Wednesday, January 11, 2006

An Abomination!

“What’s that alarm?” Somewhere, in the back of the motorhome, an alarm was beeping continuously. Julie discovered it was the carbon monoxide detector in the bedroom. We were on the south side of Phoenix driving to Tucson. As we neared Phoenix, we commented on the haze blanketing the valley but we didn’t realize how bad it was until the alarm sounded. “Welcome back to America, the land of traffic, haze and air pollution!”

We had been discussing the difference between the Netherlands and the US. We were trying to imagine the experience of a Dutch person driving into the city for the first time. What would they notice? How would they handle travel without access to abundant mass transportation, bicycle lanes and pedestrian ways? Would they find Americans friendly? Would they feel as safe as we did in the Netherlands? What would they think of our cities?

In a recent book, Garrison Keeler called cities the crowning achievement of civilization. I don’t think I agree. There are wonderful things associated with cities – book stores, coffee shops, museums, live theaters, orchestras, and parks. There are horrible things associated with cities – pollution, continual light, incessant noise, crowding, and traffic. I don’t think cities are necessarily bad but cities as they now exist are bad – very, very bad – in my “infallible and perfect” opinion.

Julie commented on how the Dutch in Amsterdam did not return her smiles. As we traveled through Phoenix and Tucson she consciously watched people and concluded that Americans don’t smile either. I think it has to do with people’s reaction to crowded cities.

I enjoyed Amsterdam because 90% of my time was spent walking, watching people, and exploring in relative leisure and silence. The four days we spent in Tucson were drive, drive, drive, wait in crowded areas at large restaurants, and coordinate plans with family. I missed the exercise of walking and times of lazy solitude in quiet, green areas. I found time for this in the Netherlands but not in Tucson. Yesterday was hell for me. Yesterday, I didn’t feel like smiling at people. I had reached my limit. I wanted peace and quiet and solitude. Perhaps this is why people in cities don’t return our smiles. They are overwhelmed and need to escape to a more natural environment.

Somehow, some way, we need to design cities with green areas, dark night skies, clean air, minimal noise, small intimate communities within a larger invisible city, opportunities to meet people and opportunities to seek solitude. Somehow, some way, we need to preserve the good that exists and resurrect cities as communities in which people can live and flourish.

My personal religion focuses on evolution and nature. Cities, as they now exist, are abominations and challenge my deepest spiritual beliefs. They tend to infect too many people with spiritual, physical, emotional and relationship diseases. There is something inherently wrong with them – as they now exist.

OK, give me your dissenting opinions. I need to hear them to give me balance and to prevent me from becoming a raving religious lunatic advocating razing cities and moving to small happy family farms with sunshine, warm breezes, birds singing and neighbors smiling at one another.


Blogger Round Belly said...

I'm sorry Paul, But I have a hard time disenting with you. I agree.

I am from the country and moved my family to the city so my Husband could go to school. We've been here 4 years and plan on moving right back to the country when he is done. In a small town where everybody knows you and you smile because life is pleasant, not rushed.

1/11/2006 07:23:00 AM  
Blogger Thom said...

I, too, can not dissent. In the last twenty years the biggest city i have lived in was about 400 people. I couldn't wait to get out to the country again. To much noise and light in town.

1/11/2006 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Thom said...

P.S. Welcome back!

1/11/2006 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger Buffalo said...

Does it surprise you that I both agree and disagree with you?

I love the city. I enjoy not knowing most of my neighbors, not having people know my business other than the noting of my coming and going by the nosy. I like the hustle and bustle of traffic. I know and like the rules for survival in the city.

Sometimes I miss seeing the stars. Sometimes I grow weary of the pollution. I sometimes wish for less traffic and more distance between the nearest WalMart and myself.

Surely glad to see you posting again.

1/11/2006 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

Except for the fact that it would perhaps only add to sprawl, I would advocate that communities be restricted to a size that is manageable, where a good portion of the populace knows each other, and yes, that everything be within walking or biking distance. Keep plenty of green distance between all these towns, and when they reach their set limit, send the offspring off to create a new village. Every state could have ONE major metropolitan city to host all those venues that require a larger scale, and that would make traveling to them worth it. A person shouldn't have to keep retreating further and further out in the sticks to feel like they're not overwhelmed by so much humanity, dirt, noise, and madness. And yes, dim the lights after 9 so we CAN see the stars!

