Monday, July 21, 2014

Don't Shoot the Messenger:

(This post is prompted by a lengthy discussion I had last night with two super smart, visionary friends who are architects, one of them specializing in natural landscaping--my thanks to them).

 Listen up:

Bloomington doesn't have a "deer problem."

Bloomington has a "people problem."  It has an over-development problem. It has an urban sprawl problem. It has social and class problems. 

But the deer are easier to blame. Their presence annoys some  privileged homeowners (and homeowning is a privileged position) who maintain ecologically-damaging  but ever so pristeen chemically-treated expanses of lawn, their ornamental gardens free of weeds through the use of broad-spectrum pesticides like RoundUp (thanks to Monsanto) and other versions of glyphosphates.  They're frankly pissed off because they pay a lot of money to landscapers and to garden centers to get their expensive ornamental plants, with no one telling them  that, Like us, deer love wide open spaces full of things to eat.  These folks might as well put up "DINE HERE" signs. (I garden without any toxins for myself and the wildlife,  and there's more than enough to go around.)

I bike and walk a lot around town,  and a day doesn't go by that I don't see some homeowner  in the "fancier" neighborhoods attacking a patch of unwanted plants with a container of RoundUp or other posison. Goddess forbid you should have a dandelion (though the some of the same folks might well  head to the Farmers' Market on Saturdays with their special "market basket" to buy the very same dandelion greens from organic farmers).

Leaving the hardware store the other day I almost bumped into a man carrying a birdhouse in one hand and a 5-gallon jug of RoundUp in the other. Did he not put the two things together?


Bloomington is a town in which the university dominates. There are at least two Bloomingtons, a version of similar town-gown splits in other university towns.   Like many towns, the affluent and the poor live in very different worlds, and while there are grumblings about homeless panhandling and so on, most of those in the "professional category" (however one defines that) can move about "untainted" by the signs of poverty and desperate, from the organic co-op to the upscale restaurants for meals that cost a month's worth of groceries for many poor.

The City has slowly been transforming  downtown into luxury condos and apartments for wealthier students who apparently wouldn't dare show up to college without all the  "amenities" (gyms, cable,  pools). Rents can go for a couple grand a month, and many of them drive brand-new SUV's  (Something is wrong with that picture: I'm a professor with a  mortgage of  $594 a month, and a 10-year old car).

More and more construction of  ugly high-rises and the emergence of even more brew pubs and bars  where students can get drunk,  pushes the rest of us out of downtown. Welcome, students,  to Smallwood Plaza,  with its own fitness center, etc.:

Welcome, students,  to  Renaissance Luxury Apartments under construction.

In  addition to adding to  the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots (the haves can afford these places, the have-nots can't), Bloomington's rapid and seemingly unchecked development  has  devastating effects on our environment, as well as the character of this community.  It's the same old story seen in big cities San Francisco, New York, and so on---old-timers are being pushed out, areas are getting "gentrified" (code word for better-off white people with Architectural Digest on their coffeetables, granite countertops, and vaulted ceiling updates), that eliminate old mom and pop stores, which are replaced by expensive coffee shops and restaurants popping  up like mushrooms.

Additionally, as student rentals of what were once single-family homes  overwhelm many old neighborhoods, more and more  faculty and "professionals" choose to live "out"  in developments, some of which cater to the McMansion set, but all of which generally now necessitate the use of cars to get anywhere--and where again,  "chemically-treated lawns" and ornamental gardens, often maintained by lawn service companies  employing leaf blowers and huge riding mowers  (the gas fumes alone are enough to choke the town) are almost de rigeur.

This is NOT the "New Urbanism," as it was initially conceived, which was in its early years intended to create architecturally-and socio-economically- mixed neighborhoods that were walkable, sustainable, and inclusive.  But, in fact, what we have  here is not only reckless development that caters to well-off students and professionals with six-figure incomes, but contributes to endless sprawl  with a major impact on our environment.  All of this continues to fragment and disrupt forest and wild areas,  and is  also elitist and classist. This is the "the new segregation."

Bloomington claims to be progressive, it claims to value "diversity" (what a horrid word), it claims to be a "green city," but it's far from it.

Herbicides are used to control not only parks, but forest areas, including Griffy Lake "Nature Preserve," for which the City has recently signed a contract with White Buffalo Sharp Shooters to come kill the deer by sharp shooting them. More poison like triclopyr (also used on campus by IU biologists in places like Dunn Woods) and more killing. 

Labeling the deer as "the problem" and diverting our attention from thinking about the larger horrors of over-development and loss of habitat and all the environmental damage is maybe what makes human beings so dangerous. 

The B-Line  and Clear Creek Trails, which I often walk and enjoy, are  increasingly  surrounded by more ugly developments, as greenery and trees vanish. No plan was made for wildlife corridors or for preserving a sufficient amount of   green space. Herbicide and "overmanagement" are de rigeur.  Commercialism seems to be the name of the game.   "Nature" is almost archaic.

But the fact is, we need to stop ignoring what the land and the animals are telling us.  STOP BEFORE YOU DO YOURSELVES IN.

Here are a few examples from Bloomington:

This used to be a wildlife preserve on the Sarkes Tarzian estate in Bloomington until developers like  the ironically named "Deer Park Management" bought it and took away all the habitat and set deer loose in the City. Notice their logo is a deer.  But the  real deer are gone, and now living their lives in neighborhoods (they are welcome in mine).

The  displaced deer initially fled to another brushy, wooded area across the street and lived there until more developers came in and created Renwick, and a "faux-urban village," which is more like a bad suburb where a mix of upper-middle-class and wealthy reside.

They call this their Renwick  "village center." It consists of a high-priced workout center, a coffee shop, a women's clothing store, a hair salon, and a store selling expensive workout clothing, etc.   Poor people do not live here. One rarely sees strollers, hikers, joggers, or bikers. 

This is not progress, this is devolution.  This is also not "new urbanism" as it was initially conceived, but a blight of quickly dated housing.  It doesn't have a real center or foster a strong sense of community. This is selective isolation from  the real Bloomington, and the residents still have to drive their cars and trucks to get anywhere  they would actually want to be (it's not really walkable unless you're heading across a very busy intersection to chain stores like Kroger's).

And so the City spends 4 years doing studies on deer and planning for their kill.

Bloomington needs a truly progressive voice---but it might already be too late.

For now, I'm listening to what the deer are saying:  I'm not your problem.

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