growing the city


Are we looking at a future of edible balconies and backyard chickens and rooftop beekeepers? Most city livers (and we are now a majority) have felt to some degree or other that a life without occasional access to nature feels empty — or, not empty enough. We make our cities bigger and bigger, and still can’t fully shake the feeling that the things people build, the things that most remind us of our humanness, also rob us of an essential part of our humanity. We have come to think this absence can only be filled by being in an environment that has nothing to do with us, that is bigger than we are. An environment we can’t control, that allows us to relinquish control when we are inside it. A lack of access to the natural world, that world we fought so very hard to protect ourselves from, has always left us a little colder inside. What, then, is the urban dweller’s relationship to nature supposed to be? Nobody knows. But it’s an old dilemma. You can see the debate played out, for instance, in Plato’s dialogue the “Phaedrus.” In it, Phaedrus notes how totally weird it is that Socrates, a man of the city if there ever was one, feels compelled to leave the city walls to listen to a speech on love by Lysias. Socrates doesn’t even like long speeches, Phaedrus notes. Yet as soon as Socrates gets into nature, away from the rational orderliness of the city, he is overcome by a “madness,” a poetic eloquence that some read as another way of saying that Socrates can think more creatively in the quiet of nature than in the bustle of the city.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.