Ruminations on rootedness, place, community

Corresponding with a former professor regarding my next potential steps in academia, I made, in my most recent e-mail to her, the following comment

I should confess that part of my reason, beyond obvious things, for wishing to return is that N.D. [for, ideally, my juris doctor and, concurrent with that, either a Ph.D. or M.A. in political theory] is only about seventy miles from my home-town, and I, having my roots planted fairly deeply in the fertile northern Indiana soil, shouldn’t mind being nearer . . . .

I must admit, I suppose, that, were I not reading Wendell Berry these days, I probably wouldn’t have phrased that as I did. It is, however, my virtually complete lack of knowledge of farming know-how notwithstanding, wholly accurate. (This point about my lack of knowledge I hesitate to admit: My family has owned the same farm, on which my grandfather, born on the farm, still resides, for more than one hundred years; my father provided the bulk of our family’s income farming that land for the first fifteen years of my life; and, yet, I don’t know a damn thing, although I do enjoy mowing the filter strip, after 1 July, on the ol’ John Deere 4020 or 2510.) A saying exists about North Judson, IN, that many of us, our “feet stuck in the Bogus”, the Bogus being a well-known creek flowing through the nearby, cannot escape the area. It’s apt enough, but, for me, it suffices not, for the water in a creek flows; one can never, as Heraclitus reminds us, step into the same river twice; this is not so with the land: My roots have grown deep into the soil whence have arisen decades’ worth of corn stalks, soybean plants, mint, alfalfa and bromegrass, as well as scores of vegetables, the soil whence my antecedents derived their livelihoods, enjoyed periods of success and years of doubt.

Undeniably, this sense of rootedness in northern Indiana has affected me, particularly of late, as I’ve contemplated withdrawing from my program at the University of Maryland. My experience, thus far, inside the Beltway, has been, on the balance, a positive one, but immanent in me lies a longing for home, a desire to reconnect myself to my roots. My reasons for considering (I’ve yet to make a determination.) withdrawing are multifarious, and, gladly, I should explain in detail to any-one who, sincerely curious, would contact me privately at nporiger – at – gmail – dot – com. Presently, though, I wish to concentrate on one of my most momentous concerns with the program, one regarding place and community.

I worry that, all too heavily, my program — or, at least, the students therein — focus on process, rather than reality; put otherwise, we emphasize the “Planning” part of the degree’s name, rather than its predecessor, “Community”. Having raised this issue, during a frank conversation about my future, to my program’s director, I learned that the program’s degree bears this name, rather than the broader “Urban and Regional Planning” because, somehow, Morgan State University convinced the Maryland State Legislature to grant it a monopoly on the term. Nonetheless, I believe that I present a lucid and compelling claim, one I shall defend with, currently, two points, the first, admitted, rather specious.

1) The primary text in our required, wholly worthless Planning Process course (An entire semester dedicated to group negotiations and playing with Duplo blocks, as well as being indoctrinated with the cause du jour in planning, multiculturalism and facilitating democratic participation!) is called Community Planning.

2) More pressing and relevant, we use, probably far too loosely, the word “community” constantly. We ramble off philippics about community involvement, about place-making, about improving communities. After all, call it what you will — city planning, urban planning, community planning — it’s all the same, it’s all about planning (and/or “improving”) spaces — places — that we call home.

Except that we don’t, and here lies one of my more serious complaints. We study community planning; we pontificate about the evil capitalist chain stores, developers, et alia, who destroy communities; we exhort and implore governments to spend more money, further foolishly to intervene, to “save” communities, but we ignore our own. We come from Indiana, Georgia, California, Texas, Germany, and a dozen other places to Maryland to earn our degree, to receive our “education” (That is, our specialized training.), and we, all too often, stay right in this area, finding planning jobs in D.C. or the Maryland suburbs, maybe Baltimore. Mayhap, this isn’t all bad, but, essentially, when we make this decision, we deny the soils, so to speak, that nurtured us, in exchange re-planting ourselves (or, rather, attempting vainly and foolhardily to do so) and imposing our perspectives on the residents, some of them, doubtless, from families generations deep in the community; we project our ignorant beliefs on communities that functioned, ebbed, and flowed, for decades, even centuries, without the assistance of young encroachers.

This troubles me for reasons at least threefold. First, I think we deny not only our natural soil, but our-selves, as well as our families and our ancestors, even those who have passed on, the benefits of continuing that mutually beneficial relationship extant between plant and soil. Second, if I’ve learned nothing else in my planning program, I’ve, more clearly than ever, realized that, well-meaning as we be, we are, ultimately, clueless, bureaucratic morons (I say this, no offense intended to anyone, in the nicest way possible.) whose collective historical track record of destruction outshines even that of General Sherman, perchance our nation’s first war criminal. Finally, the libertarian streak whereof I am possessed faces constant competition, specifically vis-à-vis local government (I am, of course, a decentralist, even if of the heterodox variety.), from an authoritarian urge, one directed, primarily, toward the end of saving the people from themselves — toward good republican trusteeship. Believing that, more frequently than not, the people lack sufficient knowledge, understanding, and foresight always to be trusted with making decisions in the best of interest of the community, I see a role for the planner, for the judicious local bureaucrat (used, strange enough, here, with-out pejorative meaning, and, probably, some-what loosely, for lack of a better term) to hold decision-making power on issues of land-use, aesthetics, and economic development, inter alia. This being so, I tremble at the thought of interlopers, fresh out of school with their “education”, having a say in the decision-making processes of communities wholly foreign to them. No matter how sincerely and passionately one tries, he can never, quickly, truly integrate him-self into this new place, certainly cannot have a true grasp of the history, culture, and quirks of his new city. That, I believe, just ain’t good.

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One Response

  1. I enjoyed reading above about Bogus Creek. My grandfather was from North Judson and often spoke of the “Bogus”. he was born in 1895 and died in 1981.

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