Man in Nature - The Fiasco of Suburbia
This piece by James Kunstler, from ORIONonline.org is the work of "a Curmudgeon in the Wild" - He tends to push buttons on all sides of the fence.
As a public commentator on suburban sprawl issues I've been engaged in a low-grade war of ideas with the environmental community. The fiasco of suburbia, so acute and so damaging to our culture in general, has otherwise intelligent and educated people adopting foolish positions on our national land-use crisis. The most common is the idea that nature is the antidote for problems of bad urbanism.
I need to state this broadly -- perhaps too broadly for some -- because it includes a number of views which all derive from the same notion: that human nature is something apart from the rest of nature. Paradoxically, this idea expresses something very similar to the mentality of single-use zoning which underlies the fiasco of suburbia in the first place -- that human nature and the rest of nature occupy separate and irreconcilable zones.
The confusion out there in America about what is rural and what is urban, what is town and what is country, and what each signifies, has reached an extreme. All the more tragic when you consider that the prime task of people interested in the salvation of any habitat is to answer these questions, and to integrate the human ecology with the larger community of ecologies. We are never going to save the rural places or the agricultural places or the wild and scenic places (or the wild species that dwell there) unless we identify the human habitat and then strive to make it so good that humans will voluntarily inhabit it.
As a formal proposition, the human habitat is the town, the village, the neighborhood, and the city. As things stand now in America, these habitats are so degraded and horrible that anyone with the means to do so has fled, shrieking, to dwell instead in either a rural setting or the mock-rural setting represented by suburbia. This group, it is worth noting, includes a great many "environmentalists" who, due to the blandishments of cheap oil, are able to lead urban lives in distant hinterlands, connected to their needs by large automobiles.
The mentality that views man and nature apart and irreconcilable in terms of land-use is rooted in our culture from the shock of industrial urbanism in the 19th century. American cities are almost wholly a product of that dire process, and the expansion from the period 1830 to 1910 was so traumatic that Americans have yet to recover. Bearing in mind that nothing on the scale of New York or Chicago a hundred years ago had ever been seen before in human history, (not even in imperial Rome, which probably comes closest), the enormity of scale that industry and its accessories assumed by the early 20th century was frightening. Any scholar can see the anxiety and dread of this national experience expressed in the evolution of suburbia, which represents the idea that the remedy for the industrial city is country living, that "nature" is the cure for the awful works of man.