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Which is scarier, the city or the woods?

Yes, that’s scary… (Arthur Rackham, Hansel and Gretel)

Is this scary, or inviting? … (Anne Anderson)

This is not too scary… (Dover Publications)

The chart is very scary!

For years, I have had a recurring dream. Something has gone wrong with the world, and there is danger. In the dream, I am traveling through the woods at night, alone and on foot, with no light other than starlight and moonlight, keeping clear of any signs of people, and looking for a refuge. In some of these dreams, I find a refuge. It is an abandoned little house in the woods, in disrepair. I go in and build a fire. I decide that, if I am quiet and don’t make too much smoke, I can probably stay here for a while without being found or challenged.

Watching the new version of the movie War of the Worlds got on my nerves. Tom Cruise, fleeing from the city, kept leading his daughter toward crowds of people. I kept yelling at the television, “Get away from all those people, you idiot! Go into the woods!”

Now you know where the name of my blog came from. So who knows. Maybe I was only fooling myself in thinking that my house-in-the-woods project, into which I put several years of planning, was a rational project. Maybe I was just unconsciously being manipulated by dreams.

And what, after all, is wrong with that? I admire people who can find a way to make a dream real, even a small one. I recently discovered the blog of some very magical people in Britain who put a little fairytale cottage on wheels and are roaming the countryside.

My real point, though, or at least my rational point, is that I am very concerned about how the economic downturn will affect people who live in cities. I had been thinking about Richard Florida, his theory of the “creative class,” and how the creative class stimulates cities. I was wondering if the creative class really matters that much in a severe economic downturn. Then a few days ago I learned that Florida has a piece in the March issue of The Atlantic: How the Crash Will Reshape America. Florida seems optimistic about cities. He just seems to think that it’s a matter of figuring out which cities are going to win and which cities are going to lose. I am skeptical. If city life ever became too hard or too dangerous, the creative class would be the first to leave. I have no idea where they would go, but if things get that bad, that’s a trend we’ll want to watch. In an earlier post, I pointed out that, when Rome was falling apart and its cities became too miserable and too dangerous, the creative class went to abbeys and monasteries, and that’s where they stayed for hundreds of years, until they returned to the flourishing cities of the Renaissance.

ABC News is more pessimistic about cities than Richard Florida, with America’s Top 15 Emptiest Cities: These Once Boom Cities Are Now Quickly Turning Into Recession Ghost Towns. Atlanta, by the way, is third on this ugly list. Greensboro, North Carolina, not all that far from me, is fourth.

If you’re not doing it already, it couldn’t hurt to check in from time to time with the worried folks at Survival Blog and see what they’re thinking about cities. If you’re up for a very scary movie depiction of cities fallen into chaos, watch the dystopian science fiction film Children of Men.

The woods are dark and scary, and sometimes I hear howling in the night. But cities scare me more.

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