August 19, 2017 (Saturday)

by Yule Heibel on August 18, 2018

Evenly gray clouds, thick and solid-looking up high, modulating into an even veil of transparent mist as they fall toward the ground, touching trees and roofs.

So much of this country looks like an accident. Yesterday, briefly, I looked at Brooklyn on Google Street View, specifically the intersection of Myrtle Ave. and Nostrand Ave. where two cops were assassinated by a Black supremacist some time ago. Tim Pool, who I follow on Twitter, used to live at that intersection – he has a “Timcast” up that I began listening to, which prompted my search on Google Maps. This neighborhood, which is probably not cheap in terms of rent/real estate (it’s Brooklyn, it’s New York), looked like such a hodgepodge of surface parking lots, one- to two-story buildings, and – frankly – urban sprawl that my mind reeled on seeing it. This isn’t a city, it doesn’t cohere; it’s just urban sprawl. The streets (wide roads, great for cars) just looked like a shitty mess, like no one gave land use any consideration (aside from putting some useless regulations in place decades ago, and not adapting them subsequently – pace some of the newer buildings that have gone up).

And this is how far too many American urban areas look: bad land use all around, oriented toward driving not walking, underdeveloped, underserved by amenities, unraveling (not well-knitted together) – sprawling. Like land is still cheap, even after it has become extremely dear. And of course that’s what you get in the suburbs, too, except with more trees. Land use repair: so very needed. I was thinking of this because I was turning over the perennial problem of where do I want to live, and what about NYC? But if it meant living in a neighborhood like that, then forget it. Why are European cities typically better built? Better land use, no tolerance of sprawl, really. The conundrum here of course is that anything that is better planned or gets developed is from the start much more expensive or gentrified, to the point of displacing the poor and the businesses previously settling in the eyesore sprawl. Let me be clear: I’m not disparaging urban “grittiness,” or urban density, or talking about wishing everything were tidy and neat and tickety-boo. I’m talking about how much I detest sprawl, about land use that makes little sense. Sprawl is not only suburban; sprawl can exist in metros like New York, Boston, etc., and it’s ugly wherever you find it, not least because no one wants to take responsibility for it, which means no one wants to maintain it. Sprawl sends the message that land is a throw-away commodity, that more of it is always just around the next corner, that it’s a single-use consumable. Yet why should we assume that good land use is only for the rich?

I keep dreaming about Jigger. I think it must be because I’m so enticed by the A.’s church-to-Freemasons-Hall-to-condo conversion, but also have in mind eventually to get another “Jigger,” and they won’t allow dogs in the building. In my dreams something always happens to endanger or entrap Jigger, and it’s on me to rescue him…

I also have been thinking of Jeanne Hubert, the “Baleine Bride,” who I believe is my Jeanne Hubert, the g-g-g-g-grandmother. I think about people who pick up sticks and move – sometimes repeatedly – and those who stay in one place over time. Are these two fundamentally different types, or does the very act of moving change one? Travel broadens, they say. In which case, what about emigrating? We emigres are the risk-takers, assuredly. And we have limits. I’d never want to travel into outer space, set up an extra-terrestrial space colony, not see Earth again. I wonder how their trip to the moon changed the Apollo men – and whether epigenetically they passed those changes on?

We travel to discover new worlds which we hope will have something edenesque about them, but in doing so, no doubt we mess it up. Let’s not forget that the Garden of Eden had perfect land use and planning… We were tasked with maintenance, but once expelled, we sprawled, forgetting – because we never studied in the first place? – land use and planning, because nature, once it’s no longer edenic, is cruel and has no time for the folderol of aesthetics? “Cultivating” our own little gardens was all we could do with our puny powers – and yet we can do, should do, so much more. Titans.

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