Thursday, July 5, 2007

City Slickers and Nature Lovers

The authors of one of my favorite local blogs, Greensboro Birds, are thinking of buying some acreage in the country:

We know we want plenty of space between us and our neighbors, more space than just walls, ceiling, and floor. We also know we want a little acreage ...

[We're considering buying ] over six acres, half of which is covered by this fantastic meadow surrounded by tall old hardwoods, that could be ours—and not in the mitts of a lot-scraping developer.
I know the urge. When L & I were first married, we lived for 4 years on 1100 acres of wooded land on the Haw River in Chatham county, and the experience was idyllic for us and our kids. Wild turkey, deer, foxes, bobcats, owls, hawks -- all were our regular visitors. And a few years ago, back when we thought L's stock options in the dot-com boom were going to make us millionaires (hah!), we started looking at acreage to put a log house on. (Didn't happen.)

But I don't think I'd do that today.

People living far from their places of work on large lots -- that's the essence of low density exurban growth. If we moved there, yes, we'd be protecting some habitat. But when more and more people move there who want the same thing (and they are coming), they'll pressure the county to zone for 5 acre lots, because they love privacy and nature, too.

And they'll bring their cars, so they'll need better roads, and they'll want some lawn, so trees will come down, and they'll use herbicides and pesticides which will get into the watershed, and they'll probably be wanting water and sewer and electricity. All that stuff will degrade habitat.

It might even be the case that a lot-scraping developer, who would certainly develop more densely in order to make a profit, would end up leaving more natural habitat untouched.

My point is that if you're a nature lover, you ought seriously to consider being a city slicker if you don't want to become part of the problem you're trying to solve.

Former Greensboro Mayor Carolyn Allen suggests in today's paper that we engage in statewide planning to set aside natural areas, and that seems like a good idea to me. She provides a hyperlink to Land for Tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Dang, them's some rough words, buddy. You don't know me, so I'll cut you a little slack in the presumption department. I've been a city slicker and a renter--in the middle of several of the densest cities in the U.S.--for my entire life. We hadn't owned a car for 17 years till we moved here, and we rarely drive the one we finally bought. (I had to relearn how to drive, it had been so long!) I work from home, editing books and magazines for clients via the Net, so living in the country won't change my commute much--my new office will be up a flight of stairs, so I'll work my quads and glutes a little more. That's good, right?

I've lived within mere feet of many, many neighbors and have done my time as a hardcore, battle-scarred urbanite. Have you ever been sardined on the 6 train at 9am and have a guy rest his heavy briefcase on your head because it's too crowded not to? I have. Has your upstairs neighbor ever had a keg party with a couple hundred other hipsters on, say, a Wednesday night, then the keg explodes and beer comes pouring through your ceiling? We have! High rents, high taxes, high stress? No mas.

Point is, there's no single solution to how we live our lives or how we develop our communities. We need both urban and rural, and we're going rural. Andres Duany doesn't have all the answers (and he's a real PITA in my experience). And yes, people will come and change things, but that doesn't mean I have to live like a rat in a cage till I die. I'm not some knee-jerk tree-hugging Audubon member with delusions of hobby farming. I just want some space to watch birds where people won't get into my business all the time.

Also, I must add that in our Average Joe price range there is precious little housing to buy in the dense "urban" areas of our fair town, and we can't afford to rehab a run-down bungalow, much as we'd love to. And the city taxes? Forget it. But that brings up entirely other subjects of debate for another day.

But, hey, thanks for the link. That's always appreciated.

David Wharton said...

Ouch. I tried to frame my post so that it didn't come off as a personal attack, but I guess I failed at that.

So let me say: it wasn't meant as a personal attack.

It was meant to be an observation on general trends in development of rural property, and the desires that motivate, it many of which I share with you -- as my post made clear.

And all reasons for wanting to live in the country aside, nothing you wrote contradicts my main point, which is that our individual love of the countryside often leads us collectively to wreck it.

But thanks for adding some information about the economics of your situation, which moves the discussion forward. One of the raps against the New Urbanism is that it's not affordable, and one of the big problems facing planners who want to limit sprawl has been keeping housing prices reasonable.

Maybe the problem of low-density growth is insoluble, or maybe as Robert Bruegmann thinks, it isn't a problem at all. I'm not a born-again New Urbanist, just as you're not a tree-hugger.

Sorry if you think it's presumptuous of me to comment about what you wrote on your blog. But if you don't want people to comment, maybe you shouldn't put it on a blog?

Anyhow, I feel bad that we got off to such a bad start, and it was probably stupid of me to write the post as I did. Your post just got me thinking, and I should have thought a bit longer before I wrote. Apologies for that.

Anonymous said...

Good idea, Wharton. Leave country living to non-nature lovers who will despise their commute and being too far from Harris Teeter and who will demand water and sewer and a Domino's and guilt-trip nature lovers into living in the city. This way everyone can be equally miserable.

David Wharton said...

Hey, don't shoot the messenger, Boyd.

Things are as they are.