The anti-social '90s: Compost piles
When people feel more like secluding themselves from the rest of their neighborhood, they think primarily about the kinds of spaces and structures that they'll be inhabiting on a daily basis. The built environment therefore shows some of the most striking changes over time, as societies cycle through more outgoing and more cocooning phases.
Earlier I looked at the rise of privacy fences over the past 20 years, and still have yet to keep my promise to cover the same trend during the mid-century. It was there; I just haven't felt like writing it all up yet.
Another example came from a source that wasn't even trying to brainstorm all the various ways that we started cocooning more over the past 20 years. Last night I caught an episode of That's So '90s on the DIY network, and it covered all sorts of trends and fads from that decade. One was the proliferation of compost piles -- basically a large, smelly heap of yard waste, food scraps, and critter shit.
They showed clips from '90s-era home & garden TV shows advising how to set it up, and they all placed them along a fence, i.e. next to your property line. Hey, what better way to drive away your neighbors than to pile foul odors right up against their supposed backyard sanctuary? Whenever we started ours in the mid-'90s, I remember placing it along a fence, and I think the neighbors on the other side had theirs there too. Shoot, our compost piles socialized with each other more than we did!
Converting a small chunk of your backyard into a garbage dump also had the side effect of keeping you out of your own backyard. You holed up indoors not only to avoid the nearby compost piles, but your own as well. If everybody just pitched in to make the whole block smell like grunge, then we could all enjoy the feeling of never wanting to hang out in our backyards. Talk about neighbors helping neighbors.
Returning to a point I brought up in the post on perfume, we tend not to remember smells too well. A good number of books have been written detailing what different periods looked like, sounded like, and felt like. Taste and especially smell don't leave such strong memories, so reconstructing their histories is much harder to do. But when evoked, these memories -- or even vivid descriptions to someone who wasn't there -- can be powerful. Someone wrote that in the 1970s, New York City smelled like piss and sex. Well, in the 1990s, suburban backyards smelled like shit and mold.
Why are they not as prevalent now as during the '90s? Some trends of that decade represented an overshooting of anti-socialness. It was the acrimonious initial phase of the divorce of every individual from their community. After the split had been completely effected, we didn't need to act so hostile -- by now, it's understood that we don't want anything to do with each other. So although we are more fragmented now than in the '90s, we're at least more amicable than we were then, although obviously far less so than during the '60s through the '80s.