North American society tends to glorify rural life, seeing it as the repository of clean living, family values and community stability. Sociologists used to refer to this as rural fundamentalism.
As a result of these ideas, it’s common, in this country and across the continent, to regard cities as, at best, necessary evils, characterized by noise, dirt, crime and moral degeneracy: pornography, illicit drugs, drunkenness, violence, degenerate art and music – with the conception of what’s degenerate changing from time to time. I’ve seen it go from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones to the Ramones to hip hop – probably with a few stops in between that I’m forgetting at the moment.
The idea of what constitutes urban degeneracy keeps getting updated as fashions change. One version of rural fundamentalism is clothed in the garb of environmentalism. For example, David Suzuki was quoted some years ago as saying:
We can’t eradicate cities. Nor would we want to. But we must recognize that cities disconnect us from nature and each other. They exist by draining resources from the planet while spreading toxic materials and debris. And if we regard all living things on earth as an immense supra-organism (which some have called gaia), then cities must be seen as the Gaian equivalent of cancer.
That’s one environmentalist point of view. There’s another that says the opposite, that cities, if they are properly developed and maintained are easier on the environment than rural life, because they allow for more efficient, and environmentally friendly sewage and garbage disposal, transportation, as well as heating and lighting.
In any event, rural fundamentalism has not only gained a new lease on life from one wing of the environmental movement, it’s part of our consciousness. Cities are something the majority of North Americans want to get away from. The growth of North American cities has been profoundly influenced by the fact that much of that growth has taken the form of attempted flight to quasi-rural environments at the city’s edge.
But maybe the final chapter hasn’t yet been written. In recent years, a culture change seems to be underway. Though there’s undoubtedly still a strong majority of North Americans who prefer to live in conventional suburbia, or places in the country, today there are more people who like urban environments than there were 20 years ago or more.