When I lived in Atlanta and they were constantly throwing up new neighborhoods, it irked me to no end that they would come up with high falutin’ names for them that were basically a couple snotty sounding, unrelated words strung together, like Crestwood or Westhaven or Saddlebridge. I wondered if they had some website that generated neighborhood names like the ones that tell you what your rap name should be. The neighborhoods seemed so fake to me- a bunch of identical houses with identical yards, built to look fancy but not really be fancy, because the builders wanted to build a home cheap and sell it high.
Those McMansion neighborhoods were one of the things I found most off-putting about the suburbs. They had no relation to the land they were built on.
As we speak, they’re building a neighborhood on top of the land where I boarded my first horse. There are horses buried on that land. I wonder if they dug them up when they were digging the retention pond. Once upon a time, not that long ago, an old man named Jack loved that land. He told me stories about farming cotton there with his family as a kid, and explained that the reason the land was so uneven was because they created terraces for farming. He told me about the mules he used to drive, and the mischief he got into as a young boy when land that far north of Atlanta was still wild.
Now that land will be an active senior community. Maybe someone living there will remember what it was before. But soon that generation will be gone. I’ll still remember, but who will I tell? Most people don’t care. They want a McMansion with a lawn and a 3 car garage and flowerbeds that are replanted every season by professional landscapers so that there is never, ever a dead leaf or a perennial gone to seed.
Hatteras Island, where I grew up and where I live now, isn’t landscaped and manicured to the hilt like suburban Atlanta. There are boats in people’s yards, debris laying around from the last big storm, and homes are generally smaller because the cost of living is expensive. Paradise ain’t cheap, after all.
But the houses and yards here are authentic. They have crab pots stacked up in the yard, not as some kind of coastal decoration, but because the home owner is a crabber. Fishermen string net between two trees and mend it where it was ripped up by sharks or crabs. There are surfboards and kayaks lying around because they’re part of the lifestyle. Some yards have beautiful flowers and are just as pretty as anything you’d see in Atlanta, but some are redneck extravaganzas. Often those yards are side by side.
I love them both because they’re real. You know something about the person who lives there. All the houses in the suburbs look the same and who knows who lives inside?
There is a trend of homogenization happening across this country, and across the world eventually, where you see the same stores and restaurants wherever you go. Mom and Pop restaurants and shops go out of business and are replaced by the big chains. Every exit off the interstate is virtually the same- the same hotels, the same fast food spots, the same gas stations- all identical no matter where you are. You could be anywhere. Or nowhere. It all starts to feel like Nowhere.
I’m thankful to live in a place that is authentic, even when it’s a little redneck. It’s unique, it’s colorful, it’s real. These sorts places are quickly disappearing.