Chapter 10: Washington – The Land
I: Manassas: Long Ago and Far Away
THIRTY MILES west of the U.S. Capitol, out Interstate 66, there is a small Virginia stream, name of Bull Run. Over a century and a quarter ago, in the brutally hot summers of 1861 and 1862, great armies clashed in the swale of this brook, testing no less than whether a nation conceived in liberty could long endure.
In the Second Battle of Manassas, in 1862, Robert E. Lee had his headquarters on Stuart's Hill, overlooking the field of blood. In 1988, 542 acres of this land, including that hill, had come into the hands of an organization headed by one John T. (Til) Hazel. Hazel was by far the most prominent developer in these parts. He had fledged his law career in the 1950s by condemning the land for the road that would come to be known as the Capital Beltway. And for thirty years he had been a key player in the economic and social revolution that culminated with eight Edge Cities blooming in Northern Virginia. One of them, Tysons Corner, drew astounded observers from around the world to its high-rises and intersections; it was bigger than downtown Miami.
Til Hazel, who was born and raised Southern, took no little satisfaction in watching his native land of Northern Virginia approach and then eclipse the economic energy of that Yankee bastion across the Potomac, the District of Columbia. Lee's personal command, after all, was not called the Army of Northern Virginia for nothing.
Thus it was, with a firm faith in the inevitability of progress, that Hazel in the late 1980s turned his attention to the land he had acquired near the exit from Interstate 66 labeled MANASSAS. For, he came to see, right there next to the Manassas National Battlefield Park—Bull Run to Northerners—was a prime place for a new Edge City. It could contain as much as 4.3 million square feet of nonresidential space—the size of downtown Fort Lauderdale—plus 560 homes. It would do the local economy a lot of good.
The last thing he expected was a fight.
Abraham Lincoln, a century before, on November 19, 1863, had also focused his attention on a bloody battlefield. The address Lincoln gave that date—its opening words were "Four-score and seven years ago"—was in Gettysburg, of course, not Manassas. But his words echoed eerily exactly 125 years later, and eighty miles south, on Til Hazel's development abutting the National Park on which soil Thomas Jonathan Jackson had first been described as standing against the Union "like a stone wall."
"In a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground," Lincoln said. "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract . . .
"It is rather for us . . ." said the tall, gaunt man, "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."
II: Present at Creation
THE SEPTEMBER AFTERNOON AIR is warm and thick, even at this altitude. Long gray wisps of mist snag on trees and rolling hills to the east, in the direction of Washington. From the walkway near the top of Tycon Tower, Til Hazel can point to just where he farmed, before the earth had moved.
"You know, it's a strange thing. We took very few pictures. One of the great disappointments is that I have no picture at all of our horses. The old team that I used to work and plow and everything," says Hazel.
"But as far as Tysons, let's try to set the stage. Basically, 123 was a narrow two-lane road. There was a big hill over here and 123 snaked around. Oh, yes, it's been leveled. The topo has dramatically changed.
"In 1939, when I first saw it"—Hazel was nine—"Route 7 had a beer joint and it had the feed store. The beer joint—it seems like to me I remember one of those Coca-Cola signs that said 'Tysons Inn.' But around here, you wanted to talk about it, you just said 'the beer joint.' "
Hazel steps over a rope the diameter of his wrist, from which a window washer dangles, a hundred feet below. The brick precipice from which he dispenses history rims a Philip Johnson-designed skyscraper.
"The famous orchard was right over here at the entrance to the mall. It was just on the other side of the Marriott." Pointing, he leans far enough out over the parapet to make his companion queasy. "Apple orchard."
"Then you had a ninety-five-acre dairy farm that was foreclosed on during the war. It was on the market for $18,000 in 1945. Owned by a family named Ayers. That was the farm I tried to get my aunt to buy. She said to me—and I remember it vividly—she said, 'Well, tell me, what in the world would I want with a property way out in the country?' "
From the perimeter Hazel prowls, one can enjoy a vista from the National Cathedral in Washington, ten miles east, to the foothills of the Blue Ridge, twenty-five miles west. What he points to as he walks this day are not those wonders, though. Instead, he is consumed by the hundreds of strange, sprawling, towering shapes below.
The hill with all the tower cranes—that's w3here old one-eyed Marcus Bles grazed his Angus cattle in the 1950s. "Bles bought the gravel pit, and his first moneymaker was gravel fifty cents a ton, and you haul it."
Only from this height is it clear that a hill existed where Hazel pointed. It is not that the rise is inconsiderable. To the contrary, it is the highest natural point in this part of Virginia. It is just that closer to ground level the landscape has been so bulldozed and banked, it is easy to think no contour of the land was left that had been put there by the Creator. On the slopes of that cow pasture and gravel pit of yore now rises the Tysons II Galleria, a $ 1 billion, fifteen-year office, retail, and hotel project that, all by itself, dwarfs many of America's old downtowns.
From the top of this tower, Til views a landscape that John Rolfe Gardiner referred to in his novel In the Heart of the whole world. To be sure, Gardiner was being irreverent when he barely fictionalized this mall-centered metropolis. But then again, there is something about Tysons—the largest urban agglomeration between Washington and Atlanta—that evokes that from people. Over to the west is the megastructure with the curved white six-story entrance that causes everybody to refer to it as the Up Toilet Seat Building. Above Hazel, at the very pinnacle of the JTL Tycon office tower on whose edge he paces, jut two crowning brick arches. It is these arches that led this building to be variously dubbed the world's Tallest Shopping Bag and the world's Tallest McDonald's.
Directly below is the mall in which the arrival of Bloomingdale's—seen in the early 1970s as the epitome of New York fashion, not to mention decadence—caused a sensation. When one pioneering diplomatic contingent from Beijing arrived in Washington, the first thing they wanted was not a tour of the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument. What they wanted was to get out past the legendary eight-lane Beltway that reputedly separates Washington from reality. They wanted to go to Tysons. They wanted to see "Broomie's." They wanted a stiff dose of America.
As Hazel walks and talks this day, he points out what are literally the landmarks of his six decades of life. But he also marks the revolution in America that has crystallized in such Edge Cities.
Hazel should know about this revolution, for he has done more to shape the Washington area than any man since Pierre L'Enfant, the Frenchman who designed the District of Columbia for George Washington. A comparison of Hazel to L'Enfant is by no means idle. Metropolitan Washington today is not only one of the ten largest urban areas in America. In the late 1980s, it was the fastest-growing white-collar office job market in North America and Europe for four years in a row. Its private-enterprise, high-information, high-education, post-Industrial Revolution economy made it a model of what American urban areas would be in the twenty-first century. Its growth, of course, was marked by this strange new Edge City form, not by the old ways of L'Enfant. As a result, it became an archetype for every city worldwide that was growing.
Hazel, by being among the first to comprehend and enthusiastically clear the way for this kind of world, also became an intriguing model of the Edge City creator. Originally a lawyer and then a developer, by the late 1980s he had accumulated a personal fortune estimated at $100 million. The estate on which his family lived, an hour from the White House, spanned a fair-sized valley and four thousand acres of land—a respectable spread by the standards of Montana. To understand him was to understand how a whole new world had been shaped.
John Tilghman Hazel, Jr., has a face you could carve into a jack-o'-lantern. Angular slabs dominate. They descend outward from his eyes and his nose in parallel diagonals, like corporal's chevrons. His jaw is a meaty block. His crew cut—crew cut!—makes the top of his head as flat and square as its bottom, although less wide. The effect is like looking at the end of a barn with its peak razored off.
Over the decades, Hazel has so successfully, rapidly, and visibly transformed entire Northern Virginia landscapes that his vanquished opponents have been reduced to describing him in satanic terms—no less than the Prince of Darkness and the Father of Lies. He is thought by them to symbolize rapaciousness and hypocrisy and greed. They hiss about the time he bulldozed one tree a day in a pristine wilderness, in protest of a government delay. They scream about the time that he clear-cut twenty-six acres rather than have it spared for a park. They point knowingly to his successful legal defense of a senior official charged with bribery at a time of rampant corruption. They rage about his legal wiles before the state supreme court, his capacity to frustrate and overturn the decisions of any government, any planning board that might dare to oppose growth. They speak in hushed tones about his connections to governors and senators. Why, a U.S. Representative even made a home on Hazel's estate! Hazel is seen as invincible. He is the legendary despoiler of the soil, the destroyer of the planet, the raper of the land. He is vilified for the traffic, for the pollution, for the chaos, for the noise, for the Change. He has been, in short, elevated to the status of a monster.
His friends and allies tell a strikingly different story. They speak of him as being a real gentleman, a man of cordial, even antique manners, a man of his word. They tell glowing stories of his generosity. They talk of how he graduated from Harvard Law and was now chairman of the Harvard College Fund, the university's major fundraising arm; how he helped steer Northern Virginia's George Mason University from its origins in a strip shopping center and an old elementary school to its current glory, when one of its economists has won the Nobel Prize and its performing arts center is making those of the old downtown nervous. They describe him as that rare individual who has a grand vision for the entire region, from its airports to its seaports, from the Blue Ridge to the Chesapeake Bay. If there are problems as a result of all this growth, say they, the fault ;is not Hazel's. It is the fault of those petty, selfish, and parochial minds, from the bureaucrats to the bleeding-heart ankle-biters, who stood in the way of building everything for which he foresaw the need—especially the roads.
But of all the things said about Hazel, the most startlingly incongruous is about his relationship to the land. For this is what his allies repeatedly volunteer: they say what authentically distinguishes him as a developer and as a seer is his uncanny feel for the land. Yes, the land. The way he understands the land. They insist this is true.
And, indeed, he is devoted to Alaska. He repeatedly returns there, frequently with his wife. On the coffee table in the waiting area of his office, with his name on the address labels, are, in addition to Harvard Magazine, such periodicals as Alaska, Virginia wildlife, Smithsonian, The Nature Conservancy Magazine, Ducks Unlimited, and Antiques. They appear to have been read.
Compared with his depiction as an arrogant and reprehensible despoiler and exploiter by his legion of detractors, there can be no more profoundly and diametrically opposite a characterization of this force behind the bulldozers. Yet it is true that he never seems more comfortable or animated than when he is recounting the most particular details of the fruits of his farm. He easily remembers on exactly what dates corn was planted in which fields. He takes more pride in his farm having won the state corn championship for highest yields four years in a row than he ever expresses in his stylish office park. He knows what the expected harvest dates are, how much water there is in a given field, how likely it is the tractors can negotiate that, and what the odds are of frost. This day he knows that he has exactly 1020 cows—mostly Angus with a few Hereford crosses—with six hundred calves just weaned, another four hundred to go, and an additional six hundred in the feed lot. He is proud that the calves have come in at 750 pounds.
Hazel is, in short, a man of contradictions, as is the Edge City world he has created. And the contradictions he embodies illuminate a great deal about both the America that will soon be and the America from which he came.
The world into which Til Hazel was born, on October' 29, 1930, was later so eradicated by the new one he helped create that today that place is difficult to imagine. Hazel was born not where his family lived, in Virginia, but across the Potomac River in the District of Columbia. That is because, as he is fond of saying, "it was either that or the kitchen table." His Virginia homeland was then so rural and backward that it had no hospital of its own.
Today Arlington County, where Hazel grew up, is one of the more urban places in America. It is more densely populated than Dallas or Denver or Cincinnati. It has one of the largest office buildings in the world—the Pentagon. Its airport, Washington National, is busier than Houston Intercontinental. It has two mirror-finish Edge Cities, each the size of downtown Milwaukee, and 8700 hotel rooms. Its public school students speak more than forty-nine languages, including Arabic, Vietnamese, Farsi, and Urdu. It has ten snazzy subway stops. And, of course, it has half a dozen hospitals.
In 1930, none of that existed. Arlington was a dozen crossroads punctuating fields and forests in which Hazel's relations hunted wild turkey. Segregation that was "very distinct," as the old saying went, was the rule. Most of the roads were dirt. Hazel's father told him vivid tales of the cavalry at local Fort Myer shipping out to fight Pancho Villa. Across the river it was an era when a motorist caught in the rain with his top down could pull under the porte cochere of the White House and be invited in to shake hands with the president. America itself was still a land of unthinkably vast spaces. For a quarter of a century to come, the southwesternmost baseball team would be St. Louis.
In 1930, Herbert Hoover was president, and though the stock market crash was three months old when Hazel was conceived, it was not yet clear that the Depression was at hand. Not until the second half of 1930 did "people feel the ground give way beneath their feet," as a contemporary economist put it. By the time Hazel was two, 24 percent of the work force would be unemployed. Birth rates—that statistic which probes most deeply into people's personal lives—had plummeted.
Thus Hazel's character was shaped in a world far different from the one he ended up building. It had different hopes, different fears, even different referents. "The war," for example, was automatically understood to mean the Civil War. His mother's grandfather was a Confederate soldier. Her family's roots were in nearby Southern Maryland, which even in the 1930s took pride in its Rebel sympathies. The foremost historical site in Arlington, looking out across the Potomac toward the Capitol in the distance, was the mansion of Robert E. Lee.
Hazel's father's father, William Andrew Hazel, wound up in Fort Laramie with the Seventh Cavalry only a few years after its last conflict with Indians at a place called Wounded Knee. When William returned from the west after the turn of the century, he stuck with what he knew, and became the stable manager for the delivery wagons of the Chestnut Farms Dairy. Hazel remembers riding his horse, Honeypot, in the 1930s in the median of that novelty, one of America's first concrete roads.
These were rough-and-ready days. In the 1920s a group including Til Hazel's grandfather decided that an area down by the river had become infested with squatters, riffraff, and various perpetrators of crime. So they got together secretly one night and "blew the place away," as Hazel related it.
It was a considerable departure for a Hazel when Til's father, John T. Sr., decided to become a surgeon. His brothers were lucky if they finished high school. John Sr.'s father opposed his continuing education. It was not trivial in the 1920s that John was making as much money keeping books at Chestnut Farms as was his dad tending horses.
John Sr. paid no small price for being the first to better himself. He was able to complete his medical education only by signing up with the Public Health Service. That outfit moved the twenty-six-year-old father to Boston only weeks after Til, the firstborn, arrived. On John Sr.'s return to Arlington, he had to move his little family into the home of his prosperous father-in-law.
The mid-1930s saw John Hazel, Arlington's only surgeon, making good money by the standards of the South and of the Depression. But all that meant was that he could finally build. His family their own house—if he kept his office in it. And John Sr. did not think that things were looking up. When he looked into the future, he saw war. He would talk about it to his wife, Ruth, and Til could hear. John Sr. had vivid memories of hunger from his days growing up. If those meager days were before the Depression and now there were breadlines, what would war bring? He became worried about barest subsistence. He worried that his family would starve. He plotted to meet gravest disaster—to make sure his wife and children could raise their own food.
"Today he's a fairly senile man," Til recounts, "but he remembers having an overcoat and a car when East Boston was full of people with no work and no food. It's a very real thing."
The solution was land. John Hazel bought land from his father-in-law. He started with twenty-nine acres, but his "subsistence" farm in time came to 110 acres—a sixth of a square mile. It was a lot of land for one family by the standards of the East.
This land was even farther out than Arlington. It was in the next county, Fairfax. In distance, the "next county" meant something in Virginia. At the time of first founding, county seats were flung purposefully far so that one would be within a day's horse ride of each settler.
