Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rural Transformations

I just finished reading Gina Olszowski’s book “Now Coming To A Town Near You” http://www.atownnearyou.com/ which gives voice to the changes that urban sprawl brings to small rural towns here in the Midwest. Her book is filled with the images of subdivisions filled with row upon row of identical house boxes containing a single tree in the parkway, flat lawn stretching out to a stark white curb, newly paved streets beyond.

I am immediately struck by the sterile qualities of these subdivisions and find myself comparing them to older more established neighborhoods full of charm and character. Today's developers seem to lack imagination, or maybe they, like many others in our culture, are too profit driven to care about aesthetics. These newly built home boxes, called that by me because they contain few windows and tend to look more like a box than a home, seem to rise up out of the ground, unconnected to their surroundings, an ugly bump on the landscape.

I can’t help but think of what has been taken away in the creation of these subdivisions. The farm fields with their red barns and white farmhouses, or the woodlots with their many animal inhabitants. Prairies filled with grasses and forbs blowing in the wind, butterflies and birds circling overhead.

I am also struck by how this development comes to be in the first place. Unfortunately, when new businesses first come to a rural town, they are welcomed. Living for so long without big box stores and their huge supply of goods, rural town residents are excited about the possibility of not having to drive many miles to the grocery or hardware store. What they may not think about until it is too late, is how these stores are going to change the feel of their town. In the blink of an eye, development steamrolls into town and rips out its character.

Gina’s book is a wake up call to small towns that have not been bulldozed over yet and a call to reclaim those towns that have already been transformed by urban sprawl. Intact rural towns need to be aware of what may be coming and to take steps to advert the changes now. For those towns that have been harmed by sprawl, Gina asks that you think about how you personally contribute to the sprawl lifestyle. When you buy from a corporate owned hardware store rather than a mom and pop operation, you contribute to the economy that supports sprawl.

As Gina says in her book, “As we pave over nature, our pavement becomes more of a reality to us than what lies beneath it”. Her words encourage me to continue on my path of knowing and protecting the natural word while teaching my children about it. I certainly don’t want my children to see pavement as their reality. But as I think about the pavement filled shopping centers and roadways with multiple lanes near my home, maybe they already do.

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