The Re-integration of Social Life

I’m going to depart from marketing for just a minute.

In northwestern Indiana I have to drive everywhere. The target is too far away from the Chipotle to walk, even though you go through you go to the same turn signal to get there. Walking from one end of Meijer to the other could qualify you for a triathlon. There are no schools, churches, parks, pedestrian walkways, or restaurants in sight that you wouldn’t need to drive to, and everyone has their own individual home that they spend endless hours maintaining, without having nearly enough neighbors or family members nearby to admire it. Public transportation is non-existent because the density doesn’t warrant a direct train line to Chicago. There is very little to “do” for young people except spend money at restaurants. Ultimately, there is no real sense of “place.”

This bleak picture is what is and has occurred in America and elsewhere, and is costing us more than any amount of prosperity could otherwise buy. This design of our cities has caused us to be less integrated with our neighbors and friends. We have culturally “disintegrated.” We are now more “segregated” from one another, not based on race (though that is still there), but based on our own individual bubbles. Making this worse, the few places that still hold the possibility of sponsoring this kind of growth (usually labeled “new urbanism”) are extraordinarily expensive and unattainable for most families: precisely the people who stand to benefit most from an urban environment.

I want to develop a greater awareness of the cost of this design has on our world. It’s not “just” the car, suburbs, etc, but each of these are symptoms that make the sickness greater. Consider this: what is the difference between a house and a home? To me, a “home” is more than just fixtures and furniture, it’s how a family integrates itself with the greater society around it.

The prognosis I propose is going to depend on whether or not we place a priority on the family. This means that our decisions have to be for what is best not for individuals, but for families, making it easier to raise them up in a more effective way. Asking “what is good for the family?” provides the criteria for making good decisions, and also helps us prioritize the most important questions, not merely the questions of special interest groups.I believe it is by a preferential option for the family that we will begin to re-integrate as a society.

As far as “how” to do this, I believe the answer has to be public, private, and public/private. Public, meaning the funds we use to construct new roads has to take into consideration how to create truly livable, walkable spaces at a human scale. This includes transportation and services. Private, meaning private organizations (churches, businesses) can be invaluable business partners for developing this. And public/private, meaning that when the public cooperates well with private enterprise, both stand to benefit tremendously; however, the private ought not to benefit over and above the public.

What this might teach me as a marketer is that choosing the “family option” is not always the most popular, might not spark the most joy inside someone, and might not be the best “business” decision, but it is the right decision. People are drawn to light, and providing an image for how happy a family may become by using our product or service  is perhaps the beginning for many of our products and services. That’s what Disney does in its marketing, and it seems to be working out for them.