Urban Sprawl

1442 WORDS

Urban Sprawl
Urban sprawl is not a new phenomenon, and the battle between environmentalists
and developers is well-known. But perhaps the issue is not that the land is
being utterly stripped of life and replaced by cookie cutter houses or
factories, which has been a controversy for decades. Perhaps the fighting has
exposed a deeper problem: the American acceptance of a false outside, seen
through lawns that mimic interiors. People often perceive that any green space
is nature. As Michael Ventura says, "America is form opposed to content"
(216). Contractors leave some existing trees on lots not because it may be
costly to remove them but because those trees also serve as a selling feature
for the houses built between. Most people would rather spend their weekends at
an official, regulated and landscaped park rather than hiking through some
un-named forest track. While there is the standard human desire for new
experiences, people often are only willing to try pre-tested experiences. Even
when one realizes the societal manipulation, it still seems difficult to jump
over the railings and really cut a new path. So if people are aware that
they’re being led by the nose through a sterile, pre-chewed and mocked-up
environment, why don’t they respond? Here’s why: People are simply cannot
deal with vast expanses of "nothing." Afterall, it is more or less the

American motto to "tame" the wilderness, to take what the land has to offer
and use it to better the standard of human living. Just "being there," a
more Eastern philosophy, seems only a waste of both money and resources to

American thinking. The court system has even ruled several times along the lines
that a "loss of open space amounts to an insignificant impact" to dissuade
new housing developments ("Preservation Groups Lose Favor"). The planet
alone has been deemed worthless without us, a belief which already ties in
nicely with some Western religious rationalization, for "the ease of human
interface, comfort of use, the accuracy of human perception" (Viola 226). Even
the National Park Service doesn't seem to seem to be championing the planet to
simply safeguard natural ecospheres ("Mission Statement"). They state:

Government has always had an interest in the development of [American] land in a
beneficial, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing manner. Since these variables
are highly subjective, land use law, which covers environmental takings and
zoning issues, are among the most contentious issues facing local, state, and
federal officials. They preserve the land as it is because it will serve them in
some function, that of some obscure goal of outside recreation for the people.

Our "recreation" truely is based on "re-creation," as Ventura points out
(216). The noble act is revealed as a selfish one, something that will ensure
their remembrance as "good ancestors." They wish to please as many people as
possible, marketing the land to satisfy expectations. However, "safe, clean
and aesthetically-pleasing" is not natural nature. Powerful storms become"natural disasters" to our eyes, and weather is judged "inclement" based
on our perceptions. And those perceptions are not just the normal range of
senses dictated by species, but are directly affected by the environment. The
senses are heightened or dulled depending on dangers encountered in daily life,
and the more one is shielded from the environment, the less one is prepared to
handle it when it changes suddenly. A person living in a so-called
under-developed country more easily accepts local phenomena - such as sand
storms or tsunamis - than someone caught off-guard by an earthquake in a city. A
resident of Florida posted desperate pleas on the Family Gardening message
board, under the thread of "How do I get the sand out of my lawn? HELP!"
after one particularly heavy rain ("Message Posting"). The trouble just
seems to come with the territory, yet fifteen concerned replies did follow,
explaining just how to remove the foreign matter from the sacred backyard.

"What is real," Viola suggests, "is what is psychologically meaningful"
(229). People now look at the stripped-down ecospheres surrounding their
dwellings as an extension of their property: something that is owned and must be
used. Artificial images do not portray reality accurately, as "they aspire to
be the image and not the object" (Viola 226). We know that crabgrass and
dandelions exist, but lawn-owners insist that such defects shouldn’t. Lawns
are worse than simply a photograph--which, if manipulated, is still an image. On
the other hand, a lawn is actually a three-dimensional space that we can enter,
observe from all angles, drive by and judge the proficiency of weed-whacking.

The introduction to

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