‘Manure is the flashpoint of exurban consciousness’


Thoreau’s Cove, Concord, Massachusetts

From Design Observer:

Currently, the town is embroiled in a minor controversy, played out on the municipal listserv, about a local pond that has been purchased by the town and preserved under a conservation easement. Where there used to be a clothing-optional beach and a gunshot-pocked No Trespassing sign that everyone ignored, there is now a small gravel parking lot and an info kiosk explaining the rules and regulations. No hunting or fishing, no visiting after dusk, no amplified music, and — this is the proviso that has sparked the controversy — all dogs must be leashable. Not on a leash, but leashable.

Carrying a leash while your dogs romp on the beach is a better deal than you get most places, which is probably why the place has become a favorite for dog walkers. Last summer, the barking, splashing, shaking canines often outnumbered human bathers. The controversy isn’t about the number of dogs, though, but rather what they leave behind. Does a dog shit in the woods? Well, yes. And apparently on the trail, on the beach, pretty much everywhere.

What happens when someone in a wheelchair has to roll through excrement on the trail to the beach? The online ruckus that erupted says more about the dynamics of small-town life than about the facts of the original complaint. Quickly it became clear that this wasn’t about dog shit so much as the identity of the community itself. Who has a right to shape that identity? What does it mean to be a “local”? On one side were those who suggested, somewhat tremulously, that maybe the dog owners should think about picking up the poo and putting it in a baggie and taking it home, which is what responsible people do when they walk their dogs in the suburbs. But this isn’t a suburb, others protested. This is the wild, and there’s too many rules already. What’s the world coming to when you can’t let your hunting dog sniff around the woods without being forced to tramp around behind him with a leash and a baggie?

Manure is the flashpoint of exurban consciousness. Wherever a housing development sits beside a factory farm, and the sweet smell of corporate agriculture wafts over someone’s dream of crisp fresh air, regulations are sure to follow. But the exurban sensibility is more complicated than that. People want rules to protect their experience of isolation from industrial-strength manure, but they also want to be free of the regulations that drove them out of the city in the first place. The fundamental paradox of the exurban mindset is marked by this conflicted desire for regulation and freedom, which plays out in a fantasy of original wilderness, a vision of a simpler time when the pond didn’t need regulation because there weren’t so many people and dogs using it.

“The Road to Exurbia”, James Barilla, Design Observer