95 Manchester, NH: System Dynamics

Manchester, New Hampshire: Bootleggers

I drove down to see the painting in Manchester, New Hampshire, with my friend Chris, who had kindly put me up in his hometown an hour north, Hanover, home to the Ivy League's Dartmouth College. The Hopper we were going to see was Bootleggers, a nighttime scene of a boat heaving toward a shore where stand a solitary grand house and a man in a bowler hat. You, the viewer, are placed alongside the bootleggers' boat, possibly an accomplice. The garish moonlit colors and thuggish figures imply that something unsavory is going on. It could be the bootlegging or it might be Prohibition, which Hopper hated and was in full swing in 1925 when he painted this.

I thought that Chris might offer a unique perspective on my question because his job was selling a way of looking at the world. "System Dynamics" aims to solve problems by looking at elements of an equation as affecting each other. When I visited, he was helping to figure out how to keep shrimp populations from being overfished. I asked him to consider the equation that adds up to Hopperesque isolation.

"It all comes down to what is your community," he asserted, turning his gentle blue eyes to mine. His lips, as usual, were tense with calculation. "In the inner city, is your community your gang? Maybe to a churchgoer, the church is their community. What lengths will they go to, to find that? People often look for a community where one does not exist. My wife and I used to live in Alexandria, Virginia, right outside of DC. It was a 'planned' suburb, but felt more like a 'contrived' community. They designed everything to be as efficient and pleasing as possible and of course pleased no one. People there buy half-million-dollar homes put up overnight on a tiny bit of land, then have to move further out ten years later to afford what they had ten years earlier.

"Hanover really has a community because of the college. Jane and I are willing to pay to be part of a community of people who are intellectually stimulating. Our neighborhood has incredible people like a retired astronaut, a midwife, and our friend Kadzo, who is one of the most prominent authorities in the field of how elephants interact with humans. Our property in Hanover is close to town, which has the movie theater that's been there since 1958, the pharmacy, and the grocery. People pay a premium for proximity to resources.

"Someone I work with is co-founding a co-op down in Vermont. Their idea is creating this sustainable group, yet they're in the middle of nowhere. They're going to have to raise their own food and all that other stuff. She'll have to drive twenty miles up to her job at Dartmouth then back. The houses they are building are more expensive than the one we bought in town. Not many people who want to live that way can afford to. It's not being done enough to be economical. Our living in Hanover is more sustainable. We can walk everywhere," he rejoiced.

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