(James Howard Kunstler blogs and podcasts extensively on urban sprawl. One of the biggest of many motivators for suburbia (the automobile and cheap oil being the great facilitators) was that the close proximity of homes and factories in the cities really was pretty awful for the home owners/occupants.
Yet Kunstler spins a vision of a return to walkable cities. It’s a vision I find quite lovely, but with nagging doubts including how can people walk to their factory jobs without recreating the “company town” in the form of a “company neighborhood” and, if people are walking to their factory jobs, aren’t we back to square one: dreadful living conditions due to nearby factories?
I have read one or two of Kunstler’s books in the past year, and have listened to every single podcast, and can’t recall him addressing this. But Allan Carlson has addressed it, at least briefly, in his keynote address I praised yesterday:
While praising the modern “machine” tool, Borsodi condemned the “huge” factory as “a steam-age relic rendered obsolete by the electrical age,” yet sustained in the twentieth century by the regulatory powers of government. As he wrote, “It is the factory, not the machine, which destroys both the natural beauty and the natural wealth of man’s environment; which fills country and city with hideous factories and squalid slums,” and which robs “men, women, and children of their contact with the soil” and “familiarity with the actual making of things.” He added: “Against the family…the factory wages a ruthless war of extermination…. Industrialism seeks to root out individual devotion to the family and the homestead and to replace it with loyalty to the factory.”
So, what was Borsodi’s alternative? The working home, the economically functional home, he said, had to be restored; and this needed to be done in a revived countryside. As he argued, “Man, no matter how often he has tried to urbanize himself, can only live like a normal human being in an essentially rural place of residence.” Setting an example, Borsodi and his family resettled on an abandoned seven-acre homestead near the Ramapo Mountains, north of New York City. Each family, Borsodi insisted, must also begin “an adventure in home production,” rooted in “true organic homesteads.” Gardens, chicken coops, a few cows and pigs, carpentry workshops, small machine shops, loom rooms: all were necessary in real family homes, he said. Careful experiments showed that a homestead equipped with appropriate tools and small-scale machines was more efficient in producing three-quarters of the products that a family home would need.
Oops! Borsodi thought this “working home” alternative to factories needed to be in the countryside!
While I respect the Agrarians, I’m a city boy man. I not only love big cities (at least to walk as a visitor), but I’m getting a bit old to take up organic gardening, woodworking, etc. at any meaningful level.
So I’m still struggling with where cities fit in human-scale living. Am I confusing my personal situation (“the train pulled out of the station and left you …”) with the bigger picture (“… but your descendants aren’t too late”)?