Keep calm and Exit The ‘burbs – Part 2: The protagonist!

Hi, I’m Brenda, of Luis Barton Elementary, a school run by the Vasbund School District. We are preparing the work for next years pogos. India will probably tell you about me later on, but for now I wanted to share something I saw earlier this week. When Dita shared about her rant a couple of days ago, like she usually does quite often, she was on her walking tour. She runs these walking tours every Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and lots of new and out-of-town pogos flock to her to get friendly with the neighborhood and school. I was busy watching Rufus play in the courtyard while she went on the other day.

She usually introduces two of my friends in her tour. They are the highlights of her tour. Am sure you were not that attentive, so let me remind you. The first one was George, the grand old man, she called him the selfish single family home. I did say she was passionate, din’t I? She mentioned, in good climate, about my friends Maria, Julie and Bosco, remember the condos, apartment and townhouse, yes?! Good, now your all caught up!

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I’m here to introduce to you the hero of this story. Her name is India, and she is the voluptuous mixed-use, smiling right now at the corner of this block. She’s taken on the whole new narrative of life into her womb. She stands in the corner, peeking out to see the activities of the street. She works her way into many shopping streets, listening on with glee the hustle and bustle of comings and goings. She is the reason why most pogos come here. Its because of her, my baby pogos can go fill up their ruffles with supplies, hang out with their friends over coffee, stop to admire her beauty while she watching the world go by!

She caters to Bob, the street musician & Lake, the fitness yogi every morning. Like I mentioned earlier, she hosts Dita on her walking tours. She smiles and waves to new pogos who take selfies of her pink flowery dress that go all the way up to become her crown. She lets Ravi, the stout, tickle her once everyday as he goes about his day. She knows he has a crush on her ever since she moved to this new place a decade ago. She is flexible, a multi-tasker and very generous. She adores all kinds of pogos, particularly when they walk past her all day long, and stop for pogolong and pogoshort.

Let me tell you a secret I know about India. She had a big crush on 180Dash, that big handsome hunk who flirts with Bob, Dita, Karun, Heather and Andy everyday on our block. I see her turn the pinkest right before he swings around. I don’t blame her, he’s quite the looker. I also feel that he likes her too, he’s usually very quiet, but as he stops in front of India, he toots his horn everyday, making her blush some more.

India is the kind hearted gardener whose arms fill up with pretty flowers for pogos to coo and dogos to poo. While she was nurtured in this form, she hosted pogos in her upper floors, keeping them busy during the day and making sure it is quiet at night. She spoke to Julie and Marie over tea out in the courtyard. Bosco was far out with Bob and Lake in the park, watching a tai chi class. India is trying to understand how to keep George entertained in his retirement, he seems awfully bored all by himself, she thought! She definitely wants to tell him to hit the gym soon! He also needed a trim at the barber’s, she could send her cousin Shaun, a couple of blocks away.

While she kept herself busy thinking these things, out in the corner she could see a new and  handsome stack of the leanest and meanest teenagers. She heard them a mile away and could see them play the monkey. They were pointing toward George’s, some of them stopped their pogos besides the Eleva and Gert, Maria and Julie’s kids. She wanted them to keep the upcoming birthday a secret, but they being teenagers, it may be very hard! They did look very clean, all nice and polished, out there to make new waves in the world. She had a soft spot for them, but did not want them to ruin George’s surprise.  This was her typical Wednesday afternoon, it was time for her to return to the parlor and settle down with her book before she prepared for an afternoon nap.

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Keep calm and exit the ‘burbs!

If homes need to create communities, it needs to have a connection to the outside world. Such connections can happen through various architectural elements to give birth to what urban America knows as “eyes on the street.”

When I say ‘connection,’ I specifically mean a space for human interaction; between neighbors, community members, with nature, with children and other people. It needs to be part of some activity, like greeting your neighbor as he walks his dog, watching your child play while you water the plants, sitting and reading a book, lounging with a newspaper over morning coffee/tea, catching up with friends, drying papadams, etc. The activity is intrinsic to the culture, the people and the place. That’s when a connection is made and a community is born.

Agreed that it is hard to create such spaces in colder countries. Seasonal changes don’t allow for annual use of such spaces. I’m told not to complain, given the good nature of California weather when compared to other parts of this big continent. But I still think these indoor-outdoor spaces are vital, and it is exists in anyplace where humans need interaction.

I live in an apartment complex, on the top floor of a two story block of condos, with large windows that bring the eastern and western light into our home. Leading up to my apartment is a straight flight of stairs with fifteen steps and no mid-landing. My son and I count the steps everyday while going up and down, and it’s one our most favorite everyday routines. Besides counting the steps, we both pause either at the top landing or the bottom of the staircase for a bit, when we wait for each other to come join the day. We also pause sometimes just so we can watch the trees, aeroplanes and greet our neighbors (and dogs) passing us. Under this stair lies my son’s tricycle and basketball hoop for play. On occasion, I hose down this space to clear the cobwebs and leaves build up owing to the seasonal change. The roof above covers all steps except the last four, leaving this staircase protected from most rains, winds and direct sunlight. Along one length of this staircase is a double story wall and the other is a simple functional metal railing. About twelve to fifteen feet away from that wall is another long wall, making this space a passage leading to the four doors of four families from all over the world. Now this is one such pause space, a common area where a community can belong.

