To the editors:

There are many objectionable assertions and implications in the “Neighborhood News” column of February 17: i.e., that suburban sprawl is a defensible pattern of land use, that the convenience of motorists should be a paramount consideration of urban planning, and that woods are undesirable in that they serve as cover for the furtive activities of wayward youth. In the interest of brevity, I shall focus on one comment by the article’s writer, as it reveals quite a lot about the land-use discourse current in this city.

In an aside, Mr. Joravsky notes that “the city needs every little chunk of development it can get.” This assertion is left unsupported: it is stated as purest fact, as though the issue under discussion were the molecular weight of argon or the price of Guatemalan coffee. But it is not a fact–it is an interpretation, and an absurd one. If by “needs” the writer is referring to a lack in regard to some important area of life, then what Chicagoans “need” is more open space and woods, not more concrete and supermarkets.

The news must be broken to Mr. Joravsky and others that Chicago is no longer a lonely settlement on a sea of virgin prairie. The city is a megalopolis extending from Wisconsin to Indiana, where a century and a half of unfettered commercialism has almost entirely transformed the landscape into a congested grid of stores, offices, parking lots, and massively overbuilt residential areas. And we are daily brutalized by the environment we have created for ourselves–as witnessed by the insensitivity of Mr. Joravsky’s article. The few tiny areas that have somehow withstood the pressure of this narrowly conceived pattern of “development” should be seen as oases to be protected, rather than as wasted space.

Hugh Iglarsh

W. Winona

Ben Joravsky replies:

Mr. Iglarsh has it wrong. The city is not a “megalopolis extending from Wisconsin to Indiana.” The metropolitan area is the megalopolis. The city is a receptacle for the disadvantaged.

I’m all for banning new construction in Chicago as well as the suburbs. There’s not a new high rise, shopping center, home, or town house built anywhere in city or suburb over the last ten years worth the trees, dirt, and grass lost to build it.

The problem, however, is one of money. If you stuff poverty into Chicago, Chicago will be poor. And if you deprive Chicago of federal and state dollars–squandering that money on things like weapons, debt, and suburban roads–the city must tax itself to make ends meet. Thus our options: Pave every chunk of undeveloped land, and hope that the newly erected mall won’t go bust and will generate tax dollars. (Our leaders call this progress.) Or do without new taxes and let streets like Winona go filthy, unpaved, and unprotected by police or fire fighters.

It’s not much of a choice, but don’t blame me. I didn’t make the world, Mr. Iglarsh. I just tell you how it is.