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The Palisades and Privatized Nature

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I think one of the most telling environmental issues of the decade will be the question of whether LG will be allowed to build an office building in the Palisades, the area of New Jersey just north of New York and an unspoiled viewshed for millions of people driving across the George Washington Bridge. Four New Jersey governors, including 2 Republicans, are opposing the project.

In The Rise of Silas Lapham, one way William Dean Howells paints Lapham as both a man of his Gilded Age times and something of a uncouth newcomer is his attitude toward nature. Lapham believes the natural world is for any man to use for his own personal gain, particularly when it is Lapham’s personal gain. So he paints rocks with his paint, advertising himself in places of great natural beauty.

In effect, LG’s plans to build the office tower, openly articulated by the company as claiming the view for itself and its employees, is the New Gilded Age version of Lapham’s world view. Beginning in the Progressive Era, government began claiming

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the natural world for the public. Even if the actual people were often ignored in land management over the years, it became much harder for private companies to engage in simple land grabs for private benefit.

Today, we are moving into the New Gilded Age with aplomb. As part of this, conservative forces are articulating their true beliefs about labor and nature, beliefs often subsumed behind socially responsible rhetoric for decades. Will LG be allowed to engage in a Lapham-esque appropriation of the natural world for its own business purposes? This is a very important question that may go a long ways to determine the future of public lands in the U.S.

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