Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is Consumerism the Primary Cultural Glue that Holds US Together?

An article on Oakland's diverse ethnic neighborhoods in SF GATE today talks and how the cultural specificity of a particular population group shapes - and reshapes - the geographic urban context that the live in. [
How ethnic groups change Oakland neighborhoods] The examples include Oakland's Chinatown in which residents (primarily Chinese) like to have crowded sidewalks in part because it reminds many of them of daily life in China. Another is the Fruitvale District, primarily Latino today, in which walking and biking is highly popular - even when not provided for with adequate space by our city planning. A good read. I found myself wondering how culture impacts the districts of Oakland in which I live, work and have my being: Dimond, Laurel, Maxwell Park, Glenview, Redwood Heights.... Later on in the article is the answer (or at least the answer formulated by this study):
"There are many places in Oakland where one culture does not dominate," Angstadt said. "Piedmont or College avenues for instance. Those neighborhoods have got a different dominant theme going, more of a West Coast small specialty shop vibe. Whatever the dominant theme is that the neighborhood wants to preserve, we want to be aware of that. We also have to be balanced because we're planning for an entire city."
So I wonder is it materialism, shopping and captialistic consumerism - the desire to have good shops to shop at nearby - the cultural bit that defines the dominant West Coast | Bay Area culture? Is that what we have to offer? Is shopping the one thing we have in common when we have either 1) forgotten or not maintained our ethnic cultural particularities? or 2) had our cultural particularities absorbed (either as the oppressor or the oppressee) into dominant American culture today? I don't know. As a white middle-class father I'm troubled if what I'm expected to pass on as a cultural legacy to my children is a love of coffee shops, local food stores, and Target. There has to be more. And yet if you've seen the cover of this week's Newsweek - which seems to affirm - that we are what we buy - or we exist culturally - politically - and socially to consume - you have to wonder.

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