The farm was in an area known as McLean. John Sr. sent away for hundreds of pamphlets from the Department of Agriculture on subsistence farming. The result was bacon for the family from home-butchered hogs, and cottage cheese Til's mother made from their own cows' milk. Gardening was serious. Putting up food for the cold time was an important part of life.
For all his desperate concern, though, John Hazel, Sr., had absolutely no time himself to raise crops. He scarcely had time to raise sons. He was a driven man, working long hours. Church was never very important to the family, Til recalls. "Dad was so involved in medicine that it was like Sunday was the same as any other day for him. That was the day he made rounds. The only difference was he didn't schedule any operations on Sunday. He operated every other day of the week." For two years, just as Hazel became a teenager, his father was gone completely, working at the Mayo Clinic.
That was why Til, even before he reached his teens, became the mainstay of the farm, working alongside a hired man and his aging grandfather, the cavalryman. He started by bicycling or hitchhiking the eight miles from Arlington to the McLean farm. But by the age of twelve, he was getting out of school by noon-time and driving an automobile out there himself. Because few tractors were available during the war, he worked behind draft horses and a borrowed pair of mules.
At an early age, Til Hazel repeatedly proved that he could be every bit as driven as his father. The family legend has him reading encyclopedias as he lay recovering from such dreadful maladies as appendicitis and acute poison ivy.
But more significantly, working the farm was the means by which he gained contact with his father—and his approval. "We used to have kind of a routine session after dinner—if he was home. Before he made his evening rounds. Where we would discuss what had happened at the farm. What the plans were. He got a lot of enjoyment out of that. And I got a lot of enjoyment out of it." His mother called that precious half-hour ritual the Men's Club.
It was not that Til Hazel held any romantic notions about the land. "I figured out it was better to do something at school. Because you sure in hell weren't going to get very far on a farm. That was clear to me from day one."
So when a teacher advised her bright, hard-working, and precocious young ward that he really only had two choices—to go to Iowa State to study agriculture, or to go to Harvard—for Til the decision was easy. Hazel knew nothing about Harvard. His classmates thought the acme of achievement was to attend William and Mary in the Colonial Virginia capital of Williamsburg. But his father had taken a few courses at Harvard while working for the Public Health Service. "My father said, 'That's good. I know Harvard,' " Hazel recalls.
With that ringing endorsement, Til—ever dutiful—went off in the direction he was pointed. He had no sense that anyone thought it a particularly big deal. One influential uncle even doubted Harvard would do a future Virginian much good. Til's mother's concern was that he have a good suit. His personal attitude was that if college was the next thing on the agenda, Cambridge had to be better than Ames.
In 1947, Til Hazel left Northern Virginia for New England. He would remain distant from the affairs of Arlington and Fairfax for ten years, only a sporadic visitor until after completing Harvard Law and his stretch in the service in the Army Judge Advocate's Corps.
Of his final summers on the farm, however, two things stick in his mind. The first was what a pleasure it was finally to have a tractor. Photos of him on top of his McCormick-Deering Farmall International Harvester Model H—with those two tiny wheels snugged together up front—show a satisfied man. Cutting the wheat and barley and oats and rye of McLean by pulling a combine behind a tractor was infinitely better than working with horses and mules. He never sentimentalizes that experience.
The other thing that remains with him was watching, as he was making hay, the building on the horizon of a place called Pimmit Hills. It was the area's first big postwar subdivision—hundreds of three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath, single-level, $7950 homes. "I remember looking over there, and they probably had fifty or seventy-five houses all being framed at once. It was a really big deal." Hazel remembers a picture on the cover of Life just like it. "It was a general topic of conversation among the farmers. It was, 'Goodness, look at all these new houses and look at how much good it's doing in the area.' It was a fraction of the agenda that you now have out of these things. You know, a very minimal understanding of all that went with it." So minimal, in fact, that one of the things Hazel noticed in streams that watered milk cows were feces that had escaped the subdivision's primitive sewage facility.
But the pollution was by no means what people were talking about. It was the blessing of this new growth, this prosperity. It seemed a miracle. "It was a tremendous new change. I was generally alleged to have been a pretty serious kid and I was interested in what was happening and what it meant for the farms."
Indeed, almost nobody in America expected this. If anything, the lurking fear had been that the war years might end up being the high point of people's lives. There was little reason to think life would be much different after the war from the way it had been before. With all the veterans returning home looking for jobs, most people figured America would return to the Depression. Had not Roosevelt tried everything to pull the nation out of its doldrums? Nothing had worked. Now half the world was in ashes, Roosevelt was in his grave, and his third vice president, a man almost no one knew, was in charge. This was a recipe for prosperity? The most strike-ridden year in American history was 1946. Shortages of meat were widespread. In 1947, America's GNP hit its lowest level since 1942, adjusted for inflation. The pessimists' worst fears seemed confirmed. The reason the Hazel family has no photos of Til with his team of horses is probably simple. There was no reason to think that era would ever end. The rest—as the saying goes—is history.
Michael Barone in Our Country refers to 1947 as "a hinge in American history, a time in which the country changed quite markedly from one thing to another."
Following 1948, America's gross national product, adjusted for inflation, grew at an average rate of 4.0 percent every year, for twenty years. That kind of sustained boom was without precedent in the annals of mankind. America was changed forever.
While Til Hazel was away from his homeland, meanwhile, other things happened that would reverberate in the decades to come, as they influenced his view of the land.
First, as an undergraduate at Harvard College, Hazel majored in American history. He started with the Revolution, wherein it seemed every other hero was a Virginian who had trod the ground he knew so well—from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson to George Mason. That led him backward into European and especially British history from 1500 on, because it related directly to the Revolutionary history with which he was entranced.
Decades later, the fact that he had been an American history major was as dumbfounding to one interlocutor as was Hazel's relationship to the land. What about the Civil War? he was asked. That seemed an important question to ask a man who had thought to build a mall next to Manassas National Battlefield Park. Great sweeps of the Civil War were fought in Virginia, from Manassas to Chancellorsville to the Wilderness to Appomattox. Did you study much history of the Civil War?
No, he says. "The Civil War always struck me as a great waste and a great tragedy and, you know, I don't know whether it was I don't like to lose or not. But I just never got all wound up in the Civil War. I was never particularly intrigued by the Civil War, except as it relates to physical things. Did I identify with the Confederates? Yes, oh yes. You've got to if you're raised in my family. Lots of courageous activity, lots of exciting things, but all for no clanged good reason. When you say 'Lost Cause,' you've said it all.
"It just seemed to me a great waste."
A few years after he came to that conclusion, a second thing happened.
His father sold Til's farm.
The farm that was the basis of their relationship, the land on which Til had sweated to build a concrete-block barn for his younger brother, Bill, to milk cows and even live sometimes . . . The place designed to be the family's salvation, where it could go to ground in hard times . . .
His father sold it. To developers.
Hazel claims to this day that the transaction was of no particular concern to him. After all, the farm had been replaced by a new and far grander one two counties west, in Fauquier County. "In those days," says Til, "it never occurred to anybody that you weren't supposed to use the land for whatever purpose it was needed."
But on the warm September day in 1989—the one that started out with Hazel pacing the tower in Tysons—Til ended up concentrating seriously. Back and forth he swung the giant Oldsmobile, trying to get his bearings amid the convoluted swirls of an old subdivision three miles east. He was looking for some particularly huge old trees, much larger than the suburban growths nearby. He wanted to show them to a reporter. They were the last things left from the farm where he had turned himself into a man.
"My father was big on something he called a scarlet oak. He got some and I planted 'em and watered 'em and pruned 'em and picked the caterpillars off until I thought I'd never ever want to see another oak tree. Hey, you know what? There they are over there. Well I'll be damned. See that oak tree? Yeah, I planted that tree in 1940. And there's a couple more. We had a house in the middle of'em. Those are our trees right there. This was a cornfield. And the creek is right down here. Boy, getting across that creek was a big issue. Now that cinder-block barn was right about there. And this was our garden and the hog pen. We had a little orchard back there. And those are the trees we planted. Those are the famous scarlet oak trees. I'm going to come back in the fall and see what color they turn. Most red oaks just get kinda dirty red. But those get brilliant red. And Dad, who was not much of a nature type, somewhere heard about that, and he insisted we were going to have scarlet oaks."
In fact, Hazel said, the boy and his father had talked about it at length. It was during their ritual evening rendezvous in which they shared a little time, just the two of them. The news that this serious, husky man-child, soon to be eleven, brought home of the progress of the oaks pleased his father a great deal, Hazel said. And that pleased him.
This, of course, all happened—before the earth had moved.
III: The Machine, the Garden, and Paradise
IF YOU READ America's favorite poets and novelists long enough, you notice that the last time we went through so fundamental a change in how we build cities, something ended up deeply severed in our souls.
The "last time" was especially the 1840s on. That's when America began to end as a place marked primarily by farms and quaint burgs with names like Harlem and Greenwich Village. With the Industrial Revolution came an upheaval in which the majority of people no longer lived in and off the countryside, or on eccentric hamlet lanes. By the turn of the twentieth century they were drawn to those teeming, steaming cities epitomized by New York and Chicago and Pittsburgh. There, wealth and jobs were created with the vast, clanking, astoundingly complex machinery of the textile mills, the steel mills, and the steam locomotives. These cities were built triumphantly on man's newfound abilities to slash the very dirt from the ground—limestone from Ontario to Indiana, iron ore from northern Michigan to Minnesota, and coal from Pennsylvania to West Virginia to Kentucky—and turn it into such miracles of organization and genius as the Model T.
These brawny, brawling, muscular cities, the legacies of which are our old downtowns, became the centers of our civilization. They were the place where the arts and museums were most "sophisticated," the mores most "broad-minded," the politics the most "progressive," the attitudes most "tolerant." They were where the energy levels of enterprise were deemed highest, enlightenment most bright, and where the nation's values were well enough represented that we acculturated our immigrants there; it was where we turned them into Americans.
But in some very deep ways, we hated those cities. American literature is shot through with a sense that this wealth of cities, this sense of progress, this urbanization, came at a horrific price. It came with a pervasive feeling of dislocation, alienation, conflict, anxiety, and loss.
Again and again, our most respected writers make their meaning most clear—we left behind something vitally important when we fled to these cities. You can see it in the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Henry Adams, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Sherwood Anderson, Willa Cather, Eugene O'Neill, Hart Crane, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost.
What is mourned in hundreds of different ways is the same thing: the severing of our direct ties to nature and to the land. There is in the writings of these Americans a constant yearning for connectedness between society, landscape, and mind. They do not find peace in the noise and hurly-burly of the big city, this land of the Machine. In 1844, Hawthorne sat down in a wood near Concord, Massachusetts, locally known as Sleepy Hollow, to record "such little events as may happen." In the middle of his literary reverie, a steam locomotive—only recently invented—ripped through. With sudden abruptness it disrupted Hawthorne's sense of time, nature, and reality. According to the cultural historian Leo Marx, "The train stands for a more sophisticated, complex style of life than the one represented by Sleepy Hollow; the passengers are 'busy men, citizens from the hot street . . .' The harsh noise evokes an image of intense, overheated, restless striving—a life of 'all unquietness' like that associated with great cities as far back as the story of the Tower of Babel."
Hawthorne's was not an isolated flummox. For Americans, Leo Marx observed, "regenerative power is located in the natural terrain: access to undefiled, bountiful, sublime Nature is what accounts for the virtue and special good fortune of Americans. It enables them to design a community in the image of a garden, an ideal fusion of nature with art. The landscape thus becomes the symbolic repository of value of all kinds—economic, political, aesthetic, religious.
"A strong urge to believe in the rural myth along with an awareness of industrialization as counterforce to the myth—since 1844, this motif appears everywhere in American writing . . . It is a complex, distinctly American form."
We are bound up in this conflict to this day. Our most fashionable foods and fibers are ones that are "natural." The rugged individual at ease with the forces of nature even sells cigarettes, from the Camel man in his ravine-ringed Jeep to the Marlboro man on his backlit bronco. Families that have managed to find a "little place"—ten acres or so—"in the country"—a few hours' drive beyond their homes—"that needs some work"—it'll cost them a fortune—are envied. Others are eager to hear their tales. Seventy-six percent of all Americans describe themselves as environmentalists. There is precious little else about which we so thoroughly agree.
Sigmund Freud was astonished by this yearning for "freedom from the grip of the external landscape . . . How has it come about that so many people have adopted this strange attitude of hostility to civilization?"
But it is hardly an immature romanticism that drives this American idea. In The Machine in the Garden, Leo Marx argued that it was basic to the American psyche. In 1844 wordsworth wrote a sonnet protesting the building of a railroad through the Lake District. Marx noted: "By placing the machine in opposition to the tranquillity and order located in the landscape, he makes it an emblem of the artificial, of the unfeeling . . . It is a token of what he likes to call the 'fever of the world.' "
In America this reinforces two contradictory world views that today are everywhere at war. These are the ones we have traced back to the very beginnings of America. The Virginia Cavaliers, arriving in Jamestown in 1607, looked out over the landscape and in their letters home wrote that this untrammeled nature is no less than a miraculous, bounteous Eden. Thirteen years later, the Pilgrims hove to off the coast of Massachusetts, and what they reported was a vision of unredeemed demonic Hell. This land would have no hope, yield no value, until it had been tamed by the civilizing influence of man.
The dichotomy endures to this day. One sees the untouched land as an object of veneration, a source of spiritual strength. The other sees the land as a commodity to be used and exchanged for money, like any other. This division is crystallized in the reactions people have when they suddenly come upon a bulldozer as it bites into an "unspoiled" landscape. How you feel about the abrupt appearance of this Machine in the Garden is doubtless predicated on your idea of "progress."
Robert Nisbet, in History of the Idea of Progress, demonstrated that the basic notion was set up by the Greeks and Romans. The idea of progress originated in the belief that mankind has slowly, gradually, and continuously advanced from an original condition of cultural deprivation, ignorance, and insecurity to higher levels of civilization, and that such advancement will, with only occasional setbacks, continue. The Greeks saw the natural growth in knowledge over time as progress that would yield the natural advance of the human condition. The early Christians believed the spiritual perfection of mankind would culminate in a golden age of happiness on earth, a millennium ruled by the returned Christ. They got this idea in part from the Jews, who believed that history was divinely guided. As early as Augustine's The City of God, Nisbet reported, all the essential terms of Utopia were in place: affluence, security, equity, freedom. tranquillity, and justice.
When knowledge of the New World arrived in Europe, the possibilities seemed unlimited. By 1750, progress was not simply an important idea among many; it had become the overwhelming idea. From it were hung yearnings for equality, social justice, and popular democracy under law. These aspirations, attached to progress, were no longer deemed desirable; they were believed inevitable. Soon, freedom and liberty became thought of as necessary to progress. More important, they became seen as the very goal of progress—an ever-ascending realization of freedom, to the most remote future. That was why the opening shot of the American Revolution was the one heard round the world.
By the 1800s, the idea of progress was no longer dependent on divine guidance. It was attached instead to faith in reason, science, and technology—the works of man himself. Then, as the twentieth century approached, progress was seen in the accumulation of power, especially by the state. For it was thought that the redemption and salvation—and especially the perfection—of man would be possible if his consciousness could just be shaped and elevated by sufficiently powerful means. Thus was the idea of progress ultimately perverted: Lincoln Steffens' famously incorrect report upon his return from Russia in 1919 was: "I have been over into the future, and it works." The Nazis' Final Solution was so called in order that it be viewed as—progress.
