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Big Boxes

For a year, I've rented a room in a comfortable but semi-dilapidated shared house, in a neighborhood that's too quiet for my tastes. I dream of moving someplace louder and more alive.

Meanwhile, someplace quieter and deader has been coming in. There's construction across the corner, and all along a sloping hillside, where hundreds of new houses have been hammered together and painted on ten blocks that had previously been who knows what — woods or wetlands, I'm guessing.

Now, it's a hundred new houses, in six designs and six slightly different shades of bland. Along the development's new, weirdly winding streets, they've made sure that identical designs are never next door to each other.

Recently, sawdust has been scattered around the tiny, transplanted trees in front of some of the finished houses. Wooden fences have been added, separating this house from that one. There are still no rails on the porches, but people have started moving in.

At the corner behind my bus stop, about half a house worth of real estate was given over for a very tiny park. It's only a patch of grass surrounded by concrete, and in the center are some painted rubber bars for children to climb on. When they reach the top, there's a slide for coming down.

The mini-park intrigues me. It's not a public park, it's private, part of the development, and it's so small. There's no fence around it, though, no gate to prevent kids from down the old streets from playing there, even though some of those kids are black.

I predict drama in and around that tiny parklet, from people who bought the new houses and don't want the local kids on their slide, but so far there's been no hubbub. Some kids I recognize as long-timers up the street were climbing the bars and sliding the slide yesterday. It's nice.

Behind the parklet, Bekins and U-Haul trucks have infiltrated the streets over the past week, and now families are living in a dozen of the new houses. SUVs are parked in front of driveways, and so far, only SUVs — none of the new occupants drives a sedan, a motorcycle, or a bike, apparently. I doubt that any of them will be riding the city bus with me.

I strolled their new streets yesterday, streets that weren't there a year ago. There are no oil stains on the asphalt yet, no gum blotches on the sidewalks.

They're public streets, I think, but walking the sidewalk I felt like a trespasser. All the streetlights are of a quaint, matching design that looks old-fashioned, but I knocked on one of the poles, and as suspected, it's made of plastic. 

There's no other word for it, so it's a neighborhood, but it looks and feels like a movie set. Where are the cameras?

I watched a 30-something couple carrying boxes from a truck to their porch. When they noticed me, I waved, and they waved back. Hello, neighbors, I didn't say.

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes made of ticky tacky

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes all the same 

There's a pink one and a green one

And a blue one and a yellow one

And they're all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same

Malvina Reynolds wrote ‘Little Boxes’ 60 years ago, and the only thing that mismatches her song is that these these boxes are not little. They're not full-fledged McMansions, but the smallest of the six designs is bigger by far than any house in the real neighborhoods surrounding this artificial one.

Beyond the cluster of now-occupied houses, construction continues. Nearest the newcomers, concrete walkways and steps are being poured. Further away, the houses are still exposed boards, the lawns remain dirt.

It's the grand opening of a shiny new neighborhood, fresh from the factory. Looming over it, a billboard brags about all the new houses, in six different designs, with all the conveniences and luxuries. 

“You can’t afford to live here,” the sign doesn't say, “but you wouldn't want to.”



  1. Lou September 17, 2023

    Which twin is this! Petaluma? Novato? Santa Rosa? Ft Bragg?

  2. Jonah raskin September 17, 2023

    Yeah where is this unreal real place? Why haven’t you said? Is it nowhere or everywhere or nowhere/ everywhere?

  3. Doug Holland September 17, 2023

    This particular development is in my Seattle neighborhood, but it’s the same everywhere there’s money & fools, soon to be parted…

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