Now let’s look at the large single family homes in suburban America. Every activity is inward looking confining families indoor for most part of the year, lets say this time it is owing to weather. Street life and human connection is separated by at least a 25 -30 foot frontyard that contributes to nothing for community life. The only connection any human has outside of their home is the straight walk to get to their mailbox or their car and that large swath of a backyard. While it looks all fine and dandy in the talkies, living in them does not seem like fun!
I must bring attention to the bulk of backyards that are part of these homes. I’m repeatedly shocked by the large mass of these spaces, whose primary role is to entertain perhaps two dozen humans at most for a handful times of the year, mostly birthdays and thanksgiving. For such a small role, these large spaces can easily be swapped to any of the rooms indoors or a community space. Perhaps there are a handful of backyards that still are good gardens, where one can produce nice vegetables and fruit for sustainance.
I’ve never seen a garage of family home that was used only as a car parking spot. I’ve noticed (with shock,) how wrongfully it turns from hobby to garbage space, only so that the indoor spaces could remain clutter free.

The single family home is a selfish species, one that neglect community and does not want to belong to any place outside of it’s own large bubble. The condos and apartments are loving members of a community, with empathy, care for the environment, respect for life, access to livelihood and economic centres of creation!

The mega-home, sold to the world like it’s everyone’s dream, one that takes a lifetime to populate and another to maintain, needs to be redefined.

The current movement of built space in cities such as San Jose, Fremont and Milpitas in the Bay Area is tending towards a denser footprint of homes, it has begun to emulate denser urban environments that one can see in major cities such as New York and Sam Francisco. Walkability, transit connections and community life has begun to gain more importance than that of car-ownership and the big fat American suburban dream of two cars, big refrigerators etc. is thankfully dying.

Droid man and Zuck woman

Company towns all over again! It did no good for the employers and factory workers back then and it will do no good to the corporate workers now. We need to remind ourselves that these tech workers are humans, with a family and very much an equal part of society as any other. If the global giants are interested to build towns or improve the current situation, they must try to not own but actively participate in the community outside their campus.

Tech workers are married to their companies, always working, right from the minute they step into the shuttle bus that takes them to their ‘campus’ office, till the end of their working life some decades later. In the meanwhile, their life and family suffers because they just don’t have the bandwidth for anything else besides their job, products or people outside their work.

Perhaps exploring various cuisines and traveling the globe is the only other thing they enjoy besides work, but that too comes as a job perk! Aarghh! I see this depressing phenomenon among close family friends and relatives, there is a slow and steady conversion of those folks into dumb workers of <insert giant company name>, where identity of self in society is almost negligible.

These future company towns, if not opened to community at large, is only going to create urban voids in the suburban life of the workers. It will result in more displacement and urban chaos, it will create Zuck-man and Woman, Droid man and woman!

We must be wary, watch out for the machine that we might morph into, and create the right species if at all we go down that hole!

Dirt

Living in the most expensive(and over-rated) regions like the San Francisco Bay Area region of California only means one thing, competitive urban environments! Every person I know is struggling to balance and shift things around in a way that perhaps helps them commute lesser, save time in order to save money. Or they want to move closer to their child’s daycare, school or to either one of their workplace, to maximize their productive work-life every day.

This commute and the struggle everyday means nothing if one were to be in a flux all the time. I sit in front of this computer this cold and wet morning, seeking an outlet for the urban chaos that we are part of in the Bay Area today.

Since the beginning of this year, each day is plunged with competition in the housing market. Most homes in the Bay Area are dated, they need extensive remodeling, or the costs to obtain and beat the purchasing cash giants to maintain and insure some same process is positively exhausting.

To beat it all, seeking a nice modern home environment seems like a distant dream and unattainable for middle class working couples.

The billions of humans that live on this earth only aspire one thing, dirt. A small portion of dirt, on this finite earth with all its finite resources.

{ My front yard }

I stepped outside wearing a thick silk nine yard saree, braving the cold January morning, to prove that life in California for a South Indian woman could be the same as that she experienced in India. I was determined to draw a kolam on Pongal day in 2013 only because that was one of the few elements I wanted to retain among the many other symbols of our culture. Yes, we are at the point of being able to choose the symbols that represent us…..but I was so wrong then.

I did not draw my kolam in the frontyard as the typical Indian household does, this one was in my patio, surrounded by tall wooden fences that did not invite any neighbor in. I did not draw with kolam powder that is ubiquitous in every household in India, but in chalk.

I have a picture of that day’s kolam, because I wanted to send one to amma, and I remember her telling me to draw a pulli kolam (dot grid kolam.) I look back at that picture and it gives me a sad message. The kolam does not look good at all.

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I have done better, I definitely know better, so here I am, many years later, making dotted kolam drawings of many elements that represent our current times. My kolams are here, in this page. This is my front yard. This space is the one outside my threshold, the place I meet my neighbors and keep in touch with family.