The belief in the inevitability of progress, Nisbet believed, took body blows when people representing every conceivable ideology stopped believing one or more of the five premises that were its underpinnings:
- That the past had value. Those who stopped believing this argued that ignoring or eradicating the past was an acceptable, even a desirable, aspect of progress.
- That life itself, in all its manifestations, had unerasable value. Those who turned away from this idea were willing to accept the notion that loss of life was an acceptable cost for progress.
- That reason alone, and the scientific knowledge that can be gained from it, was inherently worthy of faith. Those who stopped believing this no longer accepted that the Cartesian method of logic, in isolation, could reveal all important truth.
- That economic and technological flowering was unquestionably worthwhile. People who stopped believing this gave up the faith that if Cartesian logic produced it, and it was turned into a product—for example, mustard gas—it must be good.
- That Western civilization was noble, even superior to its alternatives.
The final, resounding disconnect between the advances of the Machine and the idea of progress came with the atomic bomb. That is the point, Siegfried Giedion noted, from which the technological imperative "If possible, then necessary," rang hollow. That is the point at which it became ineluctably clear that what we could do was by no means the same thing as what we should do.
Nisbet, in fact, observed that among the "clerisy"—that marvelous word he used for the priesthood of our self-appointed intelligentsia—the idea of progress is now a dead letter. And there is no question that any serious expression of long-term optimism today is obliged to carry some awful asterisk. Such as: assuming there is no nuclear war, no planetary environmental meltdown, no economic debacle, no universal cataclysm.
But while most people are all too aware of these dire possibilities, it is not clear to me that the spirit of progress has been rejected by most Americans. An optimist has been defined as someone who is still engaged in the problem. By that standard, it would appear self-evident that America remains a nation of optimists. We are battling like demons over the most basic ways we should organize our lives. This is not the behavior of people who are resigned to their fate; it is the behavior of people with a touching faith in their enduring ability to change the world—for the better. I think that our most knock-down, drag-out, hair-pulling fights are those over competing visions of the Promised Land. That is why the noise is so loud.
The problem, of course, is the way the armies in this millennial battle fail to recognize its outlines in the arguments of their opposition. Return to that unexpected moment when the bulldozer is spied turning the virgin soil, and how various people may react to that sight.
Those who unquestionably see in such technology the progress of civilization are also likely to believe it obvious beyond challenge that "more" is better, that "growth" is good, and that "change" means progress. Their position is a time-honored one. As now we swim in our sea of technology, it is almost impossible to imagine attitudes before. But in 1776, James Boswell described the moment of epiphany when he first understood the Machine. In Soho he visited a factory where a mighty steam engine was in production in all its vastness and intricacy. He wrote that he would never forget the account of its maker, the "iron chieftain": "I sell here, Sir, what all the world desires to have—POWER."
Boswell found the spectacle exhilarating, and Leo Marx noted that in so doing he anticipated America's response precisely. During the dawn of the Industrial Age here, in the first half of the 1800s, America became the wonder of the world. It doubled and then redoubled its population. Pushing south and west, it quadrupled its territory, settling, annexing, buying, or conquering land claimed by Britain, Spain, France, Mexico, and the Indians. During those fifty years, the gross national product increased sevenfold. No other country could match even one of these boasts. Such growth was seen as intrinsic to the very idea of America; in fact, its Manifest Destiny. It was accepted as an emblem of God's special favor. The Bible itself seemed to demand this view. Did not the first book of Moses, Genesis, enjoin man to "be fruitful, and multiply," to "subdue . . . the earth" and "have dominion . . . over every living thing"?
What other mandate could you conceivably need?
In this view, land untouched by man was "vacant" or "waste," and those words came fully loaded. Vacant meant empty, a vessel useless until filled. Waste was immoral. The creation of wealth and jobs and comfort and leisure was not seen as easy or automatic. Growth was progress—though there was more than a little schizophrenia surrounding that. On the one hand, the mantra of the men of the Machine was "You can't stop progress." On the other hand, they deep-down feared that might not be true. They worried that if people didn't pursue material progress totally, the abyss of want and depression did await.
This vision of progress became especially prevalent in the years after World War II when more and newer homes for all Americans seemed beyond question a social good. When we had the slightest hope of income beyond our needs for food and warmth, what did we instantly spend it on? Those homes which maybe had a little yard, some place for the kids to play. On a quarter acre or so? A place that could be made into—a Garden? What more primal demonstration does one need?
Thus did we start our push out past the old downtowns, out into the landscape we invented to further our pursuit of happiness: that suburbia which is now culminating in Edge City. We lit out once again, in the words of Huckleberry Finn, for the Territory.
And on that very ground across which we sprawled we have met the other great countervailing American idea in what was good: the belief in the primal restorative power of the undefiled land. In that idea, the land has value in and of itself, with no crass calculations of how it may be "used." It should not all be profaned; it should not all be "spoiled," as people use that interesting word, by the works of man.
It's the battle we fight to this day. The sound of the clash echoes backward and forward for centuries.
Our yearning for a simpler and more natural life can be phrased in the most positive of ways: Americans are looking for a new unity in their lives, a way to bring themselves together, to avoid the fragmentation that they perceive all around them, from drugs, to bad schools, to teenage pregnancy; they seek a connection that brings the American centuries, from the seventeenth to the twenty-first, into some kind of focus.
Yet it seems clear that we are sadly lacking that toward which we so clearly grope—a model that integrates all our apparent contradictions.
The circumstances surrounding the implosion of another nineteenth-century system of thought may be instructive in this regard.
Communism was premised on the belief that the exploitative conditions of industrialism created by early capitalism were hopelessly contradictory—beyond mere reform. But as we look around us in the late twentieth century, we see that, though the social-democratic West may not have achieved nirvana, some forms of capitalism seem attractive to a whole lot of people.
Now comes the question: If industrialism did turn out to be reformable, can we now resolve the contradictions in our new, post-Industrial, Information Age world? Can we now turn to reshaping our new cities?
I think the test of that is going to be how we come to view the land.
There are those in sympathy with Cassandra who I believe are well meant. These are the people who grimly count on a cataclysm that they hope will bring us to our senses before it is too late—a new Great Depression, global warming, the immolation of the Middle East. As prediction—who knows?—betting on calamity may well be the odds-on proposition.
But I have difficulty conjuring up a sequence that forces us onto the path of righteousness. I do not see how we are going to be deflected from our current ways simply for lack of naked power, at least in time to do us any good. With the technologies at our command, we can do virtually anything we want, if we're willing to pay the price. The question is not what we can do The question is whether we will come to any kind of agreement on what we should do—in our everyday world.
If one believes in progress, as I think most Americans do—if one accepts the notion that humanity is redeemable precisely because we do have the capacity to learn from our astoundingly abundant mistakes—one wonders whether there may not be less drastic ways than Armageddon of arriving at resolutions.
I've often thought you can tell a great deal about a civilization by what it protests. You can tell what it believes it has far too much of.
In 1910, five young Italian painters issued a publication that would become known as The Manifesto of the Futurists. It was an emotional, political, cultural, and esthetic document regarded as significant because it proclaimed the sensibility that created modern art.
In part, it read:
We will fight with all our might the fanatical, senseless, and snobbish religion of the past, a religion encouraged by the vicious existence of museums. We rebel against that spineless worshipping of old canvases, old statues, and old bric-a-brac, against everything which is filthy and worm-ridden and corroded by time. We consider the habitual contempt for everything which is young, new, and burning with life to be unjust and even criminal.
Comrades, we tell you now that the triumphant progress of science makes profound changes in humanity inevitable, changes which are hacking an abyss between those docile slaves of past tradition and us free moderns, who are confident in the radiant splendor of our future."
It is obvious what the Futurists thought they had too much of. It was the cold dead weight of the past.
It's odd; now it is their words that sound antique. I've often wondered what the Futurists would make of our drive today for historic preservation. I suspect they would think us nuts. Completely out of our minds. But that is the side on which one finds today's passionate young. They lie in front of the bulldozers to keep old buildings, old trees—keep, even, old battlefields.
What are we to make of that? I think the logical conclusion to be drawn from our protests is that what most people now think we have too much of is the new. Change comes at such a rate that we search for refuge from the impermanence of our lives. We are weary of returning to places we care about and finding them changed beyond recognition. We are weary of the complexity and the chaos and the time pressures of our lives. Maybe the problem is that what we are seeking is a higher sense of order, and what we are mourning, when we think of decline, is our lack of anchors.
We know this is not the way we once lived. We resent it. And we lash out, rebelling particularly against those self-proclaimed and self-congratulatory agents of change whose work is the most flamboyant, the least ignorable, those who bring this change at the highest social and emotional cost—the developers.
If that is where our pursuit of progress—in the most genuine sense—is headed, our pursuit of the future inside ourselves, our American pursuit of happiness, then the question is how these contradictions can ever be resolved.
It seems to me that we can start by striving for an understanding, at the most basic level, of how we value something as fundamental as the land.
If we can do that, perhaps we can graduate to working out what some other words mean in our world—words like community, civilization, and soul.
Full disclosure: The lens through which I personally see and report on the world is not all that rare in the late twentieth century, polls show. It is that of the devout agnostic. While it would surprise me not at all if it turned out that there is a larger force in the universe than man, the organized religions I've encountered have served only to unnerve me. I report this only to explain that I am made mightily uncomfortable by any assertions that have words like "reverence" in them.
But Robert Nisbet, the esteemed historian and social theorist, did use such concepts as that of the "sacred" in addressing the outlook for our futures.
"What is the future of the idea of progress in the West?" he asked. "Any answer to that question requires answer to a prior question: what is the future of Judeo-Christianity in the West? For if there is one generalization that can be made confidently about the history of the idea of progress, it is that throughout its history the idea has been closely linked with, has depended upon, religion or upon intellectual constructs derived from religion.
He based his conclusion on the observation that the single most quoted poem in all of English literature is by William Butler Yeats: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold"; "mere anarchy is loosed upon the world"; "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
If we genuinely believe that, of course, there is no hope.
If we quote those lines as a warning to ourselves, however, of a future we know we can avoid—and I think that is what we do—therein might be our salvation.
That is why, after all the miles spent reporting this book, I found Nisbet's conclusion persuasive; that we are going to resolve our differences and push through to higher ground only if we come to an agreement like this: "Only, it seems evident from the historical record, in the context of a true culture in which the core is a deep and wide sense of the sacred are we likely to regain the vital conditions of progress itself and of faith in progress—past, present, and future."
If in fact we are approaching a turning point in history—a turning point at least as dramatic as the one of 150 years ago that ushered in the Machine Age—perhaps the place to start in redefining ourselves is with our relationship to the land.
If we are to reunite our fragmented worlds, we might see whether there is room for agreement on so basic an idea as what exactly we believe is hallowed ground.
IV: Pilgrim's Progress: Boom
TIL HAZEL'S PARTNER, the developer Milt Peterson, remembers precisely when the earth really did move in the pastures of Northern Virginia. It came with the erection of Melpar.
"It was real early, even before the Beltway," Peterson recalls. It was 1952. An electronics firm with a name like that of a science-fiction creature, Melpar built its headquarters way, way out into the farmland—past Arlington County, past Falls Church, ten miles out from downtown, all the way to Fairfax County. It was surrounded by fields. The planners and builders and politicians and developers of the day were agog. They had never seen anything like it.
"Melpar sat back about four hundred feet from Route 50," recalls Peterson of the building that was such a departure from those downtown that it stuck in his mind four decades later. "It bought about three times more land than it needed. It had a little pond on the side that had a willow tree. It had its parking in the back and it had a brick front and a flag. There was a big lawn leading up to it. Melpar, like, became a word. You know how a feeling becomes a word? That became what all development should be—Melpar. Everyone said we want Melpar all. over here. I mean that's the only kind of development we wanted. It became, 'Where can you get more of that Melpar?' "
Melpar was an electronics-warfare contractor, so when it built its headquarters, it took its cue from the Pentagon—in more ways than one. The Pentagon—the actual building—remains the world's archetypal Edge City structure. With a still-astonishing 3.7 million square feet of office space—equivalent to downtown Fort Lauderdale—it attracts twenty-three thousand employees every day. It has four Zip Codes.
Opened in 1942, it gave form to the idea of bringing the most awesome Machine of all time—the American war machine—into a Garden. The Pentagon is surrounded by a lot of lawn. Light colonels fill its myriad jogging trails. It has a yacht basin, trees, and hanging vines. The courtyard in its center is a nice place to catch some lunch-hour sun. Yet the building is fully oriented toward the transportation technologies of the late twentieth century. It is encircled by parking lots, freeways, and helicopter pads. When the Pentagon was built, the nearest major structure was National Airport. Four decades later, an underground Metro rail station was added.
But that was not what brought the Pentagon to the epitome of Edge City. That came in the late 1980s, when another mega-structure was built just across Interstate 395. It was—yes—a mall. Very flashy, very upscale, the development was called the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. The advertising got more than a little weird around Christmas. Some found it tough to deal with the whole peace-on-earth, goodwill-to-men routine in a place called Pentagon City.
Be that as it may, in the early 1950s Melpar located itself just as the Pentagon had a decade before—out in the fields in campuslike splendor on a big open highway, suspended between two magnets. The customer that it emulated was in one direction, toward town. On the opposite bearing were all those wonderful new suburban houses that John Cheever would glorify, in which one could "shout in anger or joy without having someone pound on the radiator for silence." A whole new world was being born.
Of all the breakthroughs of Melpar, what is remembered as something truly different was the brick. The brick on the facade. What daring! You could work where you could feel the breeze, and be in contact with God's good ground, but not have to work in a tin warehouse or a barn. You could have the sophistication and urbanity of brick just like that of Capitol Hill. Way out here! That the combination was even possible had never occurred to anybody before. It was no less than a vision of a new and better world.
"The demander of space is like a voter," explains Peterson. "Developers, what do they build? They build what they think they can sell. So they're saying, You voter or consumer, what do you want, what would you pay for, okay? The consumer has got the option of going downtown. But the ultimate, okay, is Melpar. Melpar was the flag, the lawn, and set back from the road, but the big thing was to have a brick front. Why was brick a big thing? Because everything else anybody had seen was shitty old aluminum or steel.
"Now you look at a building and if it's brick, you say well now there's a trade association that didn't have enough money to have a building with precast concrete. Precast concrete is a step up from brick, yes. And then you go to marble, okay? But then marble, it's not gutsy enough. Marble has a softer feel—like a library. But then there's granite. It's like the word, granite—it's tough. So that is state of the art now.
"But coming back to this, you build with what you think the people want and that then was Melpar. Trying to be the antithesis of the city. Total antithesis. Curvilinear as opposed to rectilinear. See, the whole thing in sales and marketing is making people feel good about themselves. Suburbanites live on country lanes. They picture themselves going home in their Porsche or whatever—it is down a lane with trees on it and they swing along. The other reason you don't do the streets straight is if you line 'em up, cars is all you see. But if you make it go like this"—Peterson undulates his arms—"you can have one tree here and one tree here and one tree here and one tree here and as you drive down here you go along and what do you see? You see this tree and you start around here and you see this tree. So all you need is a little bit of open and you start swinging and you're doing this and you get everything in here."
Peterson, at the time he was recounting this in 1989, was waving his arms toward the newest development he and Hazel had built. It was called Fair Lakes. At build-out, its 657 acres was scheduled to have more than five million square feet of office, retail, and hotel space—comparable to downtown Dayton or Wilmington. Nonetheless, it was by far among the most green and leafy and parklike of all the Washington area's Edge City locations. Including, as it did, shops and homes, it was the state-of-the-art Machine in the Garden. "This is not the 1960s Melpar," Peterson said. "This is the 1990s Melpar." I asked Peterson why he hadn't built an old downtown out there, a place with grids and blocks and sidewalks.
