Each of us has in idea of the way the world should be. You might call it “the good society,” the one we would create, if we could.
The idea of the Jonathan Association comes close to mine. I moved into the Jonathan Association, America’s first “New Town”- the dream of Henry McKnight, last spring without knowing much about it, except for the reputation it had received because of a raucous Annual Meeting four years. Back then and again this year (read the Chaska Herald story), those who wish to withdraw from Jonathan have almost succeeded in destroying the Association by maneuvering to dismiss the entire all-volunteer Board. What happened at this year’s annual meeting reminds me how ugliness and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. To the detractors, Jonathan is ugly. To me, it’s beautiful.
The world I chose to live in exceeds my expectations and makes me scratch my head over the attempts to do it in. Like all other homeowners within Jonathan, I pay an annual fee. Others resent the Association dues. They don’t see the return.
What do I get for it? And what would I lose if the Jonathan Assocation suddenly vanished?
I get a neighborhood with 10 miles of well-kept, snow-cleared walking trails, large open spaces (“common” spaces) like the field adjacent to the sledding hill and “Purple Martin Heaven “ (76 Purple Martin houses) to which 100+ Purple Martins return each spring to swoop and dive across the open space. There’s Lake Grace and McKnight Lake, the streams, and the beautiful well-kept woods of giant willow trees, maples, oaks, flowering crab and cherry trees…and doggie bags for my morning and evening walks with Maggie and Sebastian.
I get the legacy of Jonathan founder Henry McKnight’s vision. McKnight believed that “the major opportunity with a New Town, such as Jonathan, is to plan the community for minimum negative impact on the environment, while making sure that the people who live there will enjoy that quality of life that makes living worthwhile.” Jonathan was to be an experimental, utopian community (eventually growing its population to 50,000) that would co-exist in perfect harmony with surrounding nature – an outcome different from the suburban sprawl that he found so disorderly and unpleasant. “We must utilize the land with full regard for the quality of the environment people seek,” McKnight said. “Planning a New Town like Jonathan offers us the opportunities to preserve the natural environment, conserve our remaining resources, and even improve the countryside.”
But I love Jonathan for more than its natural beauty. More than its commitment to conservation and good stewardship of the land. Jonathan is more than itself, a dream of a a society worthy of our highest aspirations. It’s a dream of a real community of belonging. Wealthy one-percenters, low-income, and middle class – private homes and affordable housing, rich and poor and middle class TOGETHER, not separated by freeways or gatekeepers. White, black, yellow, red and brown living side by side because that’s the way the world should be. Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, Baha’i’s ,secular humanists Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Independents, and Tea Partiers living in together respectfully. It’s a place for people who want neighbors and who want be a neighbor. What a concept. In Jonathan I deal with the world, not escape it, and it’s a microcosm of what I wish for the world itself.
Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. But maybe that’s its beauty. It’s a collection of imperfect folks doing the best we can to answer Rodney King’s protest against a world divided against itself, “Can’t we all just get along?” Yes, we can. If we try. If we choose to do so. If we work at it.
Jonathan began as Mr. McKnight’s personal vision. He died unexpectedly at the age of 59 before he could realize the dream. Now it is up to us who have inherited his vision to continue it, embrace it, and strengthen it as our own.
The Jonathan I now know by experience bears no resemblance to the loud noise a few of the neighbors who think they’re getting nothing for their modest annual assessment, or that they should get something for nothing, or that Mr. McKnight’s vision was wrong, and that we should have no trails, no parks, no shared common spaces, no Purple Martin Heavens, no snow-cleared walking trails, or cared-for common areas. Maybe just a jungle of selfishness would feel better. But my dogs know better. They’re so glad my neighbors and I pay to make their walks a thing of beauty and joy. Sometimes our pets know better than we to give thanks for what we too easily take for granted.