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Re: E-M:/ Fw: Socialism and Smart Growth

Tom and EMers,

To be sure, Bray is peddling fear. It's not commissars who might help set enlightened land use policy, but citizens!

The corporations and their representatives hold sway (see my "Woody's Lament" article below) with land use policy, as they do with water use policy (increasingly privatized -- American Water Works has been bought out by European capital) and air use policy (our children are forced to breath asthma inducing/carcinogenic diesel exhaust on their school buses because of the auto and oil lobbies, abetted by the Bush administration). 

But make no mistake, land use policy, democratically applied, is socialist-oriented, as are public schools, social security and national health insurance (something 44 million of us would benefit from). And that's a very good thing. Of course, the right wing is seeking to undermine anything that smacks of the public interest (unless it benefits capital first and foremost). Increasingly, we do indeed have a choice, socialism or barbarism. And it's for us to make the socialism democratic!

Brian McKenna

Woody's Lament: This Land is Walmarts

We lost 27 square MILES of Ingham County farmland between 1987 and 1997, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. That’s practically the size of the entire city of Lansing (33.9 square miles)! That’s a lot of turnips that won’t turn up. Truly mindboggling.

Now why aren’t more schoolchildren (and their parents) aware of this uncomfortable fact? I know one reason, and for help on this one I turn to Woody Guthrie, whose verse from his classic folksong “This Land is Your Land” makes the point well.

“As I was walkin’, that ribbon of highway, I saw a sign there, said ‘Private Property.’ But on the other side, it didn’t say nuthin, THAT side was made for you and me. ...”

Woody was trying to tell us that we all own the land. However in our corporate system, we have been socialized to accept the idea that great vistas of land, perhaps our most basic natural resource, are not ours at all. Since we feel that we have no rights over it, and since we have little say over its use, we grow estranged from it.

So corporations invoke their will on the land instead. Walmart – now Fortune 500’s No. 1 corporation in the world, with nearly $220 billion in revenues in 2001 (and a vicious anti-union shop to boot) – just established the right to build a megastore in Meridian Township, winning a multi-year battle to build a 141,000-square-foot retail outlet against the will of township trustees who spent $101,500 to stop them in a losing cause.

In North Lansing, Eyde Development is building a 191-acre shopping center named Eastwood at Lake Lansing Road off U.S. 127. It will house about 700 low-paid retail workers in 100 shops within 23 buildings. I see long lines of noisy dump trucks hauling the good earth away to unknown destinations every day.

Do we really need all these centers of consumption? Might not the land be better used as a park or farm? Or just left for the wild?

We ignore the land and its needs at our own peril. Far from the long view of history, the loss of farmland in the United States is cause for great concern.

The alarm was signaled loudly as early as 1939 when one of Guthrie’s contemporaries, W.C. Lowdermilk, a government agent in the employ of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, was sent around the world to try to figure out how we could avoid disasters like the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. The result: the classic 30-page treatise “Conquest of the Land Through Seven Thousand Years.” He discovered that older civilizations had lost most of their precious soils to erosion, overgrazing and neglect.

“If civilization is to avoid a long decline such as has blighted North Africa and the Near East for 13 centuries and for centuries yet to come, society must be born again out of an economy of exploitation into an economy of conservation,” said Lowdermilk.
But Ingham County’s developers keep carving into the land with roads, factories, offices, malls and houses. The County was once 60 percent forests; now that’s 17 percent. It was once 20 percent wetlands; today that’s just 3 percent. It’s good we don’t have to sustain ourselves with local food. We’d never make it.

The lie of the land is covered with sprawl connected via a mass culture of speed, shopping, cybers, sports and spectacle. Ingham County increased its housing units from 108,542 in 1990 to 115,056 in 2000. And the homes hold fewer people. Over the past half century, the number of persons per household in Ingham County has declined from 3.27 in 1950 to 2.42 in 2000. That’s the loss of 85 percent of a person.


Farmland is often sacrificed in the mad rush for short-term profits. In the 1930s, Lowdermilk found that Sacramento’s farmlands had a value of $69 an acre for growing winter wheat with natural rainfall. “But these lands overlaid gravels, and in these gravels was gold; so a dredging company bought up the land, paying $200 an acre for it. The company brought in mighty dredges to turn the land upside down to get out the gold and left these farming lands in windrows of quartzitic boulders that will not weather in a million years. What sort of economics is this: what shall it profit a nation if it gain a whole world of gold and lose its soil?”

Much of today’s gold is in retail ($3.9 billion in Ingham County sales in 1997). Sadly, 44 percent of all local farmers worked off the farm 200 days or more in 1997. Some are even selling their land to speculators, contributing to the fast-car culture that encroaches onto their homeland.

Lansing’s not the Oklahoma dust bowl, thank goodness, but for many folks it’s becoming a barren land of malls and consumerism. Where’s Woody when you need him?