Local Commentary

From Consumer to Utilitarian Society

This Tuesday’s Falls Church City Council saw the unveiling by a local developer of a bold, new and right-on-time at least partial remedy for the deeply pained and bound to become even moreso U.S. economy. Insight Properties unveiled a first experiment in what promises to be an exploding trend in the Post-Covid-19 world, accommodating to what will undoubtedly become a massive work-from-home movement.

Most pundits are predicting that the hugely-overbuilt U.S. office market will suffer mightily in the wake of the altered lifestyles brought about by the quarantine mandates of the current and persisting pandemic. We concur. Anyone demanding significant office space be included in any mixed-use development project going forward is not taking into account what the longer-term impacts of the mightily downturned economy associated with the quarantines.

That also goes for any business reliant on discretionary spending. While every effort needs to be made to help out such businesses, in particular anything “mom and pop” or independently owned, like such restaurants, policy makers also need to be keenly aware that the economic fallout from the last six months is not going to simply disappear at some point, like Trump’s mythical virus solution.

The best minds are forward-thinking, and now this does not mean forward thinking into a resumed have-it-all utopia, but into an incredibly adjusted world whose priorities require shifting by the general population away from a consumer-oriented identity and lifestyle to one that is sustainability-oriented, with the focus on practical and solid things without frills that are going to last and be put to good use. In other words, there is a major paradigm shift going on from a consumer society to a utilitarian society, and all that means for every aspect of the lives we are living and passing on.

Toys, from ridiculously over-the-top plastic do-dahs put under holiday trees to equally ridiculous impotence-revealing assault rifles, and toilet-worthy TV sitcoms need to be replaced with investments in learning, including that which stretches the power of reasoning as well as DIY substitutes for expensive home improvement work, and the cultivation of the higher aspects of being, too.

In housing, the innovative Insight proposal to build “work at home” office spaces into one- and two-bedroom apartments is along these lines exactly. So are the “micro-units” that are still in the Falls Church Gateway plans for the West End.

Big houses that have become big hell-holes for millions of quarantined Americans are revealing in far too many places that the desire to create a fantasy “Ozzie and Harriett” life goes only as deep as an onion skin. As long as the kids are shuttled off to school everyday and the spouse can be absent most of the time, it may work. But quarantining exposes our lack of worked-at cultivated relationships, and the now exploding divorce rate is showing that.

It is in utility, and not in pleasure boat houses and such, where answers lie.