Monday, February 14, 2005

Grotesque Urban Planning Creates the Politics of Red State Rootlessness

Phoenix/Scottsdale Arizona- Phoenix can be comfortable this time of year and it is; there's some strange flower here, though, that makes this place smell like Japan in May or June.

What strikes me as a visitor to this area (thanks to my travel agent neglecting major requests on this trip I lack a rented motor vehicle) is in this area especially- likely because it's a desert, stupid- in this area there are no homegrown enterprises at all, except for a dingy bar.

In a world like this, if one were to move here, one would encounter the familiar- the Red Lobster, the endless fast food, the Borders Books, Target, etc. This place could be anywhere no doubt there's a megachurch just up the road. Like many of these places, it's designed for cars- oh- you're a pedestrian, the travel agent forgot to get you that car and all the cars are rented? Well too bad. Don't cross the street. Besides, it's not as though there's really somewhere to go- despite the peyote-influenced art of the Southwest, this place is anywhere and nowhere; after all, they built this place out of a desert.

The use of space here "atomizes" society- it breaks society up into small fragments- and therefore without the overt brutality of the Soviet System, without developing a system of gulags isolated from each other from which there is no escape but work or death, the modern planned urban area of the red-state creates a society in which people do not readily know and rely on their neighbors, except, perhaps if they live in the same apartment complex or homeowners' association and if they actively participate therein. Another great example of this is the exurbs outside Denver- it is truly strange to see these areas on the edge of the plains, where the rootlessness extends to the very lack of trees itself. For a small-town version of this, Wenatchee WA comes close, except for the fact that it is redeemed by the retro architecture.

Into this Void, religion - especially conservative religion - positions itself as an attempt to counteract this atomization. But to me, it seems this conservative religion- especially in its megachurch metastization- ultimately cannot cure this rootlessness; it is "putting another head on top of that which is already there." The real cure for rootlessness is for people to do what they did in successful older cities. And that's for people to build communities, for people to exploit location rather than simply drive past it.

It'll happen when we run out of oil (is the life-blood of the megachurch petroleum?), I suppose, but the sooner the better.

Clearly in terms of (sub)urban planning, there is, or at least should be, a distinct difference between conservatives and progressives, and it should make itself known at the local level. Walking's good for people, and suburbs as well as urban areas should be designed and zoned so you can actually walk to get whatever you might need, and so that you can meet members of your community nearby, and if you want to go elsewhere, there is an option for mass transit. Regardless, when we run out of oil (or when it gets pretty dear at least) areas with these features are going to have a higher market value.

(Extreme leftists - the Earth Firsters- have grotesque ideas as well in this regard but when they start influencing public policy, then I'll devote more consideration to them.)

No comments: