Katrina Clarke | January 22, 2013 | National Post
There has been a Utopia, Ohio, and there still exists a Utopia, Texas. In a country with a long history of creating idealistic communities, America may soon see another added into the mix — a city rooted in America’s past, or at least Glenn Beck’s version of it.
Mr. Beck, the outspoken conservative U.S. media personality and commentator, this month outlined his proposition to create a self-sustaining city and theme park hybrid. Independence, USA represents a harkening back to a time of a simpler America and would be built on values he sees the country as now “going away from” — freedom, truth and responsibility,
“It is the rebirth of our nation through its own principles,” Mr. Beck said on his syndicated Glenn Beck program. “You can come here and we will show you the truth of the ideas and the ideals that created this country.”
His proposed $2-billion city would be based on a free-market, limited government model. No location has been pegged down, but Mr. Beck has visited “three possible sites in three different states” and has spoken to two governors, said Mr. Beck’s TheBlaze TV website.
The self-sustaining city would include a ranch for food production, a media centre, a multi-denominational mission centre, a theme park, a research and development centre, a library, parks and baseball diamonds. It would have a communal marketplace that would serve as a public space for conducting small business and sharing ideas. Americans could either live in the city’s residential area or just come to visit.
The concept was partly inspired by Galt’s Gultch, the utopian community in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and by past initiatives proposed by Walt Disney. But unlike Disneyland, which Mr. Beck’s website describes as “commercialized,” Independence USA would be focused on community-living and sharing knowledge.
“There’s not going to be a Gap here. There’s no Ann Taylor. You want Ann Taylor, you go somewhere else,” he said.
Mr. Beck said rather than attending an “Ivy League university,” young people in Independence USA would learn from apprenticeships and could “start at the mailroom and work their way up.”
The community would also be a place where elected officials across America, “a mayor or a senator or a president,” could go to learn about American ideals and history. Parents could also send their children to Independence to be “deprogrammed” every summer.
Author Bill Bishop said Mr. Beck’s Independence, USA would be an extreme version of a pre-existing trend. Mr. Bishop’s book, The Big Sort, theorizes American communities are becoming more insular and similar internally and in turn, simultaneously are looking more and more different from one another. As a result, red states are becoming redder and blue states are becoming bluer — and this is happening even at the neighbourhood and city level.
“Places are becoming more alike in the way families are formed and the way they vote and education levels,” he said, adding that even regional accents are becoming more pronounced. “People are trying to find those places where they can find reinforcement from others who are like themselves.”
There are risks, he said, with such insular communities.
It’s limiting what people see. Whenever you isolate yourself in a community that is increasingly like-minded then you’ll have a limitation on the number of ideas that are available
“It’s limiting what people see. Whenever you isolate yourself in a community that is increasingly like-minded then you’ll have a limitation on the number of ideas that are available,” Mr. Bishop said.
There is less of a chance for people to understand those who are different from them if they stay in their isolated community, while mixed communities become more tolerant of differences, he said.
“The problem with having a like-minded community is that over time it becomes more extreme in the way that people are like-minded,” he said.
Mr. Beck’s community would be self-sustaining, not naturally formed. Arguably, this could make the community more insular.
Regardless of whether his proposal is built, Mr. Beck has articulated a concept many Americans may be eager to be part of — second chance at the American Dream.
“[The streets] weren’t paved in gold, they weren’t,” said Mr. Beck. “They were paved in people’s dreams and people’s hard work. That is the gold of America … to be able to pursue your dreams.”