Sides of development

For this week’s book, I thought I’s visit the urban/suburban/rural with Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. First introduced in 1942, it is a story about a contented pink house atop a country hill witnessing the changes of the season. The tranquility of the scenery, however, is disrupted one day as the ‘horseless carriage’ rolled by. The proliferation of these carriages led to a paving of the road which in turn led to the construction of more houses: bigger houses, apartment blocks, high rises. Coupled with the housing arrived schools and shops. The house was soon surrounded by more ‘horseless carriages’ (aka car), trolley cars, elevated trains and subways. Neglected, the house fell into disrepair until a great great granddaughter of the original owner marvelled at its encapsulated memories. The granddaughter then hired removalists  to perch the house on a trailer and extract it from its hovel. The house traversed the roads past the perimeter of the burgeoning city back into the country to once again nestle atop a country hill.

First impressions suggest that this book vilifies the urban (dust and smoke; obstructed views of the moon and stars; the urgent sense of hurry among people and vehicles) as it celebrates the rural (expansive space, experience of the seasons, the natural aesthetic). Aspects of the urban and rural that Ebenezer Howard dreamed of rectifying. Second impressions suggest this book characterises the lifecycle of sprawl, the Achilles heel of suburbia. The search for and establishment of the cherished quarter acre block at the expense of land degradation.  So which is it?

As I am reading books with the anklebitters, it is hard not to colour their worlds with my own worldview. I reckon as any parent would, they would narrate the story according to their own perspective. For this story, as anklebitter 1 was reading it, he tended to flip past the country scenes of the four seasons and linger on the pages where there was construction (as a toddler infatuated with diggers does). He got excited when he saw the trolley cars. “I ride on the trams yesterday.” As the book concluded, “All was quiet and peaceful in the country,” he pointed at the moon and stars and beamed. “Stars, momma.” But then he flipped back to the newly painted pink house basking in the sunshine of the country hill and asked “Where are the trams?” As a parent who relies on public transport, I radiated with pride. For this story, however, I didn’t vilify the urban or the rural or sprawl. Instead, we talked about the meaning of home. Home for us, right now, allows for the anklebiters to explore the wild and the manmade. We don’t care too much for the seasons, but by golly we are learning to dress for it. Maybe as they grow, we’ll revisit the benefits and anguishes of the various sides of development.

(Photo by Vivian Romero from the book The Little House, Virginia Lee Burton)

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Vivian Romero

I want to activate the urban imagined: stimulating, healthy and sustainable spaces for all (especially the young and young at heart).

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