We drove through Houston yesterday, and drove and drove and drove. I had plenty of time to consider my surroundings.
Houston is on a coastal plain. Flat, with lazy bayous meandering gulfward, by horseback or by foot the landscape might have been striking for its big sky before the city existed. It is still appealing down in the old neighborhoods threaded with live oaks and semi-tropical vegetation. And, its multiple ‘downtowns’ have some award-winning, eye-catching buildings.
But, it is the view from the tumorous mass of freeways I am writing about here. As I look north and south from the inbound 12-lane road I’m on, I do not see beauty. Nothing reminds me of nature. Nothing speaks of the transcendent moments of human experience. I see no hue that woos me, and only an occasional shape that holds my attention.
The predominant architecture is that of fast-buck commerce, from the vast furniture outlet to the monstrous church building to the sporting-goods superstore. It is a concrete vision made of building-blocks dropped on asphalt and decorated with faux-Mediterranean, faux-Georgian, faux-Mexican, faux-pan-Asian pasted onto faux-Regency pasted onto faux-Appalachian.
When the builder is called to a new project, somebody has readied the specs:
Every city I have seen in the U.S. has some of these features, but Houston is so immense that crossing it gives the traveler plenty of time to scan it in wonderment.
The place is soul-sucking.
Here’s my short list of things that feed our inner beings:
- Untrammeled nature
- A kind word of encouragement
- Hand-made gifts
- Fresh air and time to breathe it
I am sorry to report that these things are in short supply in such a scene as the one I’ve described.
I started wondering how this constructed environment relates to The Environment- you know, that Thing that comes up on the news from time to time in the form of an oil spill, more evidence of global warming, die-offs of amphibians.
1) How do people who find it acceptable and desirable to design, build, and live in a thoroughly faux environment such as the modern consumer mecca, think about scientific environmental concerns, which are so abstract and seemingly far-away?
2) Does the habit of not really seeing what surrounds you develop in you an enhanced ability to ignore reality?
3) Do environmental concerns become part of the web of belief, or un-belief, rather than being stored in the mental file marked ‘evidence-based thoughts’?