Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man certainly left an impression on me. Timothy Treadwell’s passion for grizzly bears (and a pretty-fly-for-a-white-guy desire to live like them) unfolded into an blinding innocence about the distance that man has evolved from animals, leading to his ultimate, bloody death (and his companion’s). Herzog, not content to focus just on Treadwell’s character, implies a difficult question: to what extent does humanity delude itself that it can peacefully coexist with nature?

In subsequent interviews, Treadwell’s colleagues rejected Herzog’s portrayal of the delusional man, emphasizing his expertise, experience, and ultimately the results he achieved protecting grizzly bears. Of course, these colleagues seem apologetic, salvaging what they can of Treadwell’s work and reputation. Their conservationism seems to be as destructive and confrontational as their poachers they try to stave off.

This film came to mind as Brdgt has tried to convince me of the importance of risk in urban history. True, I would not equate Treadwell’s environmental instincts with urban planning or think that his follies discredit environmentalism’s attention to urban issues. But her comments have me questioning my own belief that “humanity has a history of dialogue with the environment“: that it is impossible to see the landscape without the human hand. Rather than rushing toward the disaster, urban life involves constant, tedious balancing that is seldom stable. I’m not as concerned that Mike Davis’ hot tubbing bears are evidence of man’s crossing the line than Treadwell.

I guess my concern is how risk emphasizes certain aspects of the urban experience above others. Has the intimacy and rapidity of interactions brought by urban life been, well, worth the risk? Is human population density in itself problematic, even fundamentally unnatural? And do disasters fit in as speed bumps in the urban experience, or are they washed away in the tide of rebuilding?

If I have answers in the future, I’m sure I’ll have more questions as well.

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