We shake our heads in disbelief and despair at the McMansions or "starter castles" that are increasingly imposing themselves on our cherished open lands, invading our communities with their gaudy, dollar-based delusions.
But, while their architectural hubris provides easy fodder for analysis by psychologists and laymen alike, let's look closer at the consequences to their neighbors, to you and me--and to themselves--of the colossal footprints these invaders have imposed on us all. The entrance of such people into our hamlets and villages brings with it all the signs of an invasion: they clearcut the land, uprooting trees that have been here for decades, replacing native trees with homogeneous nursery "products" seen in every yard in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The obliteration and displacement of the visible and invisible ecosystems--the birds, insects, animals, wildflowers-- can be as devastating to these creatures as the razing done by invading armies in Darfur. I don't believe they will ever return. Would you?
And then there are the humans. I spoke recently to a woman who described her tears and despair as she watched an old oak tree she had always known, a landmark of her childhood, being cut down to provide easier access for the bulldozer. She is not alone in experiencing such destruction as massacre, as an inability to protect a tree that has always protected and nourished us--with its shade, beauty, oxygen, fruits and leaves. Perhaps relating this way to a tree is not as widespread as I wish it were.
However, what I do believe to be a shared experience is the hijacking of a neighborhood by a selfish builder and his customer. Planting a huge mansion in a quiet, unassuming community creates an instant set of enemies for life--of people who are forced to live in the shadow of a domineering outsider, of one who remakes a neighborhood in his own image, of a person who has often bludgeoned through loopholes in the zoning laws and who is ultimately more interested in proclaiming his or her financial importance than in being gracefully received by those who created that community. These invaders not only consume more than their fair share of all our resources but rob us of our harmony too.
Perhaps before being granted building permits, people should be screened for signs of hidden McMansion Syndrome so that only those with a certified civic sense be allowed to build in our town.
Can one love one's country if one does not love the country, the land that is one's country?
Hazel Kahan is an artist, psychologist and activist. She lives in Mattituck
This commentary was prepared for broadcast on WPKM-88.7 Montauk and WPKN-89.5 Bridgeport.