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09 April 2005

A night at the opera

The other day, I went and saw Faust performed by the Toledo Opera Company. Now, before I get written off as an "elitist liberal" or whatever, I'll say that this is the first time I've ever been to such a production, it's not a regular habit, but even if it was, I would be no more of an elitist than if I attended a Toledo Mud Hens game instead. Worldwide, more people go to operas than sporting events, and I don't know why this beautiful theatrical art is shunned in the United States. Anyway, moving on from that minor rant...

Faust was excellent, with realistic acting, incredible music (but then, in my opinion, orchestra pits can do no wrong), fantastic sets... It was a great production. I enjoyed it very much, and liked the major theme of the story, as I saw it: some things come with too high a price. (For those not familiar with the story, the old man Faust makes a deal with the devil, to have youth and a chance at love with the beautiful Marguerite in exchange for his soul and eternal damnation and such after death. Let's just say it's not a happy ending.) Then, I went home.

As we were heading for the onramp to the freeway, I looked around at the area of Toledo we were in. Empty buildings. Buildings here and there with broken windows and boards covering them. A billboard for an attorney (something of an ambulence chaser, I suspect) with graffiti all over it. It was a brief view of the side every city tries to cover up.

Some things come with too high a price.

Today I was in the Detroit area. As you move from Detroit to Ann Arbor, following the freeway, and then to Lenawee county, you see something different. My region of Michigan is affected by Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Toledo. All throughout this area, small towns a reasonable distance from cities are becoming "bedroom communities". Suburb/rural town hybrids, really, land that once was a farmer's field or just woodland has become a massive subdivision, of huge houses and beautiful and large green lawns. The closer you get to the cities, the harder it is to identify individual towns. They aren't cities with unique identities and histories-- they're big housing developments. Almost all residential, no real shops in the downtown area, only Walmart on the edge, perhaps a grocery store or two. But mostly just houses. One big happy neighborhood. A wonderful place to live.

Some things come with too high a price.

Sometimes people don't make the connection between the ugly parts of the cities and the sprawl outward of these "communities", if they can really be seen as that. I've never lived in a big city, but I've always been a city person. Don't like the traffic, don't like the pollution, but I like walking down busy sidewalks past stores of all different flavors, seeing every type of person there is to see, and then going to the subway, or boarding a bus, and being taken almost exactly where I wanted to go for a low cost. Cities, it feels like, are where things get done. A massive collection of resources and people, allowing ideas to flow. Something nice about that.

I know that's not how it always is. But it's how it should be. And it's how it could be. The things being built further and further from the cities almost always have low taxes, and are very attractive. So nice, and green, and seemingly proof that the Republican way of doing things works. Cities have higher taxes, yes, they can be crowded and can seem like a horrible place to live. But look at what you get in return. You get a sense of community. You don't get row after row of nameless houses in perfectly neat, nice little shapes. You get a micro-culture that lives and breathes and creates opera companies that perform classics like Faust. You don't get a small town which once had its own rich and unique history with a thriving downtown and get replaced by housing developments populated by people who came for the low property taxes, don't give a damn about where they are now, and shop at the Walmart that sprung up on the edge of town.

Me, I'd choose the city. If circumstances in my life were different now, I'd be in the city.

But more and more people are lured out by the chance at saving a little bit of money, while losing so much life and culture. And when they leave, they take their money with them, money that would be reinvested into the community in a city, filling those vacant buildings, fixing those windows, cleaning those billboards-- or, better yet, providing the teenage kids who make the graffiti something productive to do, through quality schools. City neighborhoods that have so much potential become ghettos where all about, the only sign you see is one of despair. All because in our society some people have started to value the dollar more than the people around them.

Some things come with too high a price.

This doesn't have a whole lot to do with Russ Feingold. I offer no solutions to what I saw, and I offered no observations that haven't been pointed out before. I just thought I had to say this, after spending a night at the opera.


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