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Urban cram devastates people, families

By LEONARD BAKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of six Sunday guest columns about the effects of growth and development on Citrus County.

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In the previous article, we discussed the probability that development will cause the people of Citrus County to lose our healthy environment. And we also may lose our precious humanitarian values, respect for others and the integrity of the family. With development, we will inherit the "me-greed" culture that brings intense competition in innumerable aspects of life, and with it, stress.

An illustration of the extent of impersonalization and indifference to our fellow human beings that comes with high-density living is in order: Even a friendly, helpful librarian will change her demeanor as population and crowding increase. Not only will your librarian spend less pleasant and productive time with you, her unforgiving computer will send threatening notices and statements of fines for overdue books and videotapes, and threats of hefty penalties.

The no-fine policy at the libraries for overdue books will be history. Not long ago, a resident of Fort Myers was arrested during a traffic stop. A check of his records showed a warrant for failing to appear in court because of overdue library books. He was put in jail.

High-density living from suburbanization or urbanization typically means frustrating confinement in various aspects of living from home to car and to work. It dictates our submission to social and environmental barriers. Close living imposes relentless mental and emotional restraint with the consequence of chronic frustration and made-up excuses for angry outbursts.

With development, the cost of residential and business square footage becomes markedly increased and, for many people, economically prohibitive. This frequently makes it necessary to live and/or work in smaller quarters. Consequently, the freedom of living and how and what we think, is stifled when confined to smaller residential and working quarters.

In the conscientious pursuit of raising a family in suburban or urban America, the long-term plight of one or both parents working becomes oppressive in the fight against congestion, traffic and the crowded and often threatening workplace. To make matters worse, the return home can be discomforting when you are forced to live with those nearby noisy or troublesome neighbors who seem to be at your left and right elbow. They can be even above one's head and below one's feet. If the extraneous noises of booming stereos, toilets flushing, door slamming, etc., aren't heard, there well may be the un-neighborly confrontational complaints against one's own lifestyle.

In urbanized settings, more and more mothers and fathers are becoming victims to the rat race of working in a stressful competitive environment. This social condition weighs heavily upon the stability and integrity of the family. One researcher has described the condition of mothers as "suppressed panic."

Professionals have generally agreed that working urbanized mothers find less and less time for the so-called basics, such as looking after the children. In a recent study, the outcome isn't much better. The researcher found that today's employed mothers are just as committed as the homemakers of yore but steal the extra time from themselves. Those working moms were found to be sleeping five or six hours less each week than non-employed mothers.

Hasn't every urbanized resident felt the morning tension of time-pressed competitive working mothers as they drop the kids off to day care or grandparents and race to work? Hasn't everyone experienced the late-afternoon tension of those mothers and fathers who try to do their supper shopping after rushing to pick up the kids? If those working parents are so responsibly committed and effective, why is it that psychiatric drugs are being prescribed at such an alarming, accelerated rate for very young children, as well as their mothers? Thank goodness those employed mothers can afford to seek that expensive help.

Particularly disconcerting are young children who become loud-mouthed, disrespectful and profane and who engage in vandalism and much worse. As we have been shocked to learn, some children, and more and more of them, are becoming murderers. In referring to juvenile crime, Commissioner James T. Moore of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said "They're getting poisoned early. They're getting into a cycle and not getting out."

We, the citizens of Citrus, must ask the developers and their political supporters: Just where are those cycles found?

With the me-greed culture entering our county, the problems of rudeness and disrespect will become widespread, and we will be expected to tolerate it. Waiting in lines at fast-food restaurants and government offices adds to the burden. "Check-out rage" at the supermarket is fast becoming the newest symptom in urbanized areas. The parents of our county will have uncontrollable temper-tantrums at their children's sport events. We will see that our lakes and waterways will not only become less crowded with fish but also increasingly crowded with boats guided by drunken pilots carrying rowdy passengers. The crowding of our waterways is already producing more injuries and killing more of our sacred manatees.

Even the well-paid professionals are buckling under the stress of development and the me-greed culture. According to a recent study, dissatisfaction among lawyers is mounting as they face longer hours, shorter tempers and less mentoring. Great stress, rudeness, aggression, grueling hours and social deprivation, it is said, come with the territory. The problem spreads well beyond lawyers.

A job is not just a job. In close quarters at work, getting along with one's co-workers can be very threatening, especially when closely surrounded by individuals with conflicting personalities. Even among the non-criminal, with the increase of population growth, rudeness turns into rage and rage into more pervasive hostility, viciousness and brutality. The news increasingly reports incidents of uncontrollable rage and hostilities in the workplace and on the roads. And that, too, threatens us in Citrus.

The Associated Press reports: "Walking may be healthy exercise, but going for a stroll in Florida can often be deadly." The study further reveals that accidents usually occur not in rural areas, but in overpopulated areas. Frighteningly, with development, the probabilities increase that someday a traffic tragedy will affect your family. Over-population from over-development is like the deadly suffocation by hyacinth in water.

As the population increases, people first become indifferent to one another. Then they become rude, then aggressive and finally hostile. It is virtually a rule of all nature that concentrations of any species produce competition, conflict and even death. The phenomenon includes both plants and animals, and again we intelligent humans in Citrus County will not be exempt. Charles Darwin would say that is what nature is all about: survival of the fittest.

But the underlying condition of cramming people together can be interpreted more realistically as the old contest between two classes of people: those people who aggressively seek ultimate profit from it and the vulnerable good and innocent citizens who are made hostage to provide it.

About the author

Leonard Becker is a native of St. Louis, where he received his master's degree from St. Louis University in clinical psychology and became certified in rehabilitation counseling, speech pathology and audiology. In the U.S. Army, he served as a non-commissioned officer in charge of the psychology department at Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. He has published professional articles on human perception, professional continuing education, learning disabilities and dyslexia. Becker lived for 31 years in Dade County, where he saw the problems of uncontrolled development. He has lived in Citrus County for almost eight years and is a member of six environmental and consumer organizations.

-- Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

The Citrus Times welcomes readers' response to the commentaries, and we plan to publish as many as possible after the series is completed. Please address responses to 301 W Main St., Inverness, FL 34450. Fax to (353) 860-7320 or send by e-mail to citrus@sptimes.com.

Recent coverage

Growth could smother rural life (January 28, 2001)

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COMING SUNDAY: The effects of compressing drivers together in urbanized traffic.

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