New York Kindling

NYCO's Blog in Exile. Northeastern camping and notes from the field.

A free private campground…

…aka a high-end homeless camp, this one in Michigan.

Homeless camp near I-94 settles into neighborhood west of Ann Arbor

It’s only for a select, relative few that camping is about “man vs. nature.” For the fortunate, camping is about packing up your North Face gear and being transported to a pristine wilderness where one can test oneself against the elements or contemplate the mind of God by gazing into a still mountain lake. (If you are especially well-off, you can even renounce it all and become a famous hermit.)

But for the vast majority of humans, camping is about “man vs. man.” It’s about homeless encampments and refugee camps. It’s about people who don’t want to be outdoors, and about people who don’t want other people to be outdoors. It’s about freedom, and about being controlled.

We occasionally pay for permission to camp in various places; but at the end of the day, most of us are holders of the ultimate camping permit – a fixed home address. Ironically this gives us a certain carte blanche to come and go freely in the wilderness (or “wilderness” as it were). Without that fixed address, we become automatically suspicious to the powers that be whenever we park a truck or set up a tent.

I don’t feel one can rationally discuss urban plans and policy without discussing the impulse to “decamp.” I believe that “urban/suburban/rural” is a false dichotomy. When people intent on discussing urban policy talk about “rural” populations, what they really are talking about are rural communities vs. urban ones. They are skipping over the issue of community vs. not-community, civilization vs. wild. But if you don’t address why people don’t want to live in existing communities – why there is an instinct for dispersal – you will likely not understand the whole picture of why you can’t get cities held together, or restarted.

The existence of suburbs is essentially about a lack of faith that urban/village living can do anything good for you. I believe that at the core of the first wave of suburbanites was a feeling of wanting to turn away from urban communities that had left them with a sense of non-community. It was a decampment, enabled and fanned by all sorts of things, from lender schemes to politically motivated racial codewords and of course, the so-called American Dream.

We now have multiple generations of these half-wild creatures known as suburbanites (including yours truly). Many of them sit in their basements tapping out their harsh native calls on the comment boards and other such places.

I can only write about camping as an “issue,” from my own point of view – a housed, address-blessed suburbanite who exists uneasily on the edges of both a city/village and a beckoning wilderness. From my perspective, it’s all a continuum of the current American condition. Which increasingly includes the longterm homeless.

The good news is that civilization vs. wildness is a large continuum and that you can start examining it at any point along that vast grade.


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