUVs in the drive. These are desereted form 7-7 as both parents work, kids in daycare. Chem green lawns , run off in our streams. Then they want things their way. done rant.

  9. Great post. Don't have to tell you we have the same situation here. "Let's move to the woods, and then complain about the bears, deer, and snow drifts...." My FIL used to say, "Town people should live in town."

    p.s. I remember the days when we not only had FFA, but FHA too!