Tuesday, March 17, 2009

URBAN ARCADIA: City Farming in Modern America

The Arcadian Myth has a deep history in ecological thought. Peaceful and idyllic, Arcadia has long been considered a perfect representation of nature. Indeed, an Arcadian tradition is at the heart of many political theories and social affairs from Jeffersonian political rhetoric to American settlement patterns. While Arcadian nature has always been significant, in the late nineteenth century it takes on a new importatnce. Amid the clang and clatter of change -- Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration -- America looked to the natural world to stabilize society. Americans collectively clung to the sublime as an antidote to change. Chief among the manifestations of Arcadia in the American imagination was the Nature Study Movement. While Americans of leisure bought country homes and visited national parks, others found nature in the urban world by reinventing traditionally rural activities for city life. From the Gilded Age forward, urban Americans planted small city farms and gardens for economic relief, education, and for love of community and country. What these urban plots reveal is the embrace of nature, not escapism, as a condition of Modernity. Indeed, we can trace the development of a particular brand of American Arcadia through the study of urban farming in America.

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