Sprawling growth and highway traffic trades Utah's natural beauty for bland sameness. | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Sprawling growth and highway traffic trades Utah's natural beauty for bland sameness. 

Small Lake City

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"Before industrialism, most cities stood apart as modest workshops or markets whose ethos was bounded by their own walls," wrote Theodore Roszak in Where the Wasteland Ends (1972). "They were an option in the world, one way of life among many possibilities. The supercity, however—or rather the artificial environment taken as a whole—stretches out tentacles of influence that reach thousands of miles beyond its already sprawling perimeters."

As growth spreads into more corners of the state, open spaces become mechanized, ecosystems are bulldozed and the animal, vegetable and mineral worlds are assaulted for extraction, with little to show for it but a pile of miasmic garbage. And still the artificial environment's infernal work is not done, as Roszak notes, for it has a damaging effect upon people, too.

With no offense intended to actual astronauts, Roszak uses the image of a space traveler as an avatar of the kind of person the artificial environment demands and begets. "Here is a human being who may travel anywhere and say, 'I am not part of this place or that. I am autonomous. I make my own world after my own image.' He is packaged for export anywhere in the universe. But ultimately, all places become the same gleaming, antiseptic, electronic, man-made place, endlessly reproduced," he wrote. "One can traverse half the earth in passing from one such building to another, only to discover oneself in a structure indistinguishable from that which one has left."

The impact of this lifestyle is inestimable, warping the way we live, see and relate. Take freeway driving: How often do we get stuck in our daily ruts traversing from one artificial environment to another by vessels of electronics and glass, our vision narrowed to what's before us and prone to impatience with any impediments—inanimate or living—that get in our way?

Rather than being fully human and alive, we devolve into shortsighted, raging creatures like Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton) in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Ranting and raving about the drivers around him, and oblivious to his own role among them, Reynolds screams to no one in particular: "When I show up to work, everybody will be like, 'Why is there blood all over you?' Because I had to slit the guy's throat who causes all this traffic."

To counteract such antisocial tunnel-vision, my friend Mike Jones has recently taken advantage of an office relocation to switch up his transportation and make intentional efforts to interact with others. "This has flipped a switch in how I think about my time after work," he told me. "Instead of rushing home on the freeway to isolate, I get off the train and pedal the 9-Line," planning regular get-togethers with friends and associates at local bars and eateries. "It has honestly changed my life," Jones reported.

As one of those whom he has chosen in this intentional revolt against the artificial environment, I can say that it has changed my life as well.

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About The Author

Wes Long

Wes Long

Wes Long's writing first appeared in City Weekly in 2021. In 2023, he was named Listings Desk manager and then Contributing Editor in 2024. Long majored in history at the University of Utah and enjoys a good book or film, an excursion into nature or the nearest historic district, or simply basking in the company... more

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