By: David A. Smith
Here as I take my solitary rounds,
Amidst thy tangling walks, and ruined grounds,
And, many a year elapsed, return to view
Where once the cottage stood, the hawthorn grew,
With four parts of this surprisingly long and discursive post now immortalized on the Web, I arrive at what to me is the most perplexing question of all: Why do urban dwellers so rhapsodize about natural green space?
Sources used in this post
California Planning and Development Report (April 6, 2015); cobalt blue font
Curbed LA (April 8, 2015; forest-green font)
Economist (February 11, 2017; black font)
MyNewsLa.com (February 25, 2017; crimson font)
Economist (March 2, 2017; navy blue font)
When green space is available, people seldom use it. London’s Hampstead Heath, where the Boss and I have walked on occasion, is an irregular expanse of 790 acres (1¼ square miles) that’s mainly grass, some brush, and the occasional woodland walk:
Hampstead Heath today, with London hazing a few miles away
It’s all pleasant enough but no Constable paean.
As the artist saw it
Urban green space is something of a miner’s canary of the city’s health – when the city is in decline, places like Hampstead Heath become wastelands, no-man’s-lands, suitable spy-counterspy assignations and dead drops.
The spy business and Hampstead Heath have both gone to the dogs:
John Bingham on the Heath
Conversely, when the city is reviving and there is money at hand, the new neighbors who have invested huge sums in buying trophy properties not only renovate their own home, they also want to gaze upon a vista that takes them back to an earlier time, a time in fact before themselves.
7. Nostalgia conjures an illusory past
Britain’s relationship with the countryside is emotional.
Perhaps because London was the birthplace of industrial urbanization, the British rhapsodize about their green and pleasant lands:
Rockers like green space too
Blame the Victorian bourgeoisie, who built vast, hellish metropolises where they lived in increasing material comfort, wistfully recalling rural life.
Small that country air?
Oxford Street, 1890, when London produced 1,000 tons of horse dung a day
They read pastoral novels and pasted vegetal designs on the walls of brick villas modelled after remote castles and sylvan cottages. They built railway lines that took them just far enough out of the cities to feel they were experiencing rustic life.
We’re communing with nature, without grass stains
And back home again on a day-return ticket.
Back to Birmingham at night
In this spirit, their children and grandchildren would create the green belt.
Their instincts live on.
Something similar has consumed the aging Anglos who make up the lion’s share of Los Angeles homeowners:
This is just the latest in a long string of tussles over how the City of Angels should grow without sacrificing its low-rise feel. “People who live in Los Angeles have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they live in the second-largest city in the country. They like being in a city that feels like a suburb,” says Richard Green, at the University of Southern California.
I’ve worked with Richard Green: he’s a clever and wise fellow.
A Green houser
Joel Kotkin of Chapman University, who recently left Los Angeles because of congestion [Not too far, he moved to Orange County, hardly a great renunciation – Ed.], sees Measure S as a “last attempt by middle class neighborhoods to say, ‘We don’t like what’s happening’.”
Complete candor works best, except when it doesn’t
Then too, there’s another possible reason so many people wrap themselves in the green flag
8. ‘Preserving green space’ can be a cover story for NIMBYism
[Greenbelt] doughnuts encircle most of Britain’s big cities. Some of the land they imprison, especially around Manchester, Leeds and south London, is beautiful.
By ignoring what people say and instead judging by what they do, I’ve concluded that many of those who say they want development restrictions are simply using ‘green space’ as a convenient cover story. First, the anti-development restrictions are often unnecessary:
Often this is protected by designations of “area of outstanding natural beauty” or “ancient woodland”.
Second, the space being preserved often isn’t green, lovely, or tended – it’s just vacant:
Much of the rest is unlovely, inaccessible or both: intensive agricultural land, horse paddocks, endless golf courses and pointlessly empty parcels like in Harlow.
See the lovely vistas?
Take the chunk of the green belt that lies directly to the north of Harlow’s main station.
It’s green on the map if not in reality
A few flat fields bordered by a thundering road and a supermarket, this too serves no aesthetic or environmental purpose and, a mere 30-minute train ride from central London, would be ideal for houses.
And this, when confronted with these contradictions, or when the so-called environmental character is entirely refuted, the anti’s are still anti.
AHI blog posts on America’s local land-use dynamics
April 5, 2005: What price greenfield? What’s wrong with England’s land use policies
July 14, 2005: Struldbrug buildings, The folly of preservation laws without incentives
July 21, 2008: Lord Wellington’s lament, 4 parts, exploding the myth mobility is bad
September 21, 2010: First, assume a can opener, 3 parts, Joel Kotkin touting suburbs
May 4, 2011: Scenes from a mauling, shopping malls are doomed to extinction
February 27, 2012: California’s self-tying knots, 5 parts, on Serrano, Prop 13, more
July 26, 2013: Better off vacant, 2 parts, how San Francisco makes vacancy economic
May 5, 2014: Sunset scarcity, 2 parts, San Francisco’s idiotic down-zoning
August 10, 2016: Zoning by the taste police, 3 parts, when everything’s non-compliant
If you hold to a position when every reason you’ve stated is a reason has been factually refuted, then either you’re incapable of reason or you’re lying about your reasons, and you just want to exercise the vociferist’s veto.
You have been warned
[Continued in Part 6.]