The suburbs, at least in their American Post War iteration sow the seeds of confusion in terms of our ability to comprehend the differences which have traditionally existed between the urban and the rural. This is not a moral argument, it is a pragmatic one, but if one believes in the onward and upward narrative of human progress then the urban/rural dichotomy can become as as blurred and perhaps as deceptive as the lines between races.
If our technological abilities and our capacity to extract energy from our environment continue to expand then “the city” and “the country” can continue to become relics of a primitive past. If, however, technological advances and energy have limits then the wisdom of compressing expedient agglomerations of people on to relatively small patches of land, while maintaining in geographically influenced rings about those agglomerations geometrically expanding areas for agricultural production and transportation is a necessity for human civilization to continue. I am on board with the latter.
A trip to our great New England 6 state fair, The Big E, gave me not just my yearly fix of thoroughly unhealthy foods and ridiculously unnecessary domestic products but also exposed me to this essay by Horace Moses, the fair’s founder:
That city and country are not, or at least should not be enemies or rivals but symbiotic partners is the clear message. By turning city into faux country or country into faux city we have not only made partners rivals, we’ve weakened both and made the entire organism more fragile. Last week Strong Towns, the ideological descendent of James Howard Kunstler in shouting this message from the rooftops, published an article by a resident of one of the “Hilltowns” on the periphery of Springfield calling for upgrades to infrastructure in order to bring economic growth.
The argument for a small government investment in building four new exit/entrance ramps at the mid-point of the longest stretch of the Massachusetts Turnpike without non-emergency access is not an unreasonable one given the transition from toll booths and toll takers to overhead gantries along the pike, and wiring these areas for improved internet access doesn’t appear to be beyond the capacity of these areas to maintain with minimal subsidy from the state once they are created.
The problem rests both in motivation and in consequences. This region is not experiencing growth in population beyond a few thousand people a year. The already existing, and of necessity maintained, infrastructures of a handful of cities, which the author of this piece willingly admits are the economic heart to which he hopes the Turnpike exits and entrances can create a better connection, could support that growth for decades and decades and doing so would only replace the population which was lost from their collective apogee nearly 50 years ago. In truth for these cities that population growth could make them better, stronger, and more resilient. Plugging the holes in our streetscapes with people, production, and the interplay pertaining thereto makes us dynamic and flexible.
Meanwhile, taking an area which provides a watershed, agricultural land, woodlands, and raw materials from the periphery of an urbanized area and using it to house people which work in the cities makes both the urban center and the rural outlying communities less able to do what they do. It is the most UN-Strong-Townsy of ideas. New infrastructures will need to be created to serve people who could easily be served by already existing infrastructure located much closer to the productive places where these people will need to work, unless productive capacity also moves to these outlying areas in which case even more infrastructure will be needlessly duplicated for no increase in overall capacity. This entire process would also change the nature of Blandford from a rural or wilderness area to a suburban and possibly industrial one all the while adding to the likelihood that existing nearby urbanized and industrial communities will struggle to maintain critical mass.
I not only harbor no ill will toward Blandford and its surrounding communities, I love them and want them to be the highest and best of what they are. Urbanizing them makes them less what they are and harms the host they mean to connect with! It transforms what have been two symbionts into two parasites, both then destined to die. I will go further. I love Springfield because I love what it IS, and if it becomes more WHAT IT IS it will be better. Blandford is dying because Springfield IS NOT THRIVING, and Springfield will not thrive if Blandford takes away more of its life blood. If you love Blandford then it stands to reason that you love it for what it is, not because it could become the exact opposite of what it has always been.
It’s telling that the City of Springfield owns so much territory in Blandford. The author of the Hilltowns piece regrets that so many bodies of fresh water are off limits to recreation in Blandford because they must provide drinking water to Springfield. He doesn’t seem to fully process that they only exist because they were created to do that job. Citizens from Springfield made the Cobble Mountain RESERVOIR, and the Borden Brook RESERVOIR in order to have drinking water, had they not done so those bodies of water wouldn’t exist for recreation or for any other purpose.
The underlying theme of the Strong Towns piece, overtly stated, is that Blandford needs to be connected to Springfield to survive. That is true. What may surprise is that the theme of this essay is that Springfield needs Blandford (and many other Blandfords) to survive as well; agriculturally focused outlands to feed and provide resources for the urban core.
The dearth of Turnpike exits was an expedient of a bygone era it is true. The differently structured Interstate 91 with its many multiples of exits in comparison created much more metastatic growth in the valley in the past 40 years. We should use the lessons learned from the destruction to cities and farm lands along that north-south corridor to teach us how to proceed with changes running from east to west; by all means give people in the Hilltowns access to the Turnpike, perhaps right at the already built out “rest areas”, but do not subsidize “growth”. Learn the lessons of the Curbside Chat and the Suburban Growth Ponzi Scheme and do not fall for the importuning of developers.
I never had a son, and so it’s been years since I visited the Horace Moses Boy Scout Reservation. If I do go back someday I may use an exit near the Blandford Plaza. It would be fitting, given his words regarding the interdependence of city and country, if the landscape which greeted me was one that Horace himself might have recognized as the “country” he fought so hard to protect and not as suburban tract homes and strip malls on the outskirts of a dying city he once called home.
Other pieces I’ve written on the city/country symbiosis: