Pet Topic: Urban Sprawl = Nowhere


Six-and-a-half years ago I met my dear friend, Ashley. We drove toghether to meet other friends to play "murder in the dark" in a big warehouse. She asked me where I lived. I honestly replied that I lived in Sandy. I could see her trying very hard to keep something back after hearing my answer. I knew what it was. That city is one of the worst planned cities ever. So I relieved her of any awkwardness, and admitted that I was saddened by the ugly developments that were the epitome of my home-town. That begun a conversation that continues between the two of us today. It also happens to be one of CJ's pet topics--and he knows more about it than any of us.

I hope to make this a continuing conversation with those who stop by and read my blog now and then. today I want to start with an excerpt from a book, The Geography of Nowhere, written by James Howard Kunstler. This little taste comes from chapter 9, "A Place Called Home." (four at least the 1st and 4th)

At regular intervals, the United States Government reports the number of "housing starts" as a barometric indicator of how the nation's economic weather is blowing, fair or foul. The more housing starts, the better for the economy, the better for our civilization, so the thinking goes. More families will move into "decent" housing, and more paychecks will go into the pockets of building contractors and cement truck drivers. In 1992, there were 1,200,000 housing starts.
It's a figure that ought to send chills up the spine of a reflective person because these housing starts do not represent newly minted towns, or anything describable as real or coherent communities. Rather, they represent monoculture tract developmenst of cookie-cutter bunkers on half-acre lots in far-flung suburbs, or else houses plopped down in isolation along country roads in what had been cornfields, pastures, or woods. In any case, one can rest assured that they will only add to the problems of our present economy and of American civilization. They will relate poorly to other things around them, they will eat up more countryside, and they will increase th public fiscal burden.
There must have been a time when people looked forward to the erection of a new house in town, or even at the edge of town. By town, I mean something akin to a living organism composed of different parts that work together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts--that is, a community. A new building would be expected to add value and richness to this community, as a new child is eagerly awaited by members of a family...
The mobility that Americans prize so highly is the final ingredient in the debasement of housing. The freedom to pick up and move is a premise of the national experience. It is the physical expression of the freedom to move upward socially, absent in other societies. The automobile allowed this expression to be carried to absurd extremes. Our obsession with mobility, the urge to move on every few years, stands at odds with the wish to endure in a beloved place, and no place can be worthy of that kind of deep love if we are willing to abandon it on short notice for a few extra dollars. Rather, we choose to live in Noplace, and our dwellings show it. In every corner of the nation we have built places unworthy of love and move on from them without regret. But move on to what? Where is the ultimate destination when every place is Noplace?
Often, we discuss how disappointing it is that as we travel across the country everything looks the same. If someone were to blindfold you as you drove or flew across the country and then once you arrived at your destination removed the blindfold, it would be difficult to tell what city you were in. Everywhere you go the same houses exist, the same chain stores, the same everything. No one likes to visit Noplace...there's nothing unique about it. Who visits Fresno, California for fun? (sorry, chris). Who visits Sandy, Utah for fun? Where do we go? To places that have an identity...something different from everywhere else: New York City, London, small towns in Italy and France, etc. Wouldn't it be great if every city we inhabited was something unique and special that we could love?


Lindsey P said...

I could not agree with this subject more. Having grown up in Orom Utah, one of the ugliest cities in the world. It was ugly and poorly planned even when I was young, but in the last ten years I've watched the few parts of it that I loved (including the apple orchards of five, that's right five families in my home ward) be sold and developed. I tell myself that I maybe wouldn't mind the development if it didn't all look the same, and if it were planned better, but I'll never know since my home town is nothing but a sea of stucco.