"We could have made this all straight," he responded, "but hell. You make it vroooom—you swing around. You want the mind to not know what to expect next. You want it to be eventful. You want it to be different.
"Everybody when they come to the suburbs they want the trees and bunnies and birds, okay? And that's why we put two swans out there and feed the damn ducks so all the frigging geese and ducks come around and people say, 'Gee, I work out in a place where they have paths and running tracks, ponds, birds. Do you have a running track where you work?'
"It comes back to what does the employee feel that his employer feels about him—he gives them ducks and ponds and paths and workout facilities. Heck, you have workout facilities in all these buildings. They never get used. But people like to say they have one. It's like me. I've got a great big machine—I'm going to frigging work out? I use it to hang my pants on.
"Employers have to go where they think they can attract the best employees they can afford. So they have to locate their facilities in a place and in a setting that'll give them the most chance of having a successful business. All could have gone downtown. Some of 'em have moved out from downtown. The choice is always there. Power to the persons that are making the decisions. So that their overall life—real and perceived—is best.
"We're trying to make a person feel as though he's going to drive in the country and his office just happens to be off in the woods next to the birds and the bunnies. Yes, a city in a garden. Here we had one goal—make the person feel they were with the birds and bunnies, they got residence, they got shopping, they got everything. Trees, ponds, lakes. Good access, right on Interstate 66, but swing in here, you get rid of those ugly, garish signs—now you're going to get an earthy-toned sign. Then you get special permission from the highway department to put trees closer to the road. You're going to take your bridges, see, and make 'em curved and put stone over here so they'll feel as though they're out in the country. If they would've let us, we would have taken the cobblestones on that so when you drove over, your wheels would go bllllmmmmm bllllmmmmm bllllmmmmm. Just like going over a bridge, yeah. Tried to get it. They wouldn't let us do it. Those are the kinds of bullshit and baloney stuff you pick up."
Highly evolved indeed. But to hear Til Hazel tell it. all this was inevitable and inexorable.
When Hazel returned to Virginia in 1957, his former Harvard Law classmates felt a small pang. Here they were, moving on to jobs of significance, like Wall Street. He was returning to that jerkwater county, Fairfax. He seemed so bright, too.
Truth be told, his first job didn't sound like much. It was spending endless hours amid dusty deeds to condemn land for a new road. It was not, however, just any road. It was to be built with funds from the brand-new National Defense Interstate Highway System. This road was going to serve as a bypass up the East Coast around both sides of Washington. It would be roughly a circle, sixty-six miles all the way around. It would skirt the city by a goodly distance—more than ten miles—so as to not be severed by an atomic bomb hitting the White House. (This was a defense highway.) That distance—beyond even Melpar—went through land that Hazel remembers as being "like Kansas." By that he meant there was nothing there—as far as he could see. Anything—anything—would be a higher use than this void of pasture and forest that had not seen real prosperity since its conquest in the Civil War, nine decades earlier.
The land was considered so vacant, Hazel recalled, that the highway engineers saw no significance in the way the new highway would cut across two little farm-to-market roads, Routes 7 and 123, just east of their corners, named after a nineteenth-century landholder, William Tyson. It didn't register on them that the resultant triangle would instantly become a place easily driven to from any direction in the region. This superhighway wastors, Frank Kimball, himself started buying up property in 1959 only after he could not convince his employer, the Marriott Corporation, to view the place as a credible location for a hamburger stand. It was too far out.
This was land Til Hazel came to know better than anybody. Decades later, he would still take great pride of craft in his work as a young lawyer. By the time the alignment of the Beltway was in place in 1960, he recounted, his decisions were never appealed, either by the highway department or the owners. His word had come to be viewed as that of authority. When he put a value on a piece of land, it stuck.
No small accomplishment. It was a time when many other values were coming unstuck:
In 1954, General Foods Corporation moved its headquarters out of Manhattan to White Plains, in Westchester County.
In 1955, the first McDonald's restaurant opened in Des Plaines, outside Chicago.
In 1956, Southdale Shopping Center, the world's first climate-controlled shopping mall, opened outside Minneapolis.
In 1965, William Levitt, of Levittown fame, started building houses outside Paris.
In the early 1960s, at the same time as the completion of the Beltway in the Tysons area, Hazel was spotted as a comer by the courthouse crowd. The Byrd machine was still the juggernaut of Virginia political power. Its power lay with large landholders, and its conservatism was so deep that even issuing bonds to build roads was viewed as a newfangled, hence suspect, idea.
The population of Fairfax County by 1960 had tripled in only one decade, to more than a quarter of a million. Subdivisions erupted like mushrooms after a warm rain. The first rezoning of the rural land around Tysons for commercial purposes began in 1962.
In 1966, a federal grand jury gained nationwide attention when it indicted fifteen people under the recently enacted Federal Racketeering Act on charges of conspiracy to exchange bribes for rezonings in Fairfax County. Among those indicted were county supervisors, planning officials, developers, zoning attorneys, and one former state senator so prominent he was referred to in press accounts as a "civic leader."
Hazel, who that year had just started his own full-time law practice, took the defense of the grand old man, Andrew W. Clarke. Clarke was charged with being the kingpin of a scheme to distribute some $52,000 in bribes. Hazel pled him innocent. Next, he got the federal counts dismissed. Any alleged conspiracy ended four days before the passage of the Federal Racketeering Act under which the indictments came, he argued. Thus no federal laws had been violated. Then, to the outrage of the prosecutor, he succeeded in getting Clarke excused from trial on state charges. The grounds were failing health. Clarke had, in fact, suffered three strokes, and died in March 1968. But he did so while vacationing in Florida. Several of his fellow indictees ended up vacationing in Lewisburg Penitentiary. This bottom line escaped the attention of no one. Both Hazel's friends and enemies saw he was going to be a legal force to be reckoned with.
Little did they know. By the time the population of Fairfax had passed half a million, in the early 1970s, Hazel was blamed and credited with being personally responsible for the presence of 100,000 of them. He was the John the Baptist of development, making clear the way. With righteous prowess did he ceaselessly pursue the rezoning of farm and forest into quarter-acre lots attracting more and more people. He had become the pre-eminent force for growth, the legal sledgehammer systematically destroying on the anvil of the Virginia courts all attempts to slow it. Hazel knew the Old Dominion had always been shaped by this moral certitude: a man may not have taken from him the value of his land, save by due process of law.
At the time Hazel was really beginning to roll, however, America, near the end of its second decade of unprecedented growth, was changing profoundly. The Apollo program was sending back photographs that altered people's dreams forever. Our planet, from the perspective of the July 1969 moon landing, looked like a precious little marble, lonely in its vast black void. The idea of Spaceship Earth brought people to understand that the planet really was a closed and finite system. It did have limits. The first Earth Day, in April 1970, rallied national attention to the perils of unrestrained economic development. In 1972, a report entitled Only One Earth, by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos, was presented to the United Nations World Conference on the Human Environment. It argued that man's foremost allegiance had to be to his planet.
This all began to fit into people's heads in ways that had profound consequences. By the late 1960s, wealth might have flowed like a mighty stream for a generation of Americans. But, better fed, better housed, and better educated than ever in history, they were nagged by fears that something had gone terribly wrong. The grammar school nuclear air-raid drills had blunted the idea that change equaled progress. Rachel Carson had published Silent Spring in 1962; it turned out that pollution endangered not only the continent's fertility, but the very song of its birds. In January 1969, an underwater oil platform ruptured off Santa Barbara, California; the televisions of America were filled with the beaches and sea birds of one of America's most beautiful—and richest—communities covered with deadly black goo and highly articulate outrage. It became the symbol of greed damaging nature, both wild and human.
As our attitudes shifted rapidly around the value of the patriarchal family and of religion and of authority, important questions were asked about the point of all this growth. In pursuit of "standard of living," were we sacrificing "quality of life"? Where did humans fit in the scheme of things?
The answers that penetrated the national consciousness came from the new studies of biology. They emphasized our interdependence with our soil, our air, our water, our forests, our farms, and our food. They showed the importance of instinct. They did so rationally and testably—scientifically. They demonstrated that man's genetic potential included a grammar of behavior as powerful as his sense of language. They resonated with the words of the emerging computer revolution. They showed that we were "hard-wired"—unalterably connected—to our nature, the nature that sprang from our evolutionary, planetary experience.
The ideals of progress thus began to come uncoupled from the Industrial Revolution's premium on the behavior of the worker bee. New ideas of human improvement—our most enduring values, those which surrounded the advancement of freedom, liberty, individualism, and progress—became linked with the flowering of human potential. Yes, man could be improved, even perfected, but only in harmony with nature, of which he was a part. The potential of our future, in this view, flowed from our connection to our futures as human animals. What, came the question, was the "carrying capacity" of our habitat?
In 1972, the widely cited Club of Rome report on limited resources fanned Malthusian fears of runaway population growth. In 1973, the first oil shock hit, giving Americans a cram course in the costs—economic and sociologic—of their way of life. Not one American in a thousand in the 1950s knew that the word "ecology" referred to the study of energy flows within a closed system. By the 1970s, ecology had come to express the belief that change specifically did not mean progress. Drastic change within a closed system—Earth—or any change that could damage a species was viewed as wrong.
No culture can truly survive which ignores the human spirit and human values, this argument proceeded. Such values and spirit rose from what was natural. Progress, therefore, could not encompass exploiting and polluting our earth. It was not progress to cut down our trees and erect buildings so ugly and wasteful that human beings could not flourish within them.
"Human beings dwell in the same biological systems that contain the other creatures but, to put the thought bluntly, they are not governed by the same laws of evolution . . ." wrote Barry Lopez in his National Book Award volume, Arctic Dreams. "Outside of some virulent disease, another ice age, or his own weapons technology, the only thing that promises to stem the continued increase in his population and the expansion of his food base (Which now includes oil, exotic minerals, fossil ground water, huge tracts of forest, and so on, and entails the continuing, concomitant loss of species) is human wisdom.
"Walking across the tundra, meeting the stare of a lemming, or coming on the tracks of a wolverine, it would be the frailty of our wisdom that would confound me. The pattern of our exploitation of the Arctic, our increasing utilization of its natural resources, our very desire to 'put it to use,' is clear. What is it that is missing, or tentative, in us, I would wonder? . . . It is restraint."
Enter Til Hazel.
At the height of his Edge City building powers.
Hazel genuinely believed in everything he did. But what made him a legend in his own time was his capacity to drive his opponents mad. As one colleague put it, he had the remarkable knack "to reduce the most complex issues to a single, pungent sentence that rallied his friends and pissed off his neighbors—I mean, enemies."
Hazel once boasted that what he did for a living was "crack open watersheds."
He meant it. In 1970, a ban on sewer hookups for new developments was put in place because three treatment plants were overloaded. Hazel attacked, saying the government had to build more sewer plants. Meanwhile, the hookups resumed.
In 1971, an attempt was made to mandate affordable housing at a time when 40 percent of the county's policemen were forced to live outside the jurisdiction. Hazel attacked, calling the measure an "unlawful, imprudent intrusion into the rights of private business," an attempt to "put off on the private sector the public problem." It was overturned.
In 1972 a new county board took office. Elected on a platform of skepticism toward growth, the members tried to suspend land rezonings to give county planners time to draft a five-year strategy. Hazel attacked. He crushed the moratorium in the courts. Then he rubbed it in. To his foremost antagonist, Audrey Moore, he sneered, "I think your approach is bankrupt—morally, socially, and financially. This county has an obligation to provide for the people."
In 1973, the county attempted to slow growth by not hearing rezoning requests or approving site plans. Hazel attacked, arguing that the government had an obligation to undertake these functions. The result were frenzied proceedings round the clock and well into the morning, night after night, as the county worked off the backlog.
In 1975, Hazel again triumphed. The county had attempted to limit growth to places where public facilities, such as roads and schools, already were in place. Hazel attacked, arguing that not providing such services everywhere was "arbitrary and capricious." It was an exercise in "discriminatory zoning" to restrict new homes to those "costing $100,000 or more." This one went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court; when the Court failed to back the county, once again Hazel prevailed. Once more he rubbed it in. Said he, demurely, "You'd have thought we were out to rape the county."
He was a buzz saw. During his heyday, he never lost a zoning case in the Virginia Supreme Court. But his real skill was in grinding his opponents' noses in the dirt. He described the county's attempts to limit growth as "pie in the sky." When he blew up a moratorium on new sewer connections in Tysons Corner, he ensured his adversaries would never forget by forcing the county to refund his clients $400,000 in taxes he felt had been unjustly levied while their bulldozers had been stilled.
"We've got a tiger by the tail," he said in the mid-1970s of his struggles. "We're going to hold on till we tame that tiger or it gets the best of us. It's war. How else would you describe it?"
If he brought no little arrogance to his vision, it was because he was creating no less than a new world. He was bringing civilization to the "howling wilderness" into which he had been born. He was bringing it the benefits of modernity, the world of the Machine, so that never again could Yankees sneer, "Beyond the Potomac, it's all Alabama."
It was ironic that he, a Southerner, was now taking the position of the Pilgrims on progress—that civilization should overwhelm the land, in contrast to the Virginia Cavaliers' view of the untouched land as Paradise. But, then, he had not studied at Harvard for nothing.
So, in the pursuit of progress, he plowed his old world under—in the most literal sense.
Hazel was firmly in the tradition of the men who had pushed the railroad across the American frontier, at the cost of the buffalo and the Indians. Or of William Mulholland, who brought water to Los Angeles, at the price of turning the blooming Owens Valley into a desert. Or, in our lifetime, of the builders of the Alyeska oil pipeline across the Brooks Range that allowed the loading of North Slope crude into fragile supertankers—like the Exxon Valdez. A close associate of Hazel's was once asked if he thought Til believed in God. "I don't know," came his response. "I don't know. He might not. That would imply a higher Being."
The more Til drove environmentalists out of their minds, the more he was seen as the Machine that would annihilate the Garden. To the extent that he was seen as destroying the very pastoral benefits that had attracted people to Fairfax in the first place, he was stigmatized as a monster, seeking the almighty dollar at the most outrageous, amoral costs to society and the planet.
Yet, objectively, there was not a great deal of evidence that Hazel was motivated primarily by avarice for material goods. Surely the Oldsmobile of several years' vintage was not a display of opulence. Nor were his suits, puckered at the shoulder seams and so antique that when a lapel pin fell off, one could see a tiny circle of a darker hue around which the suit had faded.
Granted, Hazel was the kind of man who, when the air conditioning became too fierce in the Oldsmobile, tabbed down the electric window to let in warm air rather than turn down the chill. But as a greedhead, Hazel hardly fit the Donald Trump mold. This was a man devoted to his children and to his long-time and only wife. There was never any suggestion that he had given or taken bribes. It seemed to him a mystery, in fact, why anyone ever went that route. Beyond the immorality of it, as a practical matter it was lazy and sloppy and stupid. The system could so clearly be made to work on the side of everything that he viewed as righteous that he could not imagine why anybody thought corruption was necessary. In fact, if he indulged any personal vices, attempts to discover what they might be were markedly unsuccessful.
