Andrew Blum on Local Cities, Global Problems

It has long frustrated me that so many of the thinkers and movements I admire seem determined to denigrate the urban in favour of an idyllic picture of rural or small town living. Partly that’s because my psychology doesn’t deal well with spending too long outside of a large city, but it’s also because whether we like it or not it’s pretty clear that the future of the human race is going to be in cities. Effort that could be spent working out what was good about our rural past and can be translated into our urban future is often spent merely eulogising it.

So comments like this one on Andrew Blum’s blog were music to my ears:

There is a practical need for this double sense of “preservation”: The efficiency of cities is a crucial antidote to global warming and resource management. Yet despite the enormity of these stakes, both social and environmental, traditional environmentalism in America has long resisted an urban identity. Most of the loudest “environmental” voices and most prominent organizations remain focused “out there,” in the countryside and the wilderness—or in their more easily habitable stand-ins, the suburbs and exurbs. But as the historian William Cronon points out, “idealizing a distant wilderness, too often means not idealizing the environment in which we actually live.”

Other parts of the piece are more challenging as Blum challenges a few of the Jane Jacobs derived attitudes which have influenced so many of us who love our urban neighbourhoods, as we adjust to the need for more density and the increasingly tangled and globalised web of interactions we’re all part of. The piece doesn’t answer many of its questions, but that’ll take time. It’s well worth a few minutes of your time.

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