Last night, I attended a meeting at the Downtown Association that made me sad for the future of Fairbanks and even made me wonder if this is any place for someone with a love of community.
Executive director Emma Wilson summarized the results of a marketing survey commissioned by the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau. If you live in the Fairbanks area, you may remember the FCVB’s survey last August where we were to answer questions about Fairbanks’s strengths, weaknesses, activities, et cetera. The marketing company hired was attempting to discover Fairbanks’s “brand” — what our self-image was and how others viewed us.
A lot of it was nice to hear: we’re tough for surviving the winter weather, we have a vibrant arts community, and we’re very friendly.
What was disheartening — though it was really no surprise — was the “rugged individualism” theme. This is apparently how Fairbanksans see themselves — rugged individualists, living life on their own terms. One respondent to the survey said, “In Fairbanks, we get to live as we please — not as others tell us.”
It’s not that I’m against individuality. But the rugged individualism that my fellow Interior citizens paint themselves with — this “up yours, world” attitude — says nothing about obligations to others. It says nothing about the need for diplomacy, cooperation, and compromise. It says nothing about common goals and common struggles. It says nothing about citizenship or community.
(Why can’t we have “rugged communitarianism” instead?)
What’s more, the respondent who believes we get to live as we please is just plain wrong. I would like to live without a car that sucks up fifteen percent of my income. I would like to live a short walk from a grocery store, a bank branch, a café, a smoke-free bar, a bakery, and my place of work. I would like to like to have sizable untouched green spaces within walking distance of civic amenities. I would like to look upon the largest buildings in our city — which ought to be courthouses, convention centers, and theaters, but instead are grotesque box stores — without feeling like going on antidepressants.
But I can’t.