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Is American individualism a myth?

Photo by Moyan Brenn.

Here’s what Generation Y doesn’t want: formal living rooms, soaker bathtubs, dependence on a car.(…) They want to walk everywhere. Surveys show that 13% carpool to work, while 7% walk, (…) A whopping 88% want to be in an urban setting(…) Places to congregate are more important than a big apartment(…) Common space has migrated to “club rooms,”(…) where Gen-Y residents can host meals and hang out before heading to a common movie-screening room or rooftop swimming pool that they share with the building’s other tenants. The Great Recession and its effects on young people’s wages will affect how much home they can buy or rent for years to come.“Not too many college grads can afford a lot of space in the city,” he said. “Think lots of amenities with little tiny units—and a lot of them to keep (fees) down. …The things these places are doing is constantly coordinating activities. The residents get to know each other and it makes for a much livelier and friendlier environment.”

When reading this article in the Wall Street Journal — a publication that would be hard to accuse of collectivist tendencies — what was described reminded me very much of my girlfriend’s “Young Red Guards” kibbutz where I spent weekends when I lived in Israel many years ago.

A typical kibbutz of the period, it was a group of highly educated people, living in tiny individual dwellings, sharing first class, one could say even luxurious, common facilities and operating a prosperous collective business, which financed this high standard of living. Not a whiff of Woodstock, hard work and a good life.

I wonder how long it will be before the GenYs, instead of paying rent to a landlord, form urban collectives so that they can raise their future children in this “lively and friendly” environment of small individual dwellings and first class common facilities. Following the kibbutz model, that would mean common kindergartens and play spaces, common health plans and even running a collective business, again in the kibbutz model.

The kibbutz is not the only example of a non-state collective and perhaps not the most successful one. That honor might fall to the Mondragon Corporation, in Spain’s Basque country, which was founded by a Catholic priest. Worker owned and run, this multinational has 83,859 members and revenues of over €14,000,000,000.

So none of all of this is radically new, except finding mainstream young Americans drifting into a collective lifestyle, losing interest in owning and driving cars for hours everyday and in mowing lawns… All of this seems to have little or no ideological underpinning at all, simply a natural and practical response to a permanently changed economic environment. A cultural sea change.

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David Seaton

David Seaton