More thoughts for the “anti-city” faction

Regarding the seemingly endless “cities versus rural” debate, I actually think both sides are correct.

I actually think we will be converging toward more of a village/small city pattern as was prevalent in days bygone. Towns/villages/small cities surrounded by rural land.

Right now, most rural areas (at least here in the USA) are too desolate and empty to be sustainable. They are totally car-dependent, and do not have enough social or economic diversity for most people to even want to live there, even if they could.

I would not want anyone to have to grow old by themselves out on rural land. I would not want any child to have to grow up by themselves with just their parents out on rural land. I would not want anybody working age to have to try to find a livelihood, and find a mate while living alone out on rural land.

Those of you who love rural living and extol its virtues, please feel free to move out to the country. But be careful what you wish for when you talk about millions of us city-dwellers being unsustainable. I don’t really think you want us to all move out into the country, as we will wreck your pastoral idyll. And I hope you’re not hoping that a bunch of us will just die or commit suicide.

Throughout history, there has always been an interplay, a rich web of social and economic beneficial relationships between towns and farms. I do not expect that pattern to stop. It may be the most durable settlement pattern. Some of the most livable and sustainable places are those where this pattern is still that way, and has been in place for thousands of years. I’m thinking of many parts of England, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Regarding the critique about not being able to have chickens, and the comment about concentrated pollution and other “bad” aspects of cities.

In many cities, people have chickens. and people grow food, and people have compost. Etc. etc.

There is a persistent misconception in sustainability/permie/Deep Adaptation circles that every single household has to grow each and every bit of its own food. Which may be why a lot of people think that cities are unsustainable.

Some foods are best grown cooperatively, such as calorie crops such as nuts and potatoes. Those are nicely grown in a food forest, which could be at the block scale, neighborhood scale, or even possibly small city wide scale.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t move out to the country if they want to. But nobody should be forced to move out to the country either.

And, rural areas simply would not be able to absorb billions of people suddenly moving out of cities, even if we wanted to, which probably most of us don’t.

Regarding the “CAFO” comment, those so-called nasty functions are jobs. Livelihoods that support people.

Transporting produce into a city is a job that pays people.

Transporting waste out of a city (or better yet, turning “waste” into a resource by deploying it within the city to areas that can use it) is a job that can be a livelihood for people.

And so on.

Everything that can be said about cities being unsustainable because of dependency on fossil fuels, is equally true of rural areas right now. Rural areas too are far too dependent on fossil fuels.

An extremely damaging aspect of the “move out to the country” meme, that is not enough talked about, is the number of people who don’t know a thing about farming or growing, and suddenly they just move out from their city home or suburban home onto acreage, hire a land-clearing company, totally demolish the soil biology, and build an entire new house. Now tell me that’s not a totally unsustainable, dare I say consumerist, squandering of resources.

We are perpetrating over and over again the rapacious colonizer mindset that brought us to this terrible point we’ve reached.

This brings me to mind some words I heard awhile back, attributed to Ianto Evans, from Cobb Cottage/Aprovecho Research Center up in Oregon. A student was expressing enthusiasm that she and her colleagues were going to be “breaking ground on a new Ecovillage soon.” To which Evans supposedly responded in horror, “Please, don’t break any new ground! There’s already been enough ground broken!”

Never mind the gentrification this entails. The displacement of multi generational farming families and other people who actually historically live in those rural areas.

Regarding the critique that cities are dependent on fossil-fuel infrastructure …

For sure the fossil-fuel infrastructure
Infrastructure is there yes, but rural areas are also extremely entrenched in fossil-fuel infrastructure.

And — for those of us who prefer to be more resilient, there are many ways to basically live off-grid in a city.

A person/household can reduce their electricity dependency to basically just charging their phone or other essential work device.

A person can collect enough rainwater to meet their entire household needs, even though of course in cities the houses are generally hooked up to city water. And so on.

The solution isn’t to smash all the cities. And the solution isn’t to get rid of rural areas either. The solution is to reduce our dependency on energy from industrial and centralized sources.

I’m doing that in the city where I live. Other people I know are doing that in suburban areas where they live, or in the rural areas where they live.

We are all actually working toward aligned goals.

Interdependence is the keyword.

I actually think at least some of these people who are on some kind of “Green Acres /Ringing Cedars” trip, would actually be just as happy to stay put in their urban houses if they could just have chickens and grow a garden. And collect rainwater, and have compost. But for one thing, this actually is not illegal in most places. And for another thing, even in the places where it is illegal, the solution is to join forces with your neighbors and meet with your local city officials to get the immoral and unsustainable ordinances changed — not ditch your whole house you’ve spent years getting how you wanted it, and bail on your community you’ve spent years in, and move out to the boonies.

