Wednesday, November 21

Agrarians and Urbanists, reprise

While I was thinking about some commonalities between Agrarian and Urbanist thought in the last post, I came across an essay in the Essential Agrarian reader, "City and Country", that expressed some of my speculations much more thoroughly and cogently. The authors are Benjamin Lipscomb, an associate professor of philosophy at Houghton college, and Benjamin Northrup.

Here are my summaries of some of their main points of intersection between the two "movements":

1. An attention to the impacts of technology. In cities and farms alike, the adoption of certain forms of technology have eroded small and diversified cultures and replaced them by larger monocultures. Growth in farming machinery, has caused small family farms to be replaced by larger corporate monocultures. And the automobile has drained much of the population and commerce from cities. Neither group opposes technology entirely, but rather are keenly attuned to some of its unforeseen consequences.

2. An attention to Boundaries. Both farmers and urbanites have a stake in maintaining a line demarcating "where the edge of the city stops." Farmers compete with suburbs for some of the most fertile land, and urbanites benefit from local farms outside of city lines by having a source of fresh food.

3. An attention to traditional methods. New Urbanists often urge architects and city planners to learn from our past, from a time when cities were designed around human needs and desires. Therefor, there is also an emphasis on traditional architecture, which takes seriously aesthetics as well as function. Agrarians have long valued traditional wisdom and values passed on in small communities.

4. An uneasy alliance with environmental groups. Both urbanists and agrarians share with environmentalists the desire to value land and protect it from rampant consumption. However, both groups are more reluctant to align themselves with the radical fringes of the environmental movement, those which devalue human life in favor of the rest of the planet.

5. A preference for decentralized politics. Agrarians have long favored local control, strong family ties, and individual self-reliance. New Urbanists have also valued the self-determination of local communities, employing the "charette" model of public involvement, but have also begun to organize on a national level. (The authors think agrarians could learn from this example).

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