Nonetheless, his enemies took it as an article of faith, as obvious beyond any suggestion of doubt, that he was a liar of proportions beyond the merely monumental. He spoke in evangelical terms of the glories of covering the planet with subdivisions and malls and office parks and asphalt. His opponents, seeing this as an attack on the very underpinnings of the planet and of nature, and of man in nature, assumed that he could not possibly mean what he said. It was alien to their system of belief. The logical conclusion, then, if he was not a monster, was that he was a fool or a liar. And they knew he was no fool.
Not one person in a thousand who opposed him could imagine that he might be principled. Much less did they attempt to imagine what those principles might be. His response was identical. He could not comprehend that they might be serious about finding social worth in leaving the land alone, untouched, without regard to the needs of man.
Their morality, he concluded, must be hideously twisted.
The 1980s, for Hazel, were a voluptuous expression of that old adage "Don't get mad, get even." Fairfax passed Washington, D.C., in population—600,000, 700,000, 800,000—becoming one of the larger local jurisdictions in America, with an annual budget of $2.3 billion and more than ten thousand employees. As one of the nation's five wealthiest counties, Fairfax became a template for America's future: five formidable Edge Cities rose there. Ah, vengeance was sweet. Fairfax was no longer a bedroom satellite. It was the New Dominion, with an economy and a power to make both the rest of the state and the District of Columbia quake.
In this decade Hazel's legal firm became pre-eminent at ensuring that the economic engines of progress could continue to build this new world. With its mortal lock on the state supreme court in Richmond long established, the firm extended its reach to the legislature, becoming the state's most powerful lobbying outfit. Hazel himself was spending little time as an attorney, though. He no longer represented developers. He'd become one. Everything from traditional subdivisions called Franklin Farm to a "new town" called Burke Centre came out of his partnerships. At one point, he had major projects at half the exits on Interstate 66 from the Beltway to the exit in the next county marked MANASSAS.
Hazel seemed even more ubiquitous than that. He contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns, especially those of conservative Republicans. He backed ventures from George Mason University, to the promotion of parimutuel race tracks (Virginia is horse country), to the Fairfax Symphony, to toll roads, to a football stadium aimed at removing the Washington Redskins from Washington, to the creation of a private academy, to a magazine called New Dominion, to a new outer Beltway, to a social club with an abundance of dark wood paneling on top of that singular Tycon Tower.
His brother, William A. Hazel, built his own earthmoving empire of twelve hundred employees. Brother Bill owned more heavy equipment than many African nations. The Hazel clan shared thousands of acres in a valley farther out Interstate 66, in Fauquier County. With their beautiful herds of Angus, the arrangement was about as suggestive of TV's Dallas as one finds in the East. The displays of wealth, though, were mercifully not all that vulgar. The sweeping drive to Til's red brick Georgian mansion resembled either an English formal garden or an interstate interchange, depending on your perspective. The house may have been larger than America's first supermarkets, but Til's library—the whole thing, including the floor-to-ceiling columns-was finely sculpted walnut. In the kitchen Hazel had installed a Vermont Castings Resolute wood stove, of which he was particularly fond. Vermont Castings was a totem of self-sufficiency to the environmental crowd. But Til had one too. It was one of the few things about which they could probably agree.
For it seemed that what Hazel was doing in realizing his dreams was burying his past. It was like watching Scarlett O'Hara vow she would never be hungry again. "The problems we have are ones of prosperity!" was the ammunition he shot back relentlessly at his critics. He could not believe that did not end the argument. If any public opprobrium ever got to him, Hazel was far too tough to reveal it. But there was one thing that seemed to mystify him a little. Why were people not more grateful? For all he'd done.
One Fauquier County neighbor of his, to be sure, recalled the blackberries. There was a hedgerow, a bank, that gave her great joy as she walked by it of a summer's dawn. It had three colors of morning glory, and twines thick with goldenrod and blackberries. The berries were there just for the picking. In a nearby field, there were great rosy puffs of the Virginia wildflower called Joe Pye, and wild sunflowers. There was Queen Anne's lace and wild asters and wild rose. The hedgerow was home to bluebirds. It had taken half a century to grow.
Hazel's crews came in and bombed it all with herbicides. Then they strafed it with weed eaters and bush hogs.
The neighbor tried to be rational about all this. It was, she accepted, Hazel's land. And the highly productive pastures that replaced her idyll had their own logic. But why, she asked plaintively, could they not have spared the blackberries and bluebirds at the edges? Were they not symbols of the beauty of Virginia?
She could no more begin to understand Hazel than Hazel could her. For Hazel really did have an intense feel for the land. He did know it, in his way, better than just about anyone: he knew it in the fashion of a Confederate general.
He saw how it could be used.
When Rebel commanders looked out over the land, they saw it as a place to hide divisions and funnel opposing forces for massacre. They saw high ground as a place to marshal artillery, streams as lines of defense, and thickets as snares for Foot soldiers.
And so exactly did Til look out on the land. He saw it as no different from coal or oil; it was a natural resource. That was why the most fervent swear word in his vocabulary was "Waste." Save an unspoiled 101-acre woodland that he wanted rezoned as an industrial site? He saw that as a waste. Surround houses with ten-acre lots? He also saw that as waste; the land could have supported forty families in affordable, quarter-acre comfort.
When he looked out over the land, he saw it as starkly vacant until the brilliance of the human mind was brought to it, to find its most ingenious use.
He sincerely did not comprehend how people could see things differently. He could understand the value of places that should be kept open for ball fields, or jogging trails, or picnic spots—for human use. But the idea that land should be left untouched, in and for itself, without reference to human use, because of some oddball idea that there should be reverence to an abstract notion of the land—well, it was beyond him. He was the bringer of civilization. Didn't they understand what "howling wilderness" was? His father certainly had. Did they not understand "civilization"? What did they have against the works of man?
The narrow view, he realized, would be to see his opponents as liars and fools, rich people caring only for themselves who wanted to pull up the drawbridge after they had achieved their dream of a nice home, without regard to any higher needs of civilization. But Hazel, especially as he grew older, was not the kind of man to organize his life around such poisonous formulations. He would do what he knew to be good, and let the chips fall—for those of narrow mind—where they may.
It was with this attitude that he turned to one of his most ambitious projects. It continued his inexorable march out Interstate 66, cracking open watersheds and converting farmland into things he knew would be used by thousands—like malls. It never occurred to him that there might be anything peculiar lying in wait for him around his newest five hundred acres in Prince William County. After all, as he would point out in one of those memorable phrases which made his opponents so crazy, "It's not a particularly pretty piece of ground. One of the worst we ever owned."
No way did he expect a confrontation in which Americans would end up fighting the same battle they had been fighting since the first settlers arrived, with the same sort of implications for the globe. No way did he imagine that he would open a gulf between those who believed in him and those who did not, which would turn out to be as large as any since the North and the South had fought on this very land, 125 years earlier, over issues that were in many ways similar.
Never did he believe that the very bones of those soldiers might rise up against his bulldozers, or that on land already filled with thousands of ghosts from over a century before, Americans would once again engage in a struggle over who they were, how they got that way, where they were headed, and what they valued.
It was easy to miss the small sign as the highway crossed a stream on approach to the land where Hazel's bulldozers began their great roar.
All the sign said was BULL RUN.
V: But What About the Land?
IN THE LATE 1500s, what most fascinated Englishmen about the New World "was the absence of anything like European society; here was a landscape untouched by history—nature un-mixed with art."
By the early 1900s, H. G. Wells and Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright were telling us we would soon mix nature with our artifacts to create extraordinary new cities. They would be surrounded by lawn, served by individual transport, crowned by skylights and atria, permeated by indoor trees and light, the climate would be controlled, and the potholes and puddles banished.
And we did it. Just as they said. We built Edge City.
Nagging questions remain. One is whether this world we are building will be a marvelous new synthesis in which all our urban functions will be artfully combined with nature in a "land in which to live, a symphonious environment of melody and mystery," as Benton MacKaye, the father of the Appalachian Trail, envisioned it over half a century ago. Or whether nature is about to be smothered by "a wilderness not of an integrated, ordered nature, but of . . . structures whose individual hideousness and collective haphazardness present that unmistakable environment we call the 'slum,' " as MacKaye caustically feared.
Precisely parallel is whether our polarized attitudes toward the price of change and progress will ever find a compromise of profit to all. The question is whether the forces of preservation and the forces of growth can ever somehow be resolved. Can the Garden—like aspects of what we are doing be encouraged while the hellish scourge restrained that despoils the land, crowds the schools, devours open space, jams traffic, and leaves nothing but a fast-food crisis for the soul?
It is no great mystery, of course, why the compromise is desperately needed. The battles of our last four centuries are coming to a head today because one of the most explosive building cycles in our history has been pursued at a time of competing demands on all our land.
There is little slack left in the system. Our dreams conflict. There is less "someplace else" to go. Few landscapes in the Lower Forty-Eight are not in some important sense man-made. Wildernesses continue to flourish, to be sure. But today, even apparently untouched landscapes are usually deliberate human artifacts. These wild vistas exist because one set of people, through purchase or government fiat, stepped in and prevented another set of people from using the land as they thought best. Even setting aside a landscape to remain pristine has become a choice of man, a function of his intelligence, of his benevolence; it is his creation. It becomes a land dedicated to a different kind of harvest. "The crop they raise is serenity, an article hard to come by in Megalopolis," wrote Jean Gottmann thirty years ago.
The noise of this conflict is greater than might seem justified, though. After all, if you housed every household in the United States in that beloved suburban "sprawl" density of a quarter-acre lot each, that would still take only around twenty-three million acres-1.22 percent of all the land in the United States even if you leave out Alaska. If you housed all these people at the moderately dense levels of such a leafy and bucolic planned community as Reston, Virginia, you could bring the amount of land in America covered by housing down under 1 percent of that in the continental states. In fact, right now, 70 percent of all Americans live on 1.5 percent of that land. The U.S. Census says that by the turn of the century, 75 percent of all Americans will live within fifty miles of a coast. It is easy to demonstrate that it is possible to build every single road and office and warehouse and vacation home this country will ever need—even at shockingly low densities, compared with that of the old downtowns—and still have more than 90 percent of everything else left for farm and wilderness.
Why then do all sides in the debate over the land seem so overwhelmed and embattled? Why does it have to be this way?
Because, of course, that is not what anybody perceives as the reality. Those who wish to build anew see themselves facing kamikaze opposition to sewers and roads and landfills and power plants and the works of man in general, opposition that drives their costs to astronomical heights, which they know is a moral outrage, which they know people can't afford. But they feel in a helpless bind, given all the alternatives they have been denied. They feel squeezed on one side by what they know human beings will buy, on a second by the laws of zoning and government regulation, and on a third by their economics and the biases of banks.
Those who wish to protect the land, meanwhile, continue to demonize developers. They cast them as rapacious despoilers, because they see the disappearance of the wetlands and forest and prairie that they treasure. Worse, they are mourning the blight of entire landscapes, for it takes only a little bit of modern development forever to alter a vista.
I conclude from all this noise that the only way we will ever arrive at a new and higher approach to our environment—the man-made environment every bit as much as the natural environment—is if we all somehow achieve a new and higher level of cooperation. "All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts," wrote Aldo Leopold in The Sand County Almanac, the twentieth century's Walden.
Wisdom, of course, is rarely in oversupply in the human condition. But Tony Hiss reported on a heartening amount of it in The Experience of Place. He neatly stated the challenge:
The places where we spend our time affect the people we are and can become. These places have an impact on our sense of self, our sense of safety, the kind of work we get done, the ways we interact with other people, even our ability to function as citizens in a democracy.
This means that whatever we experience in a place is both a serious environmental issue and a deeply personal one. Our relationship with the places we know is a close bond, intricate in nature, and nor abstract, not remote at all . . . The danger . . . is that whenever we make changes in our surroundings, we can all too easily shortchange ourselves . . .
The way to avoid the danger is to start doing three things at once: Make sure that when we change a place, the change agreed upon nurtures our growth as capable and responsible people, while also protecting the natural environment, and developing jobs and homes enough for all.
But how do we go about doing three things at once when we're still having trouble finding ways to do two things at once—helping the economy prosper while at the same time preventing damage to the environment?
Hiss, intriguingly, went on to spell out a logic with striking similarities to the thinking of Christopher Alexander. He saw a "science of place" arising, based on our built-in ability to experience our environs—and draw valid conclusions from how they make us feel. That, he believed, could yield commonsense approaches to replenishing the latitudes we love. The human animal has habitat needs. Not for nothing are academic and corporate campuses open and leafy. Since the 1850s, a "total environment" has been considered an indispensable aid to learning. In 1984 the journal Science reported, "View Through a Window May Influence Recovery From Surgery." Over a nine-year period, it turned out, gallbladder patients who could see a cluster of trees instead of a brick wall "had shorter postoperative stays" and "took fewer moderate or strong" painkillers.
Hiss also reported some practical approaches around the country that were meant to conserve our great good places without denying growth.
First, he made useful distinctions about what is to be conserved. There are three kinds of landscapes, he posited:
- Natural or primeval landscapes. Those which are perceived as not significantly altered or interfered with by humans—mountaintops and ocean vistas, for example.
- Working landscapes. The feel of these have been shaped by human activities, but in cooperation with nature over a length of time that seems comparable to those of natural processes—for example, Pennsylvania Dutch farmland, a Maryland Eastern Shore fishing village.
- Manufactured or urban landscapes. These are our old downtowns, our old suburbia, and our new Edge Cities.
The point of these distinctions is to draw attention to the special qualities of each, to establish that each has a highest and best level at which it can and should be maintained, and that humans need ready access to each in order to feel whole. For example, a working landscape—which frequently translates into one devoted to farms—is a place where the "terrain and vegetation are molded, not dominated," noted the landscape historian John Stilgoe, author of Borderland. It is a "fragile equilibrium between natural and human force." The biologist Rene Dubos wrote about the "charm and elegance" and "soft luminosity" of one of his favorite places in the world, the landscape of his childhood, the farm country of the Ile-de-France around Paris. Woods were cleared there, to be sure. But that gave rise to "an environmental diversity that provides nourishment for the senses and for the psyche . . . from the mosaics of cultivated fields, pastures, and woodlands, as well as from the alternation of sunlit surfaces and shaded areas." The oldest such working landscapes in America, by virtue of first settlement, are those in the stewardship of New England, the product of ten or eleven generations.
There are three ways that humans feel connected to the land around them that is worthy of preservation, reported Hiss:
- The sense of kinship with all life;
- The sense of partnership with working landscapes
- The sense of companionability that is traditionally fostered by villages and cherished urban neighborhoods.
These, too, are valuable distinctions.
I personally feel most pained when I see the land that for generations was a farm being ripped up for a subdivision or a shopping center. It usually would not occur to me to feel outraged at seeing fallow ground newly replanted with corn or wheat or cotton. I view that as one working use being replaced by another. Nor in the past has it broken my heart to see a strip shopping center being replaced by a high-rise. What is Mammon's, I felt, was Mammon's.
But in the course of talking to people around the country, I came to realize that my sense of discontinuity was hardly the only kind. I had conversations with serious young people who found it wrenching to see even second-growth forest being leveled to create farmland for big-time operations that they found barely removed—either sociologically or technologically—from corporate chemical plants.
Even more surprising to me, I found people who saw the end of their community—and thus the end of their world—in a transition from one kind of commercial landscape to another. They genuinely mourned the disappearance of what amounted to a 1950s strip shopping center. This place, where the hardware store full of judicious advisers on the mysteries of the mechanical had always been found, and where the luncheonette with its diagonal-to-the-curb parking had thrived for two generations, was their village. When it was replaced by the high-rise office towers and subway stops, they never returned. The soul of their world was gone.
