Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 2, 2006, Herald Journal

Death by conformity


I will be moving soon, and in preparation for this, I have been looking at houses.

I don’t yet know where I will end up, but I definitely know where I am not going to live.

I will not live in one of those pallid, sterile developments that have become a blight on the landscape. I am referring to those places where all of the houses are identical, and the color palette has been reduced to a few shades ranging from white to beige.

Some people might argue that the houses are not identical, because the garages are on the left of some units rather than the right, but that is not the point.

Whenever I have the misfortune of being required to make a foray into one of these developments, I feel like a rat in a maze.

I can’t imagine coming home every night to one of these architectural black holes, where any vestige of creativity or imagination is sucked away when you drive through the entrance.

Apart from the design of the houses, the total lack of color scares me.

It is as if the designers of these places spent a few years underground, and their vision faded to the point where they can only see a very narrow band of the spectrum.

More alarming still is the fact that people seem to flock to these developments, where they have to check their imagination at the gate.

I have never been a fan of “neutral colors.” The expression, itself, is an oxymoron, since by definition, neutral means devoid of color or character.

I suppose keeping everything the same is good for the developers and builders, because they are no doubt able to buy ugly paint by the tanker load.

But why would someone choose to live in that kind of environment?

Perhaps, it comes down to security.

Maybe the residents of these communities are comfortable in their anonymity, and by living in a house that is identical to all of those around it, they are in no danger of standing out from the crowd.

They can go along living their humdrum lives without any danger of being noticed.

Even the street names within these developments are as similar as possible. Lemming Run, Lemming Court, Lemming Circle, Lemming Drive, all can be found within the same development. This must be a joy for firefighters and others who need to quickly locate an address in an emergency.

Maybe the next step in this frightening trend toward conformity will be community uniforms, so that residents, like convicts or military personnel, don’t have to make any decisions about what to wear, and they will always be dressed just like their neighbors.

In contrast, I think of some of the older neighborhoods that have been preserved in some cities, where houses of every shape, style, and color stand shoulder-to-shoulder screaming personality.

These old neighborhoods are beautiful in their character and diversity. They have their own style and identity.

They leave an impression that the people who choose to live there must also be creative and interesting people.

On the other hand, the monochromatic new developments that are creeping like noxious weeds across the landscape, leave a very different impression.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

To those who are trapped in these hue-less jungles, I say, break free. You do not need to remain in these pallid barracks of conformity.

You are not in junior high anymore. You do not need to dress and act like all of your peers just to fit in.

Add some color to your life. Develop your own style. Live a little.

The world is full of bright, vivid, intense colors. Embrace them.

It would be a shame to abandon beauty for the sake of conformity.

I have heard health-conscious people use the expression, “the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead,” suggesting that there are many more live-giving nutrients in whole wheat and other varieties of bread.

Perhaps the same is true of houses. If the world is taken over by white-bread housing developments, and if conformity and neutrality replace individuality and variety, we may all end up dying of boredom.

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