Too Much Order is Ugly

February 15, 2012

When we first saw the rows of identical houses, lined up neatly in their oh so predictable new suburban development way, we both declared we could never live there.”Fucking ski lodge housing!” i spat. “It’s like a horrible retirees country club,” concurred Jacqui. Reminded me of the old song: “Little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.”

Three days later we moved in.

First of all, there is a playground. There’s not that many of them in Ireland. Unlike Australia, where we spend half our lives outdoors, the ground here is always so soggy you literally sink into it and then spread splodgey black mud around your pants, car, floor, hallway etc. I am assuming this goes on for most of the year, although i am assured there is a (brief) summer here at some stage.

Then, there’s this new housing, which got built in the recent Celtic Tiger phase; some of it is apparently very slap-dash, but this estate is quality – well insulated, nice furnishings, neat. So anyway, i’ve gotten used to living in the house stuck next to the house it resembles exactly, next to another and another and another… i figure it’s not that different to a housing estate in Australia, where the difference between each 10 room shake’n bake mcmansion is cosmetic anyway.

The problem is, as i walk to work, i pass the piece of bushland they left in between all these homes. It’s really thin. It looks ok from the road, but at walking pace you can see through the bushes and at places it is less than 1o metres wide. I go this way before the traffic most days, which means i hear the songbirds. I’ve always wondered about folk from the northern hemisphere going on about the songbirds. It’s not like in Australia, where the proud magpie stands tall with its call, an elongated and full throated modulation of trills and troughs in cadence, or the parrots squawking about atop the eucalypts, their high pitched squeals no doubt communicating the pleasures (and trials) of sucking the juice out of honeysuckle flowers.

These little birds really do sing. It’s beyond what words i could muster. It’s entrancing.

And the thing is, the thin little strip of actual land they inhabit – the part with the trees and bushes, where the land still has lumps and the grass is long – is beautiful. When you look at the houses across the road, all you see is uniformity. Like i said, it can make for comfortable living, no doubt about it. But the cost is both ecological and aesthetic. That much order is ugly. It slots everything into this consumable little package, makes it all seem ordinary, offers no respite from the humanness of it. By contrast, the little strip of bush contains the song of the earth, the whoops and trills, the whistles and piping tunes of the humble Irish songbirds. It smells of life, it undulates with the natural flow of the land, the branches of the trees twist in the wind, the bark peels off and curls to the ground.

I get the ecocritical stuff about human culture being nature as well, as well as the artistic reconsideration of the suburbs as a place of creativity. But neither of these philosophical positions makes up for the fact that the houses are ugly and ecologically devastating, while the remaining strips of land between them are beautiful and filled with more of the other kinds of life i wish we were supporting, the other animals (like songbirds) that should be allowed to have homes as well. The houses that look onto the bush are the lucky ones around here. They still get their daily reminders of what we’ve covered over with our flat, mathematically ordered suburbs of little boxes made of ticky tacky.

The cars drown out the songbirds if i leave the house too late. So i usually don’t. In the predawn darkness, the singing reminds me of how full life is, without so much deadening order and profitable regularity and all this important traffic. There should be more of that bushland left. That’s all.



  1. I find it strange that there are people who still refuse to believe that our world is overpopulated.

  2. Hmm, yes there are too many humans, i would agree, for any kind of balanced ecology, but we have to keep in mind a couple of things when considering this. First, it is the ones living in material plenty that contribute most to the increasing problem of carbon pollution and other greenhouse gas effects (even though obviously even the poorest populations effect their bioregion negatively once they have grown beyond its carrying capacity). Second, how do we stop folk breeding?
    Because i don’t have satisfying answers for these conundrums, i would prefer to focus on finding new ways of housing humans that are more ecologically satisfying. Estates with shared parklands of bush, revegetating in and around settled urban areas, bringing some of nature back to culture, reforesting desertified tracts of land, that kind of thing. Thanks for the comment!

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