“Avez-vous un paquet de Pokémon s’il vous plait?”
This was the only phrase I learned when I visited France back in 2nd grade with my family. I would say these words everywhere we went; bookstores, restaurants, Giverny (Monet’s house), the Louvre. I wanted nothing more than a packet of French Pokémon cards. They were the same as the English Pokémon cards but in French. Looking back, my mom must have used the prospect of Pokémon cards to lure me along an all of our tourist adventures.
There were other interesting things in France besides Pokémon. I remember vending machines that dispensed hot baguettes instead of soda. And there was a delicious chocolate hazelnut spread that we used instead of peanut butter.
When I returned to the United States, I relished the one pack of French Pokémon we eventually found (in the airport of course) but was disappointed about the lack of baguette machines and chocolate spreads. My trip to France taught me that people do not do the same thing everywhere.
Until I found Nutella in my hometown supermarket.
Global interconnectedness is bringing food, technology, ideas, people and Pokémon cards together at an unprecedented rate. I no longer have to go to France to eat chocolate hazelnut spread or buy French Pokémon cards. As cities across the world connect with one another, an interesting phenomenon is taking place: homogenization. Cities begin to resemble one another in multiple realms. Ecologically, climates, plants, and animals look similar. Culturally, people living in cities participate in urban life in similar ways. Economically, cities must accomplish similar processes of consumption, production, and investment.
Homogenization happens when decision-makers, from the mayor to your mother, do the same things everywhere. The “American Lawn” is a good example in the United States.
In cities and suburbs from Boston to Phoenix, you can find similar green grassy lawns. Why? Americans value well-trimmed, green, grassy lawns. And the insects who like that grass and the birds who like those insects will show up around those green, grassy lawns, in Boston and in Phoenix. While this trend is not inherently good or bad, to me it signals something ominously boring.
I believe we have a responsibility to travel and see new things. By traveling we can learn how people do things in other places, both so we can adapt it for our own use when necessary and so we can maintain global diversity of form and function. You don’t have to fly to France of Phoenix to travel. It’s a matter of scale – if you live on the BU campus, travel to Jamaica Plain (JP) to see how they do things over there. Or take a bus to New York, or a road trip to Atlanta.
I’ll end with a quote from a scientific paper about bird diversity in cities. Normally I struggle to stay awake when reading science, but the author of this paper had something important to say.
“…Students must open their eyes, ears, and minds widely. International travel is increasingly important. Take the window seat and look at patterns of development. Ask whether the patterns below you provide local, regional, and global diversity. Learn about foreign policies and value systems that seem to result in diverse landscapes. Help globalize knowledge so that we do not continue to do the same thing everywhere.” (Marzluff 2005)
So go out and travel! See the world! And take the window seat. Pay attention. And if you find any French Pokémon cards, let me know.
For a final though, check out this great interview with Bill Gates and Bill Clinton re: American Exceptionalism
Here is the hyperlink just in case: Bill Gates and Bill Clinton: American Exceptionalism
Marzluff JM. 2005. Island biogeography for an urbanizing world: how extinction and colonization may determine biological diversity in human-dominated landscapes. Urban Ecosystems 8:157-177.