In 1973, a planned community with a fairytale network of little canals called Foster City had the highest rate of teen vandalism in the country. The city was named after T. Jack Foster, a real estate magnate who began developing the land in the 60's. It was built on landfill over the San Francisco Salt Marsh, fifteen-minutes driving from the airport and thirty minutes from the city.
Today, the water speed limit is five miles per hour. People can still take boats to the supermarket and dock in their backyards, but no one does. The water is a decoration that has to be dyed blue every year. No swimming. That would be unsafe. Especially since my stepdad shoveled our dog's shit off the back porch into our personal strip of lagoon for five years. What? There's a lot of shit in suburbs. And no place to put it.
"It was like a theme park without the fun," said Charles Hass, co-screenwriter of "Over the Edge," a cult classic Kurt Cobain from Nirvana said "pretty much defined [his] whole personality." In an interview with Mike Sacks, writing for VICE in 2009, Hass recalls researching Foster City and finding the inspiration for the film. "You'd have these developments called 'Whaler's Cove' and these fake pilings and these lame rec centers, with ropes and an airplane and a slide and a sculpture of a whale. Everything was new. Nothing was older than the kids themselves. The place made everyone feel a little disposable." Kids had nothing to do. In the film (also excerpted in the cheesy trailer
), at a kind of PTA meeting, a concerned realtor addresses vigilantism, scolding a father in the audience, "Your son and some of his friends are part of this problem." The father retorts, channeling the sprit of the film, "My son and his friends are part of this town!"
The junior high school in "Over the Edge" is based on Bowditch Middle School, which I graduated from in 2007. It was no longer "in the middle of nowhere" and the school had a great reputation, but Foster City still had (and still does have) a lame rec center for kids substituting for a downtown space. There was and is no sense of a local economy or even of a town with people in it. It is a place designed for cars, as Kunstler points out, with wide freshly paved roads and cul-de-sacs. There are hardly any trees and, yes, almost all the houses look the same, many with decorative shutters that don't shut.
A few blocks away from school, after a day of seventh grade, a few of us kids at a friend's house watched porn on the desktop computer in the living room between blowing up disposable water bottles filled with butane in the backyard. There was literally a fireball that rose into the air, as big as a bedroom, and a heat blast you had to dive away from. It was fucking awesome. A neighbor called the police. The kid whose house it was answered the door and led the officer passed the monitor--someone had closed the porn thankfully-- to the backyard and the stockpile of improvised explosives under a piece of wood on the side of the house. We all had to call our parents to pick us up. At school, we teased the kid for confessing.
A few years later, by time we had entered high school, I was at another friend's house across town. He asked if I wanted to go up on the roof and smoke pot. I said no and played Guitar Hero with his little sister. I thought he had been gone awhile. A knock at the door. A police officer. I managed to ask for my ID back and walk home. Apparently, a senile neighbor had returned from her kitchen to her living room when she noticed her television had turned off. She went outside to check for intruders and saw my friend climbing up his own roof and called the police. My friend finished smoking, stood up, and saw a cop poking around his backyard. He freaked out, jumped off the roof into his driveway, his bong shattered, and was chased by three officers through the townhouses across the street. A bystander stepping out of his car, holding his groceries, shouted, "HE'S OVER HERE!" I saw him in the back of a police car on my walk home. He gave me the peace sign through the rearview mirror.
In my suburb, neighbors are for… calling the police on one another. And, moreover, many people don't even like the police, as I've heard they give tickets for driving thirty-eight in a thirty-five zone.
From what I understand, teenagers get into trouble no matter where they are. Still, I'd like to hear more from Kunstler about the how
sprawl damages us, kids in particular.
Image is a still from "Over The Edge." A movie worth seeing.