response to “The Urban Archipelago”

I just learned that an article several people forwarded to me just after the 2004 election now has its own Website.  “The Urban Archipelago” has one very clear, important point: The states of the United States are not as different from one another as the cities are different from the small-town and rural areas.

But after making that point, it degenerates into a mean-spirited and short-sighted rant.  Yes, it makes sense to focus more on our own local issues because they have more direct effect on us and we have more leverage to affect them.  But that doesn’t mean we get to ignore and insult everyone who doesn’t live in a liberal city.  That’s not tolerance.  That’s not compassion.  That’s not even in our own self-interest, because many of those issues with no obvious direct impact on us will, in fact, affect us in the long run.

Example: If mountaintop removal in West Virginia fouls local sources of drinking water, citizens of West Virginia will need another source of water. They won’t just quietly die of dehydration; they’ll get water from somewhere…maybe by draining our water sources. (I realize that the rivers running through Pittsburgh are going toward West Virginia, but those rivers are draining into the Mississippi River system, which hydrates many other islands in the urban archipelago that are downstream from West Virginia.)  Debris being dumped into West Virginia rivers not only fouls water downstream but also could cause flooding upstream.  Air pollution from mountaintop removal may drift over our “island” cities. The use of this irresponsible technique to lower the price of coal encourages rapid use of coal (most of which is not burned cleanly=further pollution) so that we’ll run out faster, and at the same time it discourages development of sustainable energy alternatives because the need for them is less obvious and the financial incentive to try them is less compelling.  So mountaintop removal in West Virginia, or China, or Peru, or anywhere, affects us all, not just the people and animals who live on those mountains and the people who vacation there.

And let’s not forget that cities, and most city dwellers, are not self-sustaining: Much of the food, water, fuel, and other raw and not-so-raw material used in cities comes from elsewhere.  We can’t turn our backs on the land that feeds us.  A lot of those “rubes” in the red states are involved, in one way or another, in making our urban oases possible.

I don’t think the answer to the divisive rhetoric of Red America is to come up with our own divisive rhetoric.  I think the answer lies in striving to make Blue America the best it can be, which includes being mindful and respectful of our interconnectedness with both Red America and foreign countries, and in being open about the advantages of our lifestyle and welcoming everyone–even hicks from small-town Oklahoma–to share in it.