This led me to a meditation on the word "unspoiled." What a ubiquitous word that has become! It is the word used to describe any variety of landscapes, immediately before the bulldozers rip through. Why is that? Why are the newest works of man held in such low regard?
There turn out to be a multiplicity of landscapes over which people are willing to die. Thus, Hiss suggested that the first step in establishing rationality about what we value is making a regional inventory of what we love. After all, we are now at the stage where it's possible to have an Edge City fifty miles or more from the old downtowns, our homes a forty-five-minute commute beyond that, and our "country place" a three- or five-hour drive beyond that. By this arithmetic it is clear there is almost no jurisdiction in America that shouldn't right now tap into its people's hidden expertise in the locale. Ask them: what places are there in the region whose change would cause a deep sense of melancholy? Albert F. Appleton, New York City's Environmental Protection Commissioner, suggested, "The first 5 percent of development in a countryside region generally does 50 percent of the damage, in terms of altering people's mental geography of an area. And the second 5 percent of development enlarges this damage by another 50 percent."
This inventory, however, is not as antigrowth a measure as it may sound. "Conservation," after all, is merely "a state of harmony between men and land," Leopold pointed out. Identifying where the emotional flashpoints are in the population is a surprise-reducing measure for everybody. This is especially useful to businesspeople. They hate surprises. By establishing which places people are willing to die for, they can turn their attention toward those other landscapes—hardly rare in this country—where there is plenty of room for improvement; where change and growth would be a blessing. There is a lot of land in this country. The issue is whether we can come to any agreement on what we do with it, where, and in what harmony.
Such an inventory is also useful in that it educates those who compile it. For one thing, it gives them a crash course in a line of reasoning they may not be familiar with: thinking like a developer. Given that the developers have obviously had far more success in shaping the landscape than those who are not students of the marketplace, this exercise is of no small use. How secure are these beloved places? who is in charge of them? A study of the regional landscape will soon make it clear even to the novice that development is not random or arbitrary or smoothly distributed. It is closely tied to such public investments as roads, sewers, and schools, as well as proximity to the same natural beauty that people wish to preserve.
The inventory also establishes the limits of any assessment that measures the worth of a piece of land only as a commodity; by its monetary exchange value. It establishes the importance of supplementing such a look.
"One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value," Leopold noted half a century ago. "Wildflower and songbirds are examples . . . when one of those noneconomic categories is threatened, and if we happen to love it, we invent subterfuges to give it economic importance. At the beginning of the century songbirds were supposed to be disappearing. Ornithologists jumped to the rescue with some distinctly shaky evidence to the effect that insects would eat us up if birds failed to control them. The evidence had to be economic in order to be valid."
The good news is that if the region examined is sufficiently large, the inventory will point to the soul-satisfying value not merely of large wild tracks but of the cherished less obvious landscapes, especially those within areas thought to be built up. Hiss used as an example the valley of the Blackstone River, the very first place in North America—in 1790, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island—to get a factory. The falls of the Blackstone powered textile mills for more than a century, and as recently as twenty years ago, the river was a paragon of pollution. Running through such gritty cities as Woonsocket and Central Falls, its waters were a stunning study of iridescent slicks. The skies above were frequently flocked with mysterious foam floating on the breeze.
Now, $150 million later, the river runs so clean that glass-bottomed tour boats ply the waters below Pawtucket's falls; the original factory, the Slater Mill, is a museum; the air smells sweet; it stays cool all summer; many of the river's banks are heavily wooded and feel almost remote. This restoration is an example of the partnership landscape that is possible even in an anciently built-up area. The proximity of such an amenity even encouraged gainful new development in the 1980s.
Finally, if preservationists started looking around at landscapes that they value and tried to figure out how to save them before they became embattled, they would probably discover what the developers have always known: that the most ironclad way to control the future of a piece of land is to own it. There is nothing like having a deed—or, almost as good, conservation covenants embedded in a deed—to ensure that land is used in ways you see fit. A trust like the Nature Conservancy, which operates on the same playing field as developers, is vastly more effective than any kind of regulatory measure such as zoning. The police powers of the state over land use have repeatedly been exposed for the flimsy, legally bendable reeds that they are. Most Edge Cities, no matter how many land-use restrictions and zoning codes have been written, do not look substantially different from Houston. And Houston historically has had no zoning laws at all.
The whole idea is to harness the apparently antithetical forces of the developers and the preservationists. Such a partnership would aim to recognize the human ecology as well as the natural one. The alliance would demonstrate a respect for the people who love the land as it is and the needs of people in the future. If it is easier for builders to find places where the value of their offices and shopping centers and homes are seen to fit, it will be easier to take the development pressure off the land that we wish to preserve.
The odds are high that we will not bother to search for such a peace. We will probably prefer our current course, beating at each other with clubs. There is little reason to expect that to avail; neither side will fold its tent any time soon. But conflict has almost become our ritual.
No small portion of the problem is that a partnership that would reckon with all the land would put an express burden on the people who wish to preserve the wild and working territory. Those who want to see such landscapes taken out of the cycle of the manufactured would have a new obligation: they would have to turn their attention back to the land on which man has already built. Holding their nose if they must, they would have to immerse themselves in Edge City, understanding why man built there, and why he built the way he did. That's what it would take to participate in realistic conversations about future building. An inviolate law of the land is this: only if life is perceived as pleasant and affordable by the real human beings living farther in, will there be any hope of relieving pressure on the land farther out.
"The fate of the American landscape, its ponds and hollows, its creeks and forests, its prairies, wet glades, and canyons, cannot be addressed solely in terms of 'Wilderness' or be solved by 'Wilderness preservation,' " wrote Barry Lopez. "What we face now in North America—and of course, elsewhere—is a crisis in land use, in how we regard the land.
"We need to rethink our relationship to the entire landscape. To have this fundamental problem of land ethics defined, or understood, as mainly 'a fight for the wilderness' hurts us . . . It preserves a misleading and artificial distinction between 'holy' and 'profane' land.
"If we have a decision to ponder now, it is how to (re)incorporate the lands we occupy, after millennia of neglect, into our moral universe. We must incorporate not. only our farmsteads and the retreats of the wolverine but the land upon which our houses, our stores, and our buildings stand. Our behavior, from planting a garden to mining iron ore, must begin to reflect the same principles . . .
"Wild landscapes are necessary to our being. We require them as we require air and water. But we need to create a landscape in which wilderness makes deep and eminent sense as part of the whole, a landscape in which wilderness is not an orphan." This "moral universe" must include the developers. But in this there is hope. For most builders share a distinct moral code: they genuinely believe they are providing a service to mankind. And they have a very quick, firm, and direct feedback mechanism on whether needs are met. If they fail correctly to guess what people want and need, they go bankrupt. Therefore, if those who are most sensitive to the future of the earth can direct some of their attention back toward the portion of it on which we have already built, the outline of a deal may appear.
We may find that this weird and incongruous new Edge City form is working with us as much as against us. For one thing, the landscape it represents is enormously malleable. It frequently changes almost beyond recognition from year to year. There is usually vastly more land tied up in an Edge City landscape than there are pressing uses. The parking lots alone represent a land bank of enormous size, waiting for a higher and smarter and more economic use. The buildings themselves are often regarded as having a life span of no more than twelve to twenty-five years. By then, the original logic of their use, or their electronic, mechanical, energy, ventilation, communications, or internal transport systems have been overrun by events. They are no longer competitive with the rest of the market. At that point, their owners become highly interested in new ways to retrofit or replace them. If at that point they can be convinced that there are cheaper or more effective methods of making their places useful and attractive than the usual routine of refitting a marble facade with a granite facade, there is a golden opportunity for those who wish to offer change.
Remember: Edge City has already done the cause of livability a great service. It has made a direct contribution to the environment in that it has smashed the very idea behind suburbia in ways that the old downtowns never did. Suburbia always was meant to be green, which is hard to argue with. But that was not its most important characteristic. It was originally meant to be a place specifically designed to get away from the environmental and social dislocations—the factories and slums—of the first hundred years of the Industrial Revolution. At least since William Blake first placed the "dark Satanic mills" in opposition to his beloved "green and pleasant land," Americans have been carrying around in their heads the despairing baggage that the price of growth was bad smells, foul water, deteriorated neighborhoods, and debased landscapes. That was why suburbs were invented. They were supposed to be places separate from the world of commerce and manufacture, places to which we could flee as soon as we could afford the move.
Edge City has ended all that. It reflects our passing from the Industrial Age to our current one. By moving the world of work and commerce out near the homes of the middle and upper-middle class, it has knocked the pins out from under suburbia as a place apart. It has started the reintegration of all our functions—including the urban ones of working, marketing, learning, and creating—into those once-suburban landscapes that, after all, are among the most affable we have built this century.
The challenge, then, is to get actively involved in improving Edge City so as to make it contribute once again to the environment, to take development pressure off the natural and working landscapes. "Man takes a positive hand in creation whenever he puts a building upon the earth beneath the sun," Frank Lloyd Wright believed. "If he has birthright at all, it must consist in this: that he, too, is no less a feature of the landscape than the rock, trees, bears, or bees of that nature to which he owes his being."
That Edge City is inherently decentralized may even make an ironic contribution to new partnerships. It may mean that we can forge them without dawdling around, waiting for some mystical "regional solution" to be arrived at by "experts" and executed by vast bureaucracies. It may simply involve, at a local level, highly diverse individuals having the guts to recognize that their lives are of limited duration, and their antagonists will be with them all their days. The next step is to reach out, no matter how hateful that may seem. If these ancient enemies insist on complications, let them hire a mediator. If that doesn't work, they can talk to a younger generation of the opposition. You may not be able to count on people to change, but you can count on them to die, and be replaced by a generation with a different life. By definition that means a distinct view.
Our civilization, in short, may be viewed as halfway home. With help from those who care most deeply about the land, and about quality of life, we may make some real progress toward that Garden. It would put environmentalists in the position of making the built environment in which we live one of their foremost concerns. An effort at cooperation that addressed the universal hunger for a more humane life might also attract the developers. If nothing else, it would offer hope of addressing the growth revolt, our great national stress reaction lashing out at rapid change of all kind, demanding it all be shut down. It may even rescue the developers' personal social standing from its current abysmal low.
That notion is admittedly a rosy one. Even I have difficulty imagining the National Trust for Historic Preservation sitting down with the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks, the Sierra Club sitting down with the Building Owners and Managers Association. Each recoiling from the alien, pathological beings across from them like the barroom scene in Star Mars. Rather an entertaining vision, actually.
But that is exactly what I am talking about. And who knows? Maybe we are at a cusp in how mankind builds, a rebirth of that uncommon wisdom called common sense. Human life has not always been like this. Perhaps we should give more credit to the redemption, even the perfectibility, of man. Such a partnership with each other, and with the land, would be one in which conservation and development were no longer antithetical, and dreams could be compared. Above all there would be this guarantee: the places you grow up caring about most will be there for you when you're ready to start a family of your own.
And finally, it may be the foundation for an agreement in which building with "life" would reflexively attempt to help heal the neighborhood and the region. It would gradually turn out to be viewed as simply a social obligation.
The virtue of this deal—as a deal—is that it beats the hell out of the reality we have now.
All we do now is fight, and fight, and fight.
Though, truth to tell, this is not the first time such internal dissension has raged. We are continually drawn to our Armageddon of a century and a quarter ago; it echoes to the days of our lives. We cluster to it in our battle re-enactments. It is our, Passion Play, our Iliad, our Agony, our Golgotha.
It is the Civil War.
In it we Americans fought each other over our most basic values-over who we are, how we got that way, and where we were headed.
That is why, when we fought, we fought to the bitter, ugly, final end.
VI: The Final Battle
IN THE DUST and the swirl of the 1988 battle in which Americans debated the moral worth of Til Hazel and his land, it was difficult, as always in war, to pinpoint exactly when the turn of fortune came.
It may have been the ad with the photo of the churning bulldozer and the words: "Without Your Support, the Soldiers Who Died at Manassas Will Be Turning Over in Their Graves."
The work of volunteer copy writers from an obscure Richmond agency, the advertisement was prepared for a ragtag collection of preservationists and history buffs called the Save the Battlefield Coalition. That ad hit people's hot buttons. The idea of the bones of the Civil War dead rising up from forgotten mass graves before the racking blades of the bulldozers as they pushed dirt for a mall—that really, really got to people.
The ad continued: "As you read this plea, bulldozers are razing a sacred place in American history. A place where the blood of over 28,000 men was spilled in two valiant struggles which would determine the fate of the American republic . . .
"Indeed, the slaughter was so great that the bodies were piled into mass graves. Many who died here were not men at all. They were little more than boys doing what they thought was right. "If developer John T. Hazel has his way, the tranquil 542 acre tract at Manassas Battlefield will be transformed overnight into a snarling traffic jam adjacent to a huge office park and shopping mall . . . This national historical site will no longer pay tribute to the men who paid the ultimate price for their country. Instead, it will pay tribute to plastic watches, fastfood, movie theatres and video stores . . . If Manassas battlefield can be turned into a parking lot, then is any part of our heritage safe from developers? Help us stop the 'progress.' "
Then again, maybe the turning point was the testimony of Princeton's James M. McPherson before a panel of the U.S. Senate.
McPherson's book, Battle Cry of Freedom, having been widely reviewed as the best one-volume history of the Civil War, had just rocketed to the national best-seller lists on its way to winning the Pulitzer Prize, contributing to the most unprecedented wave of interest in that conflict since the bloodshed actually stopped.
McPherson called Stuart's Hill—the site that Hazel had bought and rechristened William Center—"one of the most significant Civil War monuments I've ever seen—the Virginia monument to Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia." McPherson told the senators: "The property is equally important in historical significance to Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg, where Longstreet and Lee had their headquarters, from which Pickett's Charge was launched.
"I think this issue is of importance to the United States Congress, but more than that, it is important to all of the American people. This is a significant part of our national heritage. What was at stake in the Civil War and at Second Manassas and in the William Center tract was the very fate of the nation. Whether it would be one country or two, would be a nation with slavery or without slavery. That part of our heritage can best be understood by studying it. And Civil War battles can best be studied by going to the battlefields. Walking them as I've done to this one several times. Bicycling over them as I've tried to do in the midst of the traffic that we've heard about today.
"I would have liked to go to the William Center tract—to go on Stuart's Hill—so that I could see from that height the large part of the battlefield, to go where Longstreet's troops were, and to try to understand why Fitz John Porter would not attack across there. That has not been my opportunity in the past, but I hope that as a result of congressional action it will be my opportunity in the future."
Maybe it was the cumulative work of the world media. Every outfit with a Washington bureau from Lime to the Japanese newspapers saw the larger implications of this battle. Their reports, day after day, had their impact, congressional mailbags showed. Especially powerful was the piece on CBS Sunday Morning, the host of which is Charles Kuralt, that doyen of the American landscape. That was the one with the chopper shots showing the land laid open like a raw red wound beneath the frenzied earthmovers. Even more wrenching were the clear young voices, backed by two acoustical guitars, singing the battle hymn of the resistance as the camera panned a golden landscape of split-rail fence:
So I drove out to Manassas
Stood alone and watched the sunset
I imagined I could see grandfather fall.
