Monday, July 06, 2009

Five Crazy, Wacky, Bad, and Evil Geographic Ideas (Part 1)

Distance decay, domino theory, shelter belts, and many more ideas have their roots in geography. These theories have done great things to improve the lives of many and predict future outcomes. There are ideas; however, that have been too crazy, wacky, bad, or even evil to have any good come from them. These ideas either flopped, had alternative effects, or were canned early because of people realizing inherit errors.

The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is today known as an escape for many who wish to do exercise and withdraw, if only briefly, from the daily world. What many do not know was that the trail was first dreamed up as an attempt to complete remake American culture. The plan was made by Harvard-educated forester and self-described philosopher Benton MacKaye in An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning (PDF). MacKaye proposed a trail which people would hike, towns would be founded along the trail to support hikers, farms would then be created near the towns to support the towns. MacKaye then predicted the whole east coast would get in on the act with cities depopulating as hikers choose to remain near the trail in little trail-cities. American culture was to be remade as the urbanization was reversed.

The Appalachian Trail continues to be a fun diversion for some but MacKaye's dream of remaking America failed miserably.

Buffalo Commons

Husband and wife-team, geographers with urban planning backgrounds Dr. Frank Popper and Deborah Popper had an idea to deal with the depopulation in the interior center of the United States. In The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust the Poppers state that the Great Plains should be depopulated in a massive government spending and reeducation program so the area could become a safari-playground for those who live on the east and west coast.

Needless to say this made "the natives restless" while others pointed out the massive loss of farm and ranching land. While some have taken elements of the Buffalo Commons-idea like increasing tourism appeal this is one geographic theory that managed to cause great outrage and not much else.

Total Wildfire Suppression

When one thinks of forest fires the image of Smokey the Bear comes to mind. While Smokey is still used to educate the public about the risks of wildfires, thankfully his original message does not remain. In the early days of United States forestry the main way to fight fires was total wildfire suppression. No fires were allowed to break out. This was unnatural though. Underbrush was allowed to overgrow and the forest floor was littered with natural debris like fallen trees. When massive fires like Yellowstone's and others broke out many people realized this artificial solution to fire control was no good. Now, control burns and allowing wildfires some freedoms keeps such events small, manageable, and less deadly.

Coming Tuesday: The second and final part of crazy, wacky, bad, and evil geographic ideas.


Dan tdaxp said...

Didn't know about Benton MacKaye!

He must have assumed that Americans /really/ like hiking!

Total Wildfire Suppression makes me remember an old Atlantic article about the eldritch forests of the Northwest. TWS led to forests of "deep" age, beyond human imagination, if not for the obvious Lovecraftian reason...

torgo jr. said...

MacKaye was at least a little bit right. There are quite a few little resource dependent "bust" towns that now rely on AT hikers (and associated touristy stuff) as the primary means of revenue generation. Damascus, VA is a great example, but there are others out there, too.

great post, BTW.