I was going to ignore the silly article by Tom Sightings titled “Dreams of the Ideal Retirement Home” in the latest U.S. News & World Report, but it hasn’t left the home and news pages of the major Internet news portals since it was first posted last Wednesday. With such media penetration, I feel as if I have to warn readers that the article is little more than propaganda against city life.
Sightings’ musings on retirement resemble all the real estate lists that appear in standard general news stalwarts like US. News, Forbes, Bloomberg News, the Associated Press and Reuters. The underlying ideological point of all these lists is to advocate for a non-urban life style, one dependent on cars and malls and in which the thought of going to a museum or serious play never crosses the mind, because we’re all so busy playing golf and camping out. (See OpEdge on April 11, 2012; September 23, 2011; and March 9, 2010, for example.)
Sightings doesn’t create a list. Instead his article does a little collective wishing out loud for his readers. His article flits from one retirement idyll to another, including:
- In the country
- In a small house with a small yard in a small town (Sightings’ own retirement dream)
- Beachfront, or at least near the sea
- Golf communities
- A home with access to parks
- University towns (he mentions Newark DE, Athens GA and Tempe AZ).
He completes his musings with a discussion of some non-geographic attributes—age of home, size of home, proximity to an interstate or airport.
Nothing about living in the exciting cities of Manhattan, downtown Chicago or Boston, Washington or Philadelphia, with their museums, live theatre, top musical performances of all types, experimental arts, major libraries and non-chain restaurants and retail establishments.
Nothing about living in the many quaint and bustling neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, Seattle, Atlanta, New Orleans (those that are left) or Milwaukee.
It’s not just city life that the author ignores. He also ignores those parameters of the decision on “where to live when retired” in which urban life excels, such as:
- Extensive and dependable mass transit
- Major healthcare facilities
- Cultural activities
- Infrastructure of services and social opportunities for senior citizens
What Sightings does is assume the superiority of the suburbs and rural areas, both when working and in retirement.
Why this hate of the city? It’s a confluence of two trends, one deeply seated in American history and one a phenomenon originating the post-World War II era. The long-term trend is American distrust of “the other”—the immigrant, the foreigner, those of different color. Cities thrive on diversity, which by its nature forges all “others” into a mosaic of “all of us, each different” (that I personally find beautiful).
The other trend—in operation only since about 1945—is the synched messages of car companies, real estate developers and retail chains about the blandishments of suburban living: buy this new house, depend on cars and shop only in recognizable places that look like what you see everywhere else.
No one can say if Sightings buys into the ideology and doesn’t know that his piece is little more than propaganda against cities. But he does know that he’s fooling the readers about something: The article begins with his pulling weeds and dreaming of retirement, and ends with a collective sigh for all of us (including himself) who will have to get through another weekend of taking care of the yard. But the biography that follows the article mentions that he is already retired. He deceives us by saying in the article that he is dreaming of attaining a condition that he is already in. The deception is purely rhetorical (as the bio admits the truth), but unnecessary. Sightings could have written the same article without the personalization.