The primary reason for writing the “Our Town” column stems from an experience I had two years ago. I was invited to travel around Northern Italy and to write about what I discovered.
What I learned was that Italians know how to live while Americans know how to work. Italians would spend endless hours together in their marvelous piazzas with those beautiful fountains gurgling in the background.
Upon my return to America I started reading about American life and came upon the book The Geography of Nowhere written by James Howard Kunstler.
Mr. Kunstler was originally from Roslyn and this book has become a classic. He is now the most important social critic of suburban life in America. His thesis is that our suburban environments lack beauty and charm and offer no place to come together each day to mingle and to relax.
He feels that a lack of urban planning has allowed cars, strip malls, neon signs and gas stations to dominate our towns and the result is that there is little to love or care about. Of course after seeing towns like Lake Como, Florence, Padua and Venice one begins to feel he is on to something.
I decided to hunt him down and ask for an interview to see where he stood on all this. Mr. Kunstler now lives in Saratoga, New York and I interviewed him this past Monday. His statements are in alignment with his books.
He told me that thanks to an unorganized hodgepodge of architectural choices and accommodation to car culture we live in towns which are ugly and which are difficult if not impossible to care about. He said that this ugliness of our everyday environment leads to an ‘entropy of the visible’ which means that most town environments lacks coherent organization or beauty. He also said that living in our virtual world of television and computer life will never be an adequate substitute for real face to face interaction.
This is a harsh indictment of suburbia of which Williston Park is a typical member. But as a psychoanalyst what I know about humans is that we are endlessly adaptable. So if it’s true that we need beauty and coherence and connection in our towns what does Williston Park have to offer?
I asked Doug Miller this question recently. He works for the Parks and Recreation Department in Williston Park and he immediately said “Well did you know that we have concerts every Thursday night at the gazebo on Hillside Avenue? And have you seen our community pool? It’s more like a country club. And go visit our baseball fields. They are always packed and busy with Little League.” Point well taken.
Well today is Sunday and I am off to the poetry reading at Clark Botanic Gardens. Linda Opyr, Nassau County Poet Laureate, organized a poetry reading which brought at least 40 local residents together to read from their work. Clark Gardens consists of 12 beautiful acres of rolling hills, gardens, trees and paths which was donated by Grenville Clark in memory of his wife.
After the reading I travel back to my office and pass by La Marmite the big white farmhouse converted into a posh French restaurant. Then I pass the new statue of the firefighter placed in front of the firehouse. The fruit trees are in bloom on Hillside.
I notice our brick sidewalks and pass Concord Avenue with those majestic Tudor homes and the sheltering sycamores. And when you begin to think of local beauty do not forget the people. Luigi Suppa, Suhwa Kim and her husband Minho who own Aroma Nails. The wild crew at Hildebrandt’s, the Mistretta’s at Frantoni’s, the kindly John Riley at Grasshopper Comics, Harry and his son Stolis the filmmaker at Harry’s Deli, Allan Walsh with his nice British accent and his jewels, and all those pretty dancers at Arthur Murray Dance Studio.
It is easy enough to feel despair and to lose hope when one thinks of strip malls, Wal-Mart’s and traffic congestion. . We live in busy and in tough times in America. But when you stay in one place as I have for these so many years you can’t help but to fall in love with this little town of ours and all of the folks that live here.
I think that man’s goodness and desire for beauty is irrepressible and will always emerge no matter what the forces that are allayed against us. Wasn’t it James Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus who described his town as being so rich and splendid and special when he took the time to look at it one Sunday morning? Well he would have said the same about Williston Park.