Protection of the Countryside

July 21, 1971

Report Outline
Disappearance of Unspoiled Landscape
Land Development of American Continent
Britain's Success in Preserving Countryside

Disappearance of Unspoiled Landscape

Growing Awareness of Scenery‘s Despoliation

Millions of americans are discovering as they travel through the land this summer that its beauty is disappearing under the impact of man's handiwork. This awakening has been long in coming except to a crusading few, and it may not yet have fully penetrated the thinking of even a majority of the people. Yet it has come with sufficient force to throw some cherished values into question, namely those that have traditionally equated bigness with progress, construction with advancement, and private initiative with inalienable rights. And it has turned many citizens into militant conservationists who are willing to organize, lobby and litigate to preserve the countryside from what they consider the blight of industrialists and entrepreneurs.

The experience of England proves that commercialism and technological development do not necessarily have to erode the whole environment. Although it is a small, heavily populated country full of cities and towns, Britain has managed to retain much of that beauty which Rudyard Kipling so admired when he wrote three generations ago that “Our England is a garden.” The separation of city and countryside have halted the urban sprawl in England. Only a few miles out of London there are rural areas where open vistas of meadows, gently flowing rivers, and wooded lanes retain their storybook magic. The lesson for Americans in the English experience would seem to be that what is happening to the landscape should not be regarded as inevitable or irreversible.

Much of the despoliation of the American countryside has had to do with the suburban migration of the past 30 years. Suburbs contained 27 million people in 1940, or 20 per cent of the nation's total, but 76 million in 1970, close to 40 per cent of the total. For millions, a home in suburbia represented not only an escape from the decaying city but a plot of land and garden—preferably beyond the edge of the newest ring of suburbs. Between 1960 and 1970 the proportion of the metropolitan population living in the outer rings rose from 49.5 per cent to 54.5 per cent, the U.S. Bureau of the Census reported. A million acres of countryside, most of it on the metropolitan fringes, fall to the bulldozer each year. This kind of leapfrogging movement away from the inner city is characterized by low-density housing connected by a maze of sign-cluttered highways to scores of shopping centers. It incurs the wrath of environmentalists and gives rise to such descriptive phrases as “urban sprawl” and “slurbs.”

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BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Land Resources and Property Rights