Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History

By Ted Steinberg | Go to book overview

10
DEATH OF THE ORGANIC CITY

Before 1880 it was not the least bit unusual to walk out into the streets of Atlanta and find cows. In 1881, however, the city's political leaders decided that bovines were no longer welcome. The cows could come home, as the saying goes, but not to the streets of Atlanta—not after the city council passed a law making it illegal for cattle to roam the town. Apparently a large number of working people, who depended on the animals as a source of milk and meat, objected to the ordinance. A man named J. D. Garrison denounced the law as little more than a thinly veiled attempt at class warfare. “I speak the feelings of every man when I say this is the dictation of a codfish aristocracy,” he said. “It is an issue between flowers and milk—between the front yard of the rich man and the sustenance of the poor family.” 1

The large animals that once wandered the streets of urban America are of course long gone. Finding out how and why they disappeared means taking a journey back to the late nineteenth century, to the Progressive Era, when cities across the nation underwent a major cleanup.

While conservationists put the countryside in order, another group of reformers trained their sights on urban areas. In 1869, only nine cities had populations exceeding 100,000; in 1890, 28 had reached that mark. A third of all Americans now lived in such places. New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston, and Baltimore, in that order, were the nation's largest population centers, filled with immigrants who worked producing apparel, forging steel, and packing meat. Crammed with people and factories, in addition to the pigs, horses, mules, cattle, and goats used for food and transport, the city emerged by the late nineteenth century as a dark and filthy place. Muckraker Upton Sinclair, in his novel The Jungle, captured the enormity of the problem, describing the “strange, pungent odor” people smelled as they approached Chicago's stockyards—a stench “you could literally taste”—and the chimneys belching out smoke that was “thick, oily, and black as night.” 2

Enter such Progressive Era reformers as Jane Addams, Robert Woods, and Florence Kelley, people who fervently felt that the creation of a clean and healthful environment, not genetic predisposition as had formerly been believed, could defend against ignorance and criminality. Taking their cue from the British, they formed settlement houses, most famously Hull House, established by Addams in Chicago in 1889—the model for some 400 such community institutions nationwide. The settlement houses engaged in a host of efforts to improve the lives of slum dwellers, setting up kindergartens and sponsoring everything from health

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Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Down to Earth *
  • Prologue - Rocks and History 2
  • Part One - Chaos to Simplicity 9
  • 1 - Wilderness under Fire 11
  • 2 - A Truly New World 21
  • 3 - Reflections from a Woodlot 39
  • Part Two - Rationalization and Its DisContents 53
  • 4 - A World of Commodities 55
  • 5 - King Climate in Dixie 71
  • 6 - The Great Food Fight 89
  • 7 - Extracting the New South 99
  • 8 - The Unforgiving West 116
  • 9 - Conservation Reconsidered 138
  • 10 - Death of the Organic City 157
  • Part Three - Consuming Nature 173
  • 11 - Moveable Feast 175
  • 12 - The Secret History of Meat 190
  • 13 - America in Black and Green 206
  • 14 - Throwaway Society 226
  • 15 - Shades of Green 239
  • 16 - Planet U.S.A 262
  • Conclusion - Disney Takes on the Animal Kingdom 282
  • Notes 287
  • Bibliography 311
  • Index 333
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