Little boxes on the hillside

Julie Richman is a freelance writer, project manager and consultant. She and her family have lived on Colorado Springs’ northeast side for 23 years. Contact Julie with comments or ideas for her column at



The Gazette, Colorado Springs


“Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same. There’s a pink one and a green one, and a blue one and a yellow one, and they’re all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same.” If you remember these lyrics, we’re probably about the same age. In 1962, Pete Seeger popularized “Little Boxes” after his friend Malvina Reynolds composed the lyrics. In 2012, Walk Off The Earth brought the song back with fitting boxy images on YouTube and percussion for some extra kick. Lately, I’ve had this song on my mind when I drive to Denver and see the new housing developments all along the way. There are boxes and boxes on the hillsides without a tree in sight. It’s bland and bleak, lacking color, texture and creativity. At Costco, there are boxes stacked high in every aisle and in hospital lobbies, the boxes of disposable masks appear endless. What gets under my skin is the uniformity and the cookie-cutter shapes that are duplicated again and again. Compare that with the endless variety of wildflowers in the mountains which seem to capture every hue imaginable. In nature, variety is everywhere. Colors, shapes, organisms, seasons — that’s the nature of things in the natural environment. Organisms evolve and change sometimes resulting in new forms of creatures which have different characteristics and abilities. Language and expressions change quickly, clothing styles are in or out of fashion, car designs are popular then fade out. Benjamin Moore’s Paint Color of 2021? Aegean Teal. Casual clothes for Zoom meetings are the norm while three-piece suits have disappeared. Working remotely is in, commuting is out. Telehealth is in, going to the doctor’s office is out. Reusability is in (think SpaceX and Buy Nothing groups) while nightclubs and salons are out. Language changes when new expressions are created, widely used, and well understood. Cancel culture? Social bubble or pod? Makerspace, coworking and Second Gentleman. Genderfluid, bigender, cisgender and non-binary. We adapt to language learning different mask-wearing rules and social distancing norms. K-12 schools and universities have instituted PPE requirements for in-class learning, social gatherings, and COVID vaccine protocols, while states grapple with travel restrictions. Recently, in Abilene, Texas, a high school student legally challenged the gender-based dress code of his school. Trevor Wilkinson, 18, wore nail polish to school and was suspended for violating the dress code. The dress code was written with distinctions related to gender which for boys, precluded makeup and nail polish. Fearful of additional suspensions and backlash from other students, Trevor participated in his classes from home for a while. After researching Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools, he attended school board meetings and spoke with administrators. Ultimately, district administrators agreed to change the dress code for one semester, but that just didn’t sit right with Trevor. He’s graduating this year and didn’t want other kids to experience the same type of thing in the school system. With the support of a legal team and other students, the district created a committee to revise the dress code. This effort resulted in a gender-neutral dress code and compliance to Title IX. Trevor thanked his grandfather, Leroy, for “being by his side 100%” of the way. “I know that he’s so proud and if I can be half the man he is, I’ll be just fine,” stated Trevor. Trevor plans to major in psychology next fall at Texas Tech and is considering law school in a few years. In the meantime, he should be proud that his efforts have opened up options for students to dress in a manner which they prefer. Many people feel the same way as Trevor as they strive to express themselves fully without fear of intimidation or judgment. After all, there’s so much variety in nature, why not everywhere else in society? The only alternative? Little boxes on the hillside.