Behind the place where he was standing
Just before the bullet took him
Is where they're gonna build a shopping mall.
when all was said and done, however, the pivotal moment—like Pickett's Charge—probably came watching Annie Snyder cry.
Annie was not the kind of woman you ever expected to see cry. Snyder, the sparkplug and ringleader of the Save the Battlefield Coalition, had a curious face. Its lower half was that of a man. She had a powerful jaw, a broad nose, and cheeks flat as plates. Nonetheless, from the bridge of her nose up, she really was quite a vamp, her eyes flashing brilliantly, even vivaciously, beneath the fashionably short cut of her auburn hair. In fact, she was more sensitive about her good looks than might be thought common in a woman of sixty-seven, even if she did appear fifteen years younger. When a builder's magazine referred to her as a little old lady, she went so crazy as to send the publication a rather fetching photo of herself doing aerobics in tights, which of course they proceeded to print. As she discussed the work of various national reporters who had reported sympathetically on "her" battlefield, it was as if she were reminiscing about old flames.
The contradictions were not all in her face. The more innocent and exposed Annie seemed, the more her incongruities had the capacity to startle. They might include her casual references to her professional prowess as a long-gun marksman. Or her years picking up calves that weighed ninety pounds. Annie weighed 135. Or her devout belief in conservative Republicanism. Or the way she could consciously choose to adorn her lima bean-sized earlobes with large, flat earrings the crimson color of which matched exactly the red of the U.S. Marine Corps emblem on her polo shirt.
Annie's history was as illuminating of the strains on America at midcentury as was Til Hazel's. Anne D. Snyder, née Annie Delp, was born nine years before Til, in 1921. The daughter of a prosperous Pittsburgh attorney, she was as intellectually gifted as Hazel, accelerating through high school to enter college at sixteen. She was also just as bull-headed.
"I'll tell you how I got liberated," she recalled. "I grew up in a neighborhood of boys. There were no girls. We lived next to a farm, and we were allowed to play baseball and football in their pasture. So I grew up with all these boys. I could play football as well as the rest of them. But when I started developing bosoms they decided I was an embarrassment to them and they kicked me off the football team. I've been a women's libber ever since. That made me so mad. Yeah! So it was perfectly normal for me to join the Marine Corps."
Which she did. The outbreak of World War II found her enrolled in the law school at the University of Pittsburgh—hardly routine or even welcome at that time. But as the war progressed, she espied a challenge that made any law school malevolence seem ludicrous. "I'm a flag waver. Yeah, really. My brother was a Marine," she said simply, to explain what she did next.
Annie left law school to join the first class of women to graduate Marine Officers Candidate School. Then she became a recruiter, attracting other young women to the world of Leathernecks.
The men hated all of it. The Marines were absolutely the last service to accept women. They capitulated only because of the exigencies of war. " 'Free a man to fight' was our motto," Snyder recalled. Her father was beyond shocked. "The men had the idea all women in uniform were prostitutes." She constantly had to conquer men's worlds, proving her mettle not only to other Marines, but to her own family, as well as the fathers and brothers of the women she was trying to recruit.
"When I graduated from OCS I was a recruiter in New Orleans, and the day I arrived—my first plane trip—the commanding officer said, 'Come on, Lieutenant, you have to give a speech at the St. Charles Hotel in twenty minutes.' I'll never forget it. The St. Charles had these gorgeous, gorgeous staircases, ceilings forty feet high. Very impressive to a twenty-one-year-old. We go careening up these steps and over to this room and I looked in and there were 150 men sitting there. I was just stunned. I backed up; I thought we were in the wrong place. What the hell was I doing talking to men? Well, you didn't have to talk the women into joining. You had to talk their fathers, husbands, sons. My job was to convince them that I wouldn't be selling their daughters into prostitution. The male chauvinist pigs in this country. To somebody living in your era, that might just seem incredible, I know."
When Snyder mustered out of the Marines after the war, it was with some magnificent life stories to tell, and a marriage to Waldon Peter (Pete) Snyder, one of the Marines' earliest Pacific Theater aviators. Pete would soon join a new elite: airline pilots. But Annie would come away with a life foundation singular for young women of that day and time: there were not many challenges she would ever view as daunting. Not compared with what she'd already done. She and Pete ended up buying a 150-acre Angus cattle operation in Prince William County that Annie ran for twenty-eight years. "I think I'm the only woman in the world who annually asked for something for Christmas that I never got. And that was a hay-bale elevator." She and the kids ended up throwing hundreds of tons of hay way up into the loft by hand over the years.
The farm turned out to have a stream running through it called Little Bull Run. It was an accident of geography that would end up changing her life as she fought fight after fight for the battlefield next door, which she came to love.
All those fights. And of course it ended up with Annie squaring off against the most powerful force in the region, Til Hazel. It's curious, but Hazel's most persistent and successful opponents in life have been women. In fact, throughout America, from California to Texas to Florida, it is striking how often, whenever the partisans in the battle over progress collide, the builders are men, and the preservationists, women. It is by no means a hard-and-fast divide. There is always crossover. But throughout history, there is a pattern. Joseph Campbell discussed it in The Power of Myth. "Society is always patriarchal. Nature is always matrilineal. Since her magic is that of giving birth and nourishment, as the earth does, her magic supports the magic of the earth. She is the first planter. The hunter is an individual in a way that no farmer will ever be."
The media would enjoy describing the cataclysm between the forces marshaled by Annie Snyder and those of Til Hazel as the Third Battle of Bull Run. But that clever label was misleading; it suggested that the fight was the only one since the gunfire. That was by no means right. The intense struggles over the use of the land began almost before the Rebel yells—heard for the first time at Manassas—had died away. The land was bought by a real estate speculator only weeks after the battle in 1861. He thought it would make a good tourist attraction.
The fields were haunted by ghosts of battles that always seemed to swirl around Manassas. For it was there, in the First Battle of Bull Run—only three months after Fort Sumter fell—that it first became clear there would be no cheap victory, no quick score.
Annie counted the 1988 struggle as her sixth Third Battle of Manassas. And she got started only in the second half of the twentieth century. One reporter checking the clips back to 1890 counted it as at least the tenth.
Snyder's first battle came in the 1950s, over the interstate. That was an awesome struggle. Deflecting the intentions of freeway engineers in those days was unheard of—even if they did see the shortest distance between two points as straight through the middle of a historic battlefield. In the end, however, deflected they were. The battle is marked on the atlases of Ambattles might have come to an end. For decades, the Prince William County government had tried to encourage commercial development. It was urgently needed to help meet the crushing tax burden of providing schools and services for all the residential subdivisions popping up around one of the fastest growing jurisdictions in the nation. The county had earmarked nearly six hundred acres adjacent to the interstate—and thus, incidentally, next to the National Battlefield Park—as among the most promising sites. In the late 1970s, the county had fought desperately to prevent those woods and fields from being included in the National Park. They wanted jobs there. So in 1986, the Hazel/Peterson Companies came up with a plan. Its centerpiece, the county believed, would be a wooded Edge City corporate park of glass and steel and trees for highly educated, high-tech, white-collar workers. It would be screened from the battlefield. The traffic impact, it was promised, would be minimal. It seemed that the outline of a decent compromise was at hand. Those like Snyder who had fought so much for the battlefield were hardly happy with the idea of having mid-rise offices where Longstreet swept forward to close the vise on the Federals. But if development was inevitable, a relatively classy and low-rise Planned Mixed-Use Development such as the one the Hazel/Peterson Companies were proposing, with 560 new homes and 2.9 million square feet of commercial space—half the size of downtown San Antonio—might be about as good a deal as they were going to get. Hazel/ Peterson ran tours of their office park eight miles down the interstate, at Fair Lakes. It did indeed have trees and lakes and geese. The shopping area was small scale. Politics, after all, is the art of the possible. The special PMD zoning ordinance was passed. And that seemed to be about the end of that. Annie even announced her retirement as an activist. The doctors had read her the riot act. If she didn't slow down, they told her, a combination of ills threatened her life. In the Washington Post article intending to bid her farewell and recap her long history of struggle, however, up cropped another of those Annie Snyder incongruities. She was photographed out in one of her lovely fields, attractively dressed. But what she was leaning on was her shotgun. Almost as if she knew.
when the final battle resumed in Manassas on January 28, 1988, it started with a shock like a thunderclap on a sunny day. without warning, Hazel/Peterson announced a change in plans. The future corporate campus at William Center needed a shot in the arm, they announced. So they were going to switch some uses in their Planned Mixed-Use Development. Almost half the 2.9 million square feet of nonresidential use to which they were entitled was not going to be corporate campus after all. The page one headline in the Washington Post the next day said it all: HUGE: MALL PLANNED AT MANASSAS. 6oo-Acre Project to Be Located Near Battlefield
"It excites me in the sense that we're no longer going to stand in the shadow of Fairfax County," said the Prince William supervisor representing the district. "This is going to be nicer than Fair Oaks," he said, referring to the mall of astounding size only eight miles away with 1.4 million square feet and 213 stores.
Once again, the earth moved. But this time the shudder was an emotional and political Richter reading far above anything Manassas had felt in a century.
In the torrent of abuse directed at Til Hazel during the ensuing weeks, "double-crossed," "defrauded," "cheated," and "deceived" were among the more printable words. Hazel swore that when the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation—the largest shopping center developer in the United States—approached him with the idea of putting one of their five-anchor, 1.2-million-square-foot behemoths next to the battlefield, it was a bolt out of the blue. A mall was the furthest thing from his mind at the time. Although, truth to tell, he'd always felt a little un-comfortable about whether the market was really ready for office parks this far out into the countryside. When the idea came up, he said, he decided that the mall was needed as a "catalytic agent" to attract corporate offices on the remaining acreage at William Center. ""That's been the history of malls all over the country," he said. "They bring along offices." And besides, his spokesman pointed out, it was a done deal. There would be no chance to challenge the decision, no public hearings. No additional action by the county supervisors would be required. The head of the National Park Service could write as many letters as he wished saying that the new plan "does not even resemble the good faith agreements we thought had been made." They would be beside the point. The language of the rezoning that the county had gratefully accepted two years before had been very carefully crafted by Hazel's pre-eminent legal arm. There was nothing in there about "corporate parks" or "malls." All it had been written to say was that permission was hereby granted to develop 2.9 million square feet of nonresidential space.
Hazel thought that said it all. Little did he know. He had rumbled a deep sleeping fault in the American psyche, a revolt against everything about growth that Americans had come to despise. If there was any one piece of paper that said it all, it was not the boilerplate in the legal documents. The mark that something different was afoot was the brand-new sticker on the bumper of Charlie Graham's truck. It read:
"Have a Nice Day. Shoot a Developer."
This was no small deal. Charlie made his living as a carpenter.
As it turned out, there were historic dimensions to that tension between Graham's chosen profession and his bumper sticker. Graham was the kind of independent cuss who carried a Civil War-replica .58-caliber black-powder Minie-ball Springfield rifle into battle re-enactments. Even though he was yet another Fauquier County Virginian, he wore the Union uniform of the 116th Pennsylvania. The Harvard historian William R. Taylor described such romantics at the end of his 1957 work Cavalier and Yankee. The Old South and American National Character. The Charlie Grahams of the 1980s were those young, mustachioed, skilled small-business entrepreneurs who made so much of America tick. As Taylor described them, they were the direct psychological descendants of the Southern yeomen whom Thomas Jefferson revered and saw as the foundation of the Republic. They were "ardent and impassioned," "strongly partisan to liberty," "vigorous and more natural than the gentleman planter," possessing "a great natural intelligence" and a "chivalric sense of honor." At the same time, they were just plumb ornery—and of precious little comfort to those in positions of authority. In this way, in short, they were the reincarnation of the original Virginia Cavaliers, said Taylor. Those Cavaliers, of course, were the men who saw the land of America in 1607 as the Garden.
Poor Hazel. In hindsight there is a kind of awful inevitability to it all. The women who saw themselves guarding the flame of Western civilization would take him high. They would succeed largely by not playing the game of dollars and numbers he played, by the rules he knew. They would appeal to the truths recognized by the heart, a practice he viewed as underhanded and dastardly, if not immoral. Meanwhile the swashbucklers, the Cavaliers—of whom there were more than a few feisty enough to have become United States senators—would take him any way they could get him.
Hazel, the Pilgrim lawyer, had it all correct, legally. But he had it all wrong in the terms that turned out to matter—those of human emotion and the American Zeitgeist. He made the same two errors as the Union at Bull Run a century and a quarter before. First, he gravely underestimated what he was up against. Second, he was blindsided by the counterattack.
But that is only hindsight. In the early days of the struggle, there seemed to be no possibility that he could lose. when the battle cry of freedom rose once again, it sounded as forlorn as ever in its time. The first day that the plans for the mall were announced, the sound of the opposition seemed hollow. "It would destroy the battlefield," the newspaper quoted a lonely "civic activist"—one Annie D. Snyder—as saying. "We'll fight it with everything we've got."
What is it about malls? Is it not in fact curious that it took the idea of constructing a mall—specifically a mall—to elicit such a reaction to the idea of building on hallowed ground? In a way, Hazel had a point when he failed to anticipate the reaction his switch would ignite. Office buildings place just as much steel and concrete on the landscape as malls d0 Just as much asphalt is laid to get to them. What's the big deal about shifting the ground to a mall?
Opponents answered the question by trotting out traffic stud-ies. The mall would attract gridlock at different times from office buildings-on weekends, when tourists came to enjoy the serenity of the battlefield, not just nine to five. True. But so what? Since when do dry traffic studies arouse feelings of sacrilege? That explanation hardly seemed to satisfy.
Biblical explanations were offered. Perhaps we Americans are more tolerant of the places where people make money than we are of the places where they spend it. Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple, it was observed. He did not throw the fishermen out of the boat. But again, does that explanation satisfy? Since when has shopping been seen as sinful in this country? Some anthropologists view the shopping bag as the most human of archeological artifacts. Other vertebrates, they point out, wouldn't believe the effort humans put into gathering material from all sorts of places to bring it home and share it with others of their species. Most sensible creatures eat it where it lies.
No, it seemed to be something about that symbol, that place—the mall—that was getting to us.
Maybe it worked like this. The force that drove the creation of Edge City was our search deep inside ourselves for a new balance of individualism and freedom. We wanted to build a world in which we could live in one place, work in another, and play in a third, in unlimited combination, as a way to nurture our human potential. This demanded transportation that would allow us to go where we wanted, when we wanted. That enshrined the individual transportation system, the automobile, in our lives. And that led us to build our market meeting places in the fashion of today's malls.
In theory, at least, the malls exemplified our devotion to individualism. The major way analysts distinguish one from another is by how many unusual shops each has. The most upscale malls are those which strive successfully to deliver something different. Something special. They offer goods and experiences not available elsewhere—an impossibly chic boutique, a special art exhibit on the weekend, an expensive antiquarian bookstore. The more downscale malls are those with little individuality, where the goods and chain stores and events are undistinguished and indistinguishable from those available anywhere else. What does that say? That the moment we have a little extra money, the first thing we do—once again—is strive toward expression of our individualism.
Perhaps that is why the malls at the centers of our Edge Cities so frustrate us. The very moment they succeed in finding a way to help us express our individuality, their distributive function denies it—by spreading it nationwide. The crossed tusks of Banana Republic were transformed from a distinctive statement of San Francisco hip to a mall cliché in a period measured in heartbeats.
