I'm no tree hugger. Nature's fine, but I like man-made things, too. I remember the time I visited my brother when he was still living in Chicago. We went out one night to see the Second City comedy troupe. From atop a six-story parking garage not far from the theater, I could see the whole of the Chicago skyline. Well, maybe "whole" is an exaggeration. The six-story parking garage itself was downtown, and thus not part of the skyline within my field of vision. That's all right. There was quite enough in that field already. One skyscraper after another, their windows aglow in the crisp March night. Spectacular! So taken was I with the dark, towering, twinkling beauty of it all, I felt like putting on my top hat and tails and singing "I'll Take Manhattan." Except I don't own a top hat and tails, and I was in Chicago, not Manhattan.
But I wonder, would I have been equally in awe had I been a couple centuries old and seen it first in 1780, the way the Pottawatomie tribe viewed it, as a forest on the shores of a great lake? I may very well have been pissed that now, in the 21st century, there were buildings instead of trees. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to sing "I'll Take Manhattan". At a couple of centuries old, I might have considered it one of those new songs I have a difficult time getting into.
I said I like both nature and man-made things. When they're both in their proper places. Like it was when I was a kid. The man-made things were ranch houses and bungalows and playgrounds and sidewalks and supermarkets and laundromats (which, at a tender age, I really looked forward to going to with my mom. I found it cool watching the clothes spin) and amusement parks and Red Barn restaurants. Nature was the Cleveland Metroparks, which I now realise is basically man-made, but man-made with God-made trees and such. Nature could also be drives in the country, which I seem to remember my parents taking us kids on quite a bit when I was, say, 5, 6, or 7. Where we were going exactly, I have no recollection, but I enjoyed watching the rural parts of Northeast Ohio zip by the car window. Most, though some might say least, of all, nature was the odd fields or woods that pop up in the suburbs. You know, those undeveloped pieces of land that you assume will just stay undeveloped because, when you're a kid, you don't really expect any change in the future short of the dramatic change you might see on The Jetsons or Star Trek. Nature and man-made. City and country. Civilization and wilderness. All in their proper places. Until the birthdays add up, and you notice that there's more civilization, more city, more man-made things than ever before.
It's been a year since the BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. A lot of people were upset about the subsequent despoliation of the environment. Was I? Well, intellectually I found it regrettable. But it didn't really, as they say, hit a little too close to home. But something else that happened in this still-new century did.
In the summer following the 8th grade, I got a job delivering newspapers at a condo development. The condominiums were fairly new. Some hadn't even been moved into yet. But since this was a part of town I hadn't been to before, they might as well have been there for a hundred years. Everything in its' proper place. Next to the condos were some woods. Occasionally, when I was done with my route, I would duck into the woods, and do some exploring. Not much exploring. These woods were pretty small. The only way you could get lost in them would be to wander in a circle smaller than a Kmart parking lot. If you looked up, you could see telephone wires overhead. It was close enough to the road that you could hear the traffic whizzing by. Yet it was considerably more rural than the development where I had just delivered papers. I imagine the people in the condominiums liked having the woods right next door. It made them feel, as Marie Osmond once sang, a little bit country.
About ten years ago, I drove by my old paper route, and that little bit country was gone. I'd driven past it before, but guess I hadn't paid attention, or given much thought, to the uprooting of trees, and bulldozing of ground that was taking place. Hey, I was trying to keep my eyes on the road! In place of those woods were brand new 21st century condominiums that blend in seamlessly with the ones from the 1970s right next door (condo architecture apparently not having changed much in 35 years.) Now, it's one thing to turn the Gulf of Mexico into the La Brea Tar Pits, but this was a major assault on my memories!
I've always assumed that overdevelopment goes hand in hand with overpopulation. You've got to put those 6.91 billion people on the planet somewhere. But that's not even an issue in Northeast Ohio. We've been losing people for as long as I can remember. We've also been knocking down trees and paving over fields and putting up structures in their place for as long as I can remember. What's the point of building new houses and shopping centers while the population remains stagnant? Well, it may remain stagnant, but it doesn't stay still. For the past 60 years, the same number of people have moved from some parts of Northeast Ohio to another. Along the way, cement, concrete, asphalt, bricks, mortar, lumber, steel beams, and aluminum siding have been shuffled around like deck chairs on the--well, I won't stoop to using the cliche, but the actress Kate Winslet comes to mind.
Sometimes, what's developed ends up needing even more developing. I currently live in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville. I needed to know recently how much it would cost to send a bunch of documents through the mail. The Strongsville post office is on Pearl Road, a major thoroughfare, not far from the Median County line. Strongsville has undergone tremendous growth during the last few decades. So has Medina County. As a result, some people who live in Medina County go to jobs in Strongsville and vice versa. Traffic jams have resulted in certain times of the day, and so it's been decided to widen Pearl to make it easier to go to and fro. When I paid my visit to the post office, there were more orange barrels than there are skyscraper's in Chicago and Manhattan put together. The actual road had been dug up and a temporary zigzag of pavement built right next to it. Some workers waved flags at confused drivers trying not to fall sideways into the the canyon where the right and left lanes used to be, while others shoveled and jackhammered and generally contributed to a fog of dust. Traffic was backed up worse than ever.
Thus, in order to make it easier to go from Medina County into Strongsville, and vice versa, it will be, for a time, more difficult to go from Medina County into Strongsville. And vice versa.
Such is progress.