Greatest Threat to Mankind? The Cul de Sac
I grew up on a cul de sac out in the suburbs of Chicago. When I was young, that tear-drop-shaped dead end seemed like the safest, most inviting place on earth. Perfect for pick-up games of baseball, lighting off fireworks, and all the rest of that American dream stuff. As adolescence hit, however, the cul du sac became the symbol of all that is stagnant and boring about suburban life.
For the past few years, I’ve lived in Jacksonville, Florida, the nation’s biggest city in terms of square area. In other words, its most sprawling, and one of its most cul de sac ridden. Jacksonville is something of a polar opposite to New York and its famous organizational grid. Here, only three main East-to-West thoroughfares, two of which are lined with an interminable succession of strip-malls, connect the beach to downtown (a mere 35-40 minute drive). In between is a maze of gated communities, trailer parks, and ranch house developments that more often than not do not connect to one another. By separating one socio-economic pocket from the one next to it, the abiding design seems to be of privacy and isolation.
Then again, that probably gives one the false sense that an overall design ever really existed. Public transportation in Jacksonville is dreadful, limited to inefficient buses and a dinky two-car monorail that covers a couple of miles of an eerily empty downtown.
One can only say that the future doesn’t seem to hold much promise. The remaining gaps on the map are being cleared of what’s left of second and third generation pine forest. Even in the real estate bust, new gated communities and strip malls continue to rise. A handful of new overpasses are being built in anticipation of what is sure to be further congestion in this land where the car (invariably a large S.U.V.) is still king.
But I have my escape hatch. In two months my family and I, after 6 years of Florida intrigue, will be heading back to a more urban setting on the West coast. With luck we won’t end up anywhere near a cul de sac.
Maybe all of that background will help account for why I find the following video so compelling. Enjoy: