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One of the popular themes we have looked at in this class is the growth of the modern city. From Chicago to New England, we have discussed how the elimination of space, the development of new technologies and the process of commodification all helped to develop a space that can no longer be considered natural. Steinberg adds another complication to our understanding of cities by introducing what he calls “organic cities.”
This is not the first time we have encountered a qualification of nature. William Cronon based much of his argument in Nature Metropolis on the qualification of ‘first’ and ‘second’ nature. In particular, Cronon looks at the process of how first nature is turned into a commodity through the process of commodification. This process reminds me in many ways of Steinberg’s argument. The example of cows is particularly relevant to Cronon. Steinberg describes how cows once roamed the streets of Atlanta. However, in 1881 the city passed a law that made it illegal for cows to roam around the streets. Cow no longer became an inherent part of the city, rather they were tuned into a commodity that was used to support the city. Steinberg also looks at how horses were crucial to the development of the in-organic city. He looks at how horses were paired with more efficient ‘horse cars.’ In this example the commodity actually contributed to the annihilation of space. The parallels between these stories and the examples in Cronon show how commodification plays a part in the development of all cities and in the annihilation of space.
I believe this qualification is useful for Steinberg’s argument because it forces us to think of cities as a process rather than just an entity. By thinking of the modern environment in this way I believe we can help answer the question that Sean and Manish raise in their blog posts; does the modern environment contain an aspect of human interaction or are these two things separate? I believe when you look at the process of human development you see that nature and human development are inevitably linked. They both effect each other and thus can not be viewed as separate.
Steinberg also debunks a prevalent myth about the so-called ‘death’ of the organic city. He shows that not all these development were negative because they were inherently un-natural. He points out that the deconstruction of the organic brought about the construction of health clinics, better schools and more sanitary public spaces. I think Steinberg raises an important issue to consider when looking at commodification and the development of cities as a whole. People tend to view commodities as inherently worse than their natural states. I think it is important to see both sides of the process. Yes, the thing is being taken from its natural environment but it is also being used to improve and support life in another environment; a city. In every example we have looked at this semester, commodification has been a necessary part of human development. It should be treated as such and never pinned as something inherently evil.