[...] natural space is disappearing. granted, natural space was – and it remains – the common point of departure: the origin, and original model, of the social process. granted, too, that natural space has not vanished purely and simply from the scene. it is still in the background of the picture; as decor, and as more than decor, it persists everywhere, and every natural detail, every natural object is valued even more as it takes on symbolic weight (the most insignificant animal, trees, grass and so on).
as source and resource, nature obsesses us, as do childhood and spontaneity, via the filter of memory. everyone wants to protect and save nature; nobody wants to stand in the way of attempting to retrieve its authenticity. yet at the same time everyone conspires to harm it. the fact is that natural space will soon be lost to view. anyone so inclined may look over their shoulder and see it sinking below the horizon behind us. nature is also becoming lost to thought. [...] even the powerful myth of nature is being transformed into a mere fiction, a negative utopia: nature is now seen as merely the raw material out of which the productive forces of a variety of social systems have forged their particular spaces.
i was lucky enough to grow up in the niagara peninsula (well, really an isthmus), a fertile microclimate in southern ontario famous for tender fruit, vineyards and the rusting remains of a once-thriving auto industry. historically inhabited by first nations and then settled by the united empire loyalists and the site of the war of 1812, the niagara region birthed 4 incarnations of the welland canal, is one of only two regions in canada that can produce grapes and peaches, and the home of the spectacular niagara falls. it has always been valuable for it’s natural resources and political geography, .
moar the most striking geographical feature, that affects the social identity of residents in a big way, is the escarpment. an ever-eroding cliff that echoes the shoreline of an ancient inland sea, the 725km of the niagara escarpment is part of a larger cuesta that stretches from the lower shores of lake ontario to the western shores of lake michigan. in ontario, it’s home to over 300 species of birds, 53 mammals, 36 reptiles and amphibians, 90 fish and 100 varieties of flora including 37 types of wild orchids. it’s diverse. it was recognized as a world unesco biosphere reserve in 1990, though i wonder if today it would still be deemed as such.
when i was a kid, this was my playground. rocks, trees, creeks, animals (everything from salamanders to coyotes to cranes), lots of nature. it wasn’t that this area virginal by any stretch, industries such as logging and mining have been part of the story since before UEL settled, though not nearly as extensive. but that there was still a sense of danger or risk when you ventured into the forest, once the trees closed in behind you the rules of the game changed. nature is raw, complex and uncertain, and as a child it is one of the best places to learn how to empathize with the rest of the world, opening up perceptions to non-human experiences and understanding what else our planet is about, connecting and learning. this was a haven, the place where i found both solace and empowerment.
when i go home, to visit family, i am struck and saddened by the increased development – industry, housing, urban sprawl. the population has increased by 25000 in the past 10 years, and the QEW highway, connecting Toronto to Buffalo, is undergoing expansion. there’s a litany of issues and problems that the region faces, transitioning from an industrial economy to a tourism economy buttressed by the natural environs, the wine industry, and the housing industry. farmers can’t compete with imported produce, so parcel off land to vineyards or real estate developers. governmental policies look value economic impact first, and continually approve new mineral extractions, logging, development. there is little in the way of sustainable protection. etc, etc.
while the area does have a number of conservation areas (24 at last count in an area of less than 750sqkm), they run the risk of becoming mere tokens maintained for symbolic value rather than the value inherent within them as interconnected biological systems. as development encroaches, they will become islands in the bedroom communities of urban density, oases for leisure sports. this isn’t to say that i’ve not participated in this – family events often revolved around hiking, rockclimbing, biking, etc. and it’s not to say that these types of endemic problems are new or unique, they’re not. they’ve been issues and challenges since people adopted agriculture. but maybe we need different solutions. different priorities.
what will we lose in ourselves when we, in industrialized nations, lose sight of the natural world, or change it beyond all recognition? when what lefebvre alludes to actually happens? what will this do to our psyche?