Another hypothesis I have is that some of the rural evangelists are actually having sour grapes because they miss the community and joy and arts and so on of the city. so they want us to move out there and be desolate and miserable with them. Whereas instead, if they truly prefer rural settings, but just miss the arts and music and community, they could be working to introduce music and arts and community there. Like, get with the oldtime locals who play music together. Or start an open mic in the nearby town or something.

Maybe some of their friends and family would even want to join them out there if something more than just grubbing for potatoes like some modern version of the American Gothic painting were on offer (or stockpiling ammo and hoarding two years’ worth of C-rations, if the Doomer/Prepper version is more your flavor).

“The main problem with keeping cities is the disconnection they create between people and Nature.”

— Regarding this comment:

— it should be emphasized that it is industrial cities that have this disconnection. Traditional cities, there is much, much more connection between people and nature than most of us born & raised in industrialized, consumerist countries might realize.

Traditional cities have much less pavement. I like what you said about letting the infrastructure go. I would be all for letting pipes degrade and just progressing toward full-on rainwater collection and sharing.

And letting most side streets crumble. BTW some cities have begun “de-paving” — Actually turning large asphalt roads back into dirt roads or mulched paths.

On the connection with nature note … Old cities in Greece and Italy, and Eastern Europe, I have seen lots of pictures of people with livestock. Herding sheep and other livestock in a very densely settled village or town or small city (something much more densely settled than we have in the industrialized world).

While I don’t recommend James Bond movies as your sole source of sustainability studies, I did see, while watching a movie on cable TV with my family over the holidays, a large garage-like or warehouse-like space in an ancient Italian village, where a few dozen sheep were being kept. The shepherd was just getting ready to let the sheep out of the garage (presumably to escort them to pasture outside the city walls) when Agent 007’s superduper supersonic car sped by.

They didn’t invent this scenario out of the blue just for the James Bond movie; rather, they included this detail for verisimilitude of the ancient European citadel setting.

It strikes me, as I’ve been writing down all these musings, that some of us will be engaged in the work of “town-ifying” the rural areas, to retrofit the social and economic diversity, and other community elements, that will make these areas once again livable; while others of us will be involved in the work of retrofitting more “rural/village” aspects back into the towns and cities to make these densely settled areas once again livable. More about that in a future post.

“Brain drain”; city slickers

The main thing that concerns me is a persistent tendency of the “rural is THE ONLY WAY” people to want to bash cities and somehow make cities be completely gone.

If you don’t like us, then don’t sell us any food, and we will starve, or else we will grow our own. Or else sell us food at high prices and make a nice pile of money off of us. Then maybe you won’t hate us so much.
Either way, we won’t be your problem.

City people living in cities are probably doing a lot less damage than ignorant city people moving out to the country and mowing an entire acre (or two, or seven), felling every tree in sight, arrogantly refusing to join existing networks of farmers and growers, refusing to respect the existing economy, tearing down old houses and constructing huge new houses, etc.

I have been horrified at the stories I’ve heard from city people who think they’re doing such a great thing by moving out to the country. So many of them are causing so much damage.

And I didn’t even mention the long commutes, clogged roads because so many of them refuse to give up their city jobs and just move fully out to the country.

Oh, and then there are the people who move out to the country when they’re getting way too old to just start farming when they’ve never farmed in their lives, and then they are 70 or 80 or 90 years old living by themselves out on remote acreage, and their kids have to figure out how to take care of them.

And the new rural transplant residents expecting high-quality hospitals and home care services for nine dollars an hour, etc. etc. don’t get me started.

Rural areas as they are right now are every bit as problematic as cities as they are right now. Both of them need massive retrofits. Both of them need massive behavior changes. And both can and must change.

Or, we can all just give up and roll over and die, as one of my favorite Permaculture teachers was fond of saying tongue in cheek.

PS. Another thing I didn’t mention is the brain drain from people thinking they need to go move out to the country and spend their entire day grubbing potatoes. So whatever creative skills and knowledge and whatever they’ve learned just goes down the drain and is not used to design the creative solutions that we need to be putting our heads together to design.

BTW, I love potatoes and have grown them and grow sweet potatoes and grow other vegetables as well. Farm work is beautiful and honorable. I have worked on farms, I have worked in community gardens, and I have grown food in my own yard. And I have encouraged all of my neighbors to grow food and collect rainwater and cook with the sun, all of which I do. So this is no disparagement of growing potatoes or growing any other food. The fact is that all of us will need to become more involved in the growing of food.

It’s just that some of us will be in towns, some of us will be in suburbs, and some of us, yes, will be out in the country. and I really think all types of human settlements are going to be converging more toward a village model. A city is actually a collection of villages that ended up growing to the point that they merged together. There’s going to be some retrofit adjustment there as well.

PS. If you want to follow along this discussion, and maybe contribute some thoughts of your own, join the group Degrowth – join the revolution, and then type into the search field “Phase out the use of flush toilets”; that should bring up the post.