Long after the battle for William Center was over, Robert C. Kelly, Til Hazel's spokesman, was still groping to explain how he managed to run himself into a buzz saw. Kelly, being a thoughtful man who took pride in his ability to get along with people, finally explained it to himself this way. Developers, he said, are agents of change. That is what they do. That is what they are for. That is their social and economic role. They look for ways to convert land profitably from one use to another.
And, Kelly concluded, that is what the American people at last began to rebel against. The Change.
Fair enough. Kelly was on to something. But perhaps he did not push his logic far enough. He didn't take the next step. What, then, was the problem with the Change?
Maybe it was the way the change was so impersonal, driven only by the relentless logic of the marketplace, which is wildly efficient but incapable of quantifying the human ecology of a place, its sense of home, the intangibles of our culture. Maybe that's why when we see the bulldozers, we cringe. Maybe deep down we see the problem as the Change denying—even attacking—the specialness of our lives. We see it as attacking the very individuality and individualism that we had been building this stuff to achieve in the first place. Each piece of the new world we build caters to our dreams of freedom. But right now, the totality does not make us feel like individuals. It makes us feel like strangers. Strangers in our own land. we look around and recognize nothing. It is all changing so fast, we cannot find our own place in the universe. Not even our old house or favorite hangout. It alienates us. Sometimes we barely recognize ourselves.
Now that would be a contradiction in our souls. That would explain a lot about our reaction to Manassas. It would also explain why our heart sinks when we see a threat to other landscapes that we love.
We see those places as distinct. As one of a kind. Just like each of us. And to the extent that they are removed from the face of the earth—especially to be replaced by a symbol of homogeneity like a mall—well. It would be the symbol of the mass, of the ubiquitous, of the ordinary, destroying the singular, the irreplaceable. And just to that extent would we see the singular and the irreplaceable in our own lives, in our very selves, diminished.
Maybe that is also why we cling so tenaciously to whatever history we can. Maybe that is why we are rallying to save sad Art Deco movie houses and Main Streets with old Kresge's. This is us, we say; this is our time. Time is the only thing we have. Time is the measure of our lives. These places are our memories of a time when our identities were clear. And you're taking that away.
Perhaps that is why the idea of violating Manassas—the symbol of a place where our ancestors died to define us as Americans, our basic sense of self-made something snap. And if that is true, it would offer a new reason to believe that we may be at a turning point.
Perhaps if we can reach down into ourselves to understand truly what we value, we can hope to move forward. If we understand and involve ourselves in our built environment and the way it reflects our lives, maybe we can break through to higher ground. Then we may find a means of measuring Edge City on a scale in addition to its exchange value, its worth as real estate. We may be able to assess the way it nurtures the individualism and freedom to which it was meant to speak in the first place.
It's a long shot, to be sure. But if we are coming to the point where we can appraise Edge City in terms of how it nourishes our relationship with one another, as well as our relationship to the land, it would mean that the world of the immigrant and the pioneer is not dead in America. It has moved out to Edge City, where gambles are being lost and won for high stakes. Of course Edge City is cracked and raw right now, and subject to a lot of improvement. But if it is really the sum of our hopes, then maybe someday it will be seen as historic. As historic, in its way, as our most revered battlefields. For Edge City, then, would be seen by future generations as the creation of a new frontier.
It would be a new frontier being shaped by the free, in a constantly reinvented land.
The first mass meeting in opposition to the William Center mall, on Friday, February 5, 1988, did not make strong men quake. Yes, an American flag hung upside down in distress from the Groveton Road overpass, and yes, 227 people gathered at the visitors' center of the National Battlefield Park. Yes, they reached deep into their wallets to finance the impending legal battles. But the take? Fifty-six hundred dollars. Heartwarming, but beside the point. There were not many ways to challenge the legalities of the mall. With the news full of budget deficits and draconian spending cuts, the idea of the federal government stepping in to buy the land at a projected cost of $50 million or more seemed ludicrous.
Hazel's machines soon ground at the earth with breakneck speed. Quartz lights turned the night into death-pallor day as crews worked round the clock, double shift, blasting dynamite as late as 1:30 A.M. to tunnel a sewer under Interstate 66. Legions of belly-dumping earthmovers wheeled at speeds akin to tanks on flank attack. An antebellum-style house disappeared one night; all that was left were the surrounding trees. Dust clouds as if from brigades on maneuver rose to the sky. Wetlands were banked. Chain saws roared. If Hazel thought the land was not "particularly pretty" in its original state, when it was planed of all its green it made people sick. Hazel chastely claimed that the delirious attack of the heavy equipment was normal just meeting contract schedules. Could he help it if that drove the cost of condemning the land higher and higher, to unthinkable peaks?
The frenzied destruction backfired. The national and international media knew a great story when they saw one. The red, raw ground, the bulldozers running roughshod, probably over Confederate bones—it was agonizing. And galvanizing. The National Park Service likened it to "booking a roller derby in the Sistine Chapel." The idea that in a matter of weeks that portion of the battlefield would be completely gone drew high-powered action. Some of the country's leading preservation groups, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Parks and Conservation Association, took on Manassas as a cause celebre. Tersh Boasberg, a nationally recognized preservation attorney, was retained. Jody Powell—the high-profile and savvy former presidential press secretary with the politically useful Southern drawl—came on board as a tactician and spokesperson.
It was he who sat by Annie Snyder in the congressional hearing room and delivered the impassioned speech that made the big fat tears run down Annie Snyder's cheeks.
"On that little hill, Mr. Chairman, history is palpable. Today you can see it and feel it . . ." As Powell orated, the network cameras were zooming in tight, filling screens nationwide with Annie's face. Her blue eyes filling to overflowing. Her face scrunched up as she fought unsuccessfully to control her lower lip. "You can see it and feel it, a blood-soaked piece of Virginia countryside." In countless living rooms around the country, viewers discovered that they, too, seemed to have something in their eyes.
Those who knew Annie well knew that she could, in fact, get emotional about the way her husband dealt with dirty dishes. But, as always in human affairs, that was beside the point. What mattered was a woman like Annie puddling up before U.S. congressmen on national television, over a battlefield and a landscape that she clearly loved so deeply. It was not something the citizens of the Republic saw every day. The signatures on petitions from around the country rolled in by the tens of thousands. Events did turn.
In some ways, the war for Manassas and the future of our lives will never end. But Friday, October 7, 1988, will probably be marked by future historians as the decisive battle, even if it didn't seem that way at the time. That is when Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas—the kind of Cavalier that The Almanac of American Politics described as "challenging" and "the town iconoclast"—got up in the well of the Senate.
Bumpers, the respected chairman of the National Parks and Forests Subcommittee, gave a long, impassioned, and very Southern version of history that night. It was late. The sense of the Senate was that everybody desperately wished to be someplace else—especially home campaigning in the election season that marked the end of the Reagan years. Nonetheless, an astounding number of senators remained on the floor to listen to history.
"[Longstreet] sent out a couple of brigades to see what the strength of the Union was right here." Bumpers pointed to the Civil War maps behind him. "And this occurred on the William Center tract, bear in mind. He found out that the Union was there in strength. He pulled those brigades back and deployed all thirty thousand of his men in woods. Those woods are still there. You go down there right now and you will see where Longstreet had his men deployed behind all those trees down there . . .
"Sixteen thousand men in about forty-eight hours either lost their lives or were wounded in this battle. It was perhaps the third bloodiest battle of the war. Lee, after he won this, thought France and England would recognize the Confederate States. But they were not quite ready. They said you have not won a battle in Northern soil. So Lee took his troops to Antietam."
The Battle of Antietam began three weeks later, on September 17. It was the most awful battle of our bloodiest war.
"I told you about these hospitals. They are our Confederate troops buried on this property around the hospitals . . . I believe strongly in our heritage and think our children ought to know where these battlefields are and what was involved in them. I do not want to go out there ten years from now with my grandson and tell him about the Second Battle of Manassas. He says, 'Well, Grandpa, wasn't General Lee in control of this war here? Didn't he command the Confederate troops?'
" 'Yes, he did.'
'Well, where was he?'
" 'He was up there where that shopping mall is.'
"I can see a big granite monument inside that mall's hallway right now: General Lee stood on this spot.
"If you really cherish our heritage as I do, and you believe that history is very important for our children, you will vote for my amendment. I yield the floor."
James A. McClure, the reserved Idaho Republican who has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate, got up in opposition to the Bumpers amendment. But he actually added fuel to the greater argument over the land. Said he:
"There is not a single battlefield free from development pressures. We are not just talking about Manassas, we are talking about what is going to happen to every one of the other elements of the National Park System where battlefields are involved . . . A cable franchise in Frederick, Maryland, proposes construction of a 160-foot microwave reception and transmission tower on Red Hill, less than one mile from Bloody Lane, the center of the Antietam Battlefield.
"Does it sound familiar in the context of this debate?
"A 100-foot microwave tower threatens the Bolivar Heights Battlefield associated with Major General T. J. (Stonewall) Jackson's siege and capture of Harpers Ferry, the site of the largest surrender of U.S.-led troops. Such a structure, within five feet—I repeat, five feet—of the park boundary will impair not only the battlefield but also much of the skyline about historic Harpers Ferry.
"Sound familiar in the context of this debate? "Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park's greatest need is to establish a legislated boundary, as land immediately adjacent to the park is scheduled for development." He went on and on. Cold Harbor, threatened by development from an expanding Richmond. Kenesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Georgia. Vicksburg, Chickamauga-Chattanooga, and Stones River. "The list," he acknowledged, "is overwhelming." Where will this all end?
In context, he was asking a budgetary question. "This will not be an acquisition for spare change. By this action we are signaling other landowners at other sites that the way to obtain federal funds is to destroy, or threaten to destroy, resources which the federal government has authorized for acquisition but which have not filtered to the top of the annual appropriations process; or, as in the case of Manassas, resources which are not even within the boundaries of an established park."
Of course in the context of our futures, he was asking a more profound question, perhaps more profound than he knew. Where, indeed, will this battle over the land all end?
Then again, maybe McClure did have an inkling. In what was meant to be his clinching argument, he said, "Perhaps the most significant battle of the entire Manassas Battlefield with respect to the William Center tract is that being fought now, not the ones that were fought there 125 years ago."
With that, he sat down, and the Senate came to a roll-call vote.
Boschwitz . . .
It was not at all clear what the result would be.
. . . Thurmond.
The votes were tallied. The vote was 50 to 25 in the U.S. Senate to save the battlefield.
Senator John Warner of Virginia, the Republican who had tried to find some wiggle room between the two absolute positions of this battle—who had tried to write legislation that amounted to a compromise on the cheap—voted against the bill. But the instant the vote was tallied, he got up to save his soul: "Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to vitiate [cancel] the roll-call vote."
The acting president pro tempore: "Is there objection? Hearing none, it is so ordered."
That was the passing of the amendment. At that moment on October 7, 1988, the people of the United States of America redeemed their heritage.
On October 12, the Senate passed the tax bill to which the amendment was a rider. A Reagan veto seemed likely. Two days later, the battlefield measure survived conference with the House.
On Friday, October 14, George Bush, in a speech in La Jolla, California, tried to cast himself as a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt, distancing himself from the years of controversy over Ronald Reagan's restrictive environmental policies.
"In George Bush you will have a president committed to conservation," he said. Bush promised to "strengthen and preserve our parks" under a new program called America the Beautiful, and to seek new Clean Air legislation. He vowed to pursue reductions in acid rain pollutants, stop ocean dumping of sludge and medical wastes, enforce the Superfund restrictions, convene an international conference on the environment, back new parkland acquisition in the California locate in which he spoke, "take a very close look" at his earlier opposition to restrictions on offshore drilling in the area, back urban "greenways," propose using oil and gas tax revenue funds to finance new park acquisitions, and create a new National Endowment for the Environment.
The fate of the Manassas bill, however, was still a cliff-hanger. Negotiations between key House and Senate conferees over the tax bill in which it was embedded broke off. It appeared almost certain that a tax compromise could not be worked out before Congress adjourned at the end of the week. By October 21, the headlines read BILL TO BUY MALL SITE NEARS FAILURE.
Nonetheless, at 1 A.M. on the twenty-second, in the legislative equivalent of seconds left to play as both houses rushed to adjourn, the bill did pass. On Wednesday, November 2, it reached the White House.
On Friday, November 11, without fanfare or even comment, Ronald Reagan signed it.
November 11, 1988, was one and a quarter centuries, less eight days, from Lincoln's Gettysburg address.
"The moment the ink from the president's pen was dry," reported John F. Harris in that Saturday's Washington Post, "ownership of the property transferred from the developer, Northern Virginia's Hazel/Peterson Cos., to the federal government as an addition to the adjacent 3800-acre Manassas National Battlefield Park.
"'We're done,' said Robert Kelly, a spokesman for Hazel/Peterson Cos. 'My understanding is we're supposed to leave the property in an orderly fashion . . . and we'll be doing that.' "
Harris noted that Hazel would make a fortune on the taking. The federal government ultimately paid $81 million for the William Center property. Hazel had bought the land for $11 million two years before.
But it was a wonder nonetheless, and the next morning Annie Snyder led fifty of her resistance fighters into the promised land. They marched onto Stuart's Hill for the first time, the land on which the frenzied workings of the machines had just been stilled. Soon, signs around the perimeter of the once but not now future William Center were posted by park rangers. They encircled three model homes, a stretch of four-lane divided road, water and sewer work, and bulldozed site preparation throughout most of the eastern section of the 542-acre place. The sledgehammers drove the message home. U.S. PROPERTY, the signs read.
The few early stalwarts of the Save the Battlefield Coalition had long before promised one another—back when they most needed promises to each other, for other promises were so scant—that if they ever won this battle, on the first Saturday afterward they would have a ceremony of thanksgiving. If the bulldozers were ever stilled, to thank the Lord for the miracle—which at times had seemed as improbable as the parting of the Red Sea—they would gather one more time to honor the spirit of the place.
That Saturday, November 19, dawned foul. As they gathered near the site of one of the houses that had been used as a field hospital during the war, the air was dank and chill. The drizzle was steady.
But that did not dampen the spirits of the coalition. They had survived 104 degree heat the previous July when they held a massive rally at the battlefield. It featured a March of the Ghosts, in which specters with astonishing resemblances to Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart had prowled the land as drums rolled and bagpipes keened. A little rain and cold would not disturb them. And, they laughed, they finally had few tactical considerations. It's not as if they had to worry anymore about the television cameras shorting out. This was for the faithful.
That is why, as the small crowd of 14o began their hymns and their prayers while the rain continued to fall, they wondered exactly how it had happened. When the engine roar came from the north, they murmured to each other, where in the name of God will this all end?
If they thought the war was ended, they were wrong.
The roar came from a small, single-engine plane. It passed over them again and again, across the lowering skies, its low-altitude buzz a never-ending pain. It would not go away. It seemed it would always be there. As indeed it would resonate into the future.
The Cessna pulled a banner behind its tail, through the cold mists over the battlefield of centuries. Once again it proclaimed defiance. Endless defiance. It promised that the war was not over among the Americans. The battle would be fought again that had been fought this year, for it was the same battle that we had fought on this very ground twice, a century and a quarter ago. The same battle we've been struggling with since we first landed permanently on these shores, in 1607 and 1620 It came down to who we are, how we got that way, where we're headed, and what we value. Whether we will ever resolve the difference between what we can do and what we should. Whether the land belongs to us, or we belong to the land.
Behind that little buzzing plane was this reminder: THE TAKING OF PRIVATE LAND IS UNAMERICAN.