And welcome back, sojourner!

1/11/2006 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I keep going smaller. As a boy, I lived in Canada's two largest cities, Montreal and Toronto. As an adult, I lived in some smaller cities, the main one being almost 75000 people. When we felt that it was time to move, we went to smaller not bigger. This town has fewer than 10000 people. We can easily get into either country or city from here, and I like that feature, but I do prefer country over city.

1/11/2006 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger George Breed said...

Have lived in the smaller and the outback places most all my life. My appreciation for cities is pretty much limited to their ability to keep a bunch of folk tied up there and away from the outback.

Of course, when I was a boy (Alarm, Alarm, geezer talk coming up!), as I was saying, when I was a boy, there were only 2 1/2 billion folk on the planet, now there are 6 1/2. So it's harder to keep folks contained in the city zoo.

Welcome back, Paul and Julie.

1/11/2006 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Paul, It was fun to (virtually) go on your trip with you.

For most of a century now, we have been destroying the most usable and healthy aspects of our towns and cities. 50 years ago, virtually everything you needed on a regular basis was in walking distance. Neighborhoods were self contained, with schools and stores. Residents knew their neighbors.

Now cars are manditory. Walking is hardly ever an option. Few things are at human scale. Our entire infrastructure encourages more pollution and less excercise.

We need to encourage self contained neighborhoods again.

1/11/2006 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

My mother grew up in a village in the country. When she was older she moved away to escape from all the gossip and small-mindedness.

1/12/2006 04:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I guess I have a different opinion. First of all I fully believe that the "grass is greener on the other side". Amsterdam is a product of it's history, just as we in the US are products of our history. Secondly, if you believe in evolution - then people should evolve to adapt to city life. Thirdly, some people absolutely enjoy the "miserableness" of cities - the anonymity, the not having to interact or smile at someone else. So in essence, it all boils down to "whatever floats your boat". For some, it's loving the hustle and bustle of city life, others, it's the quiet and solitude and pure beauty of nature. I live in an area outside a city, where urban sprawl really has no definition like a city does. In many ways, I think it's worse than a city because you have all the bad (pollution, traffic, lights, noise, etc.) but none of the good things - coffee shops, museums, cultural differences or architect. The houses come in 3 or 4 styles, no individuality... Just a thought.

1/12/2006 04:53:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew May said...

“Welcome back to America, the land of traffic, haze and air pollution!”

Actually we are one of the only countries who have as many check points in Industry. lol

Wanna see smog and air pollution go visit China lol.

Well George, my advice.. move someplace with better air quality, because if we started today to clean the air of the would likely take centuries to put things back the way they were.

1/12/2006 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew May said...

Oh, and plant plenty of Trees! :)

1/12/2006 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Madcap said...

I hate the city, and yet I love vast libraries, access to specialists when I need it, etc. But it jangles me no end when I have to spend a day there; it stinks, and I hate the rush, rush, rush. Lots of people love it, though, so I guess cities will just go on and on. The country mice like me will continue to live apart and sneak in to sample the wares and remind ourselves of why we'd never want to live there again.

We've bought land but we haven't moved out yet, so for now we're in a small town. One thing I notice is that most of the people living in this town and on the surrounding acreages spend a lot of time in their vehicles, so to me that cancels out the benefits of country living, if you're driving every day into the city and contributing so much to pollution.

1/12/2006 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger Melody said...

I guess I will be the voice of dissention. I love the city. I grew up in a small town (literally John Mellencamp's small town - seymour, indiana). I moved to Phoenix when we married at 19 and loved every minute. We moved back home at 25. Culture shock!

Now having sad that - when I was 30 we divorced. I am glad I was home when that happened and not in a big city by myself dealing with that.

Now I am 40, remarried and live 30 minutes from Louisville where both my husband and I work. I love it and wish we could live in the city. But real estate prices provide us a better space for us and our three four-legged kids in "Scott-tucky". We literally sleep in this town - we eat, shop and work in the city. I just love the energy!

1/13/2006 06:42:00 AM  

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