The City-Planners is an indictment on the superficiality of progress, and the attribution of incorrigible rationality to the same. The poem views modern life as empty, artificial, and its inhabitants as robotic and lacking in spirit.
The land in the city has a great contrast with the rural land. The influx of people moving from rural to urban areas keeps on increasing to this day. Living in such an environment with only concrete, steel and buildings, man consequently becomes more mechanical, stressed and partially dehumanized.
The absence of vast land in cities deprives the harmony that a huge area of empty land provides. This absence of land in cities is severely criticized by Margaret Atwood in this poem where “the houses in pedantic rows” shows lack of warmth.
The theme of this poem is perfection, uniformity, man’s attempts to control nature, and its lust of power (the city planners). As the poet moves about in a residential area, she is offended by the “sanities” of the area.
The word ‘sanities’ may possess a double meaning here. Firstly, it may allude to the unnatural ‘sanitariness’ of the place. Secondly, it may denote the saneness of minds, or soundness that render them sophisticated, uniform and therefore boring. The “dry August sunlight” alludes to the province from which the speaker hails: Canada. The houses in rows appear too pedantic to be real. The trees have the appearance of being planted to render the scene picture-perfect.
The levelness of surface further provokes the poetess as it appears to be a rebuke to the dent in their car door. There is no shouting there, no shatter of glass. No instinctive action takes place here: everything is after-thought and preplanned. There are no shouts here, no loud wants as people are economically well-off and complacent. The only noise is the rational whine of a power mower. It is that rationality that makes this noise ‘a voice’. In the era of applied technology, this sound is more pleasing to the ears than emotional echoes. The power mower cut a straight swath in the discouraged grass; and thus established the victory of Science over Nature.
Throughout the second stanza there has been absolutely no mention of any human movement, making it seem as if the sub-division is empty. This could metaphorically indicate that the people living here live empty, monotonous lives that are without meaning. The driveways neatly revealing even roads, appear like mathematical units. Even a domestic entity like a coiled pipe appears as poisonous as a snake, as it is out of place. The windows portray a fixed-stare as though everything is static, and nothing is kinetic.
The natural scenery appears to be at the back of this residential area. Man’s mistakes seem to offer more than his creations in this stanza. The poetess seems to plead and demand at the same time when she opines “give momentary access.” The speaker hopes that the future cracks in the plaster will enable one to view the breathtaking natural view behind. She also admits that, “the houses in pedantic rows, the planted sanitary trees, offend us with their transitory lines, rigid as wooden borders”. Man’s mistakes seem to offer more than his creations in this stanza. The poet is trying to give power back to nature here, and stating that nature will eventually, definitely rise once again and break down these suburbs.
Margaret Atwood claims that there will come an inevitable stage when nature will ultimately conquer. Houses will capsize into clay seas. Is the poetess foreboding a natural disaster, most probably a Tsunami? It would only take a minute to put to years of city-planning to naught. They will appear like glaciers then. The speaker utilizes the metaphor of ice to connote transience. Nobody notices how fleeting all this is. Blizzards and snows are used as an extended metaphor for the blindness and confusion of a city that is completely bland and uniform, in which the people do not even realise how routine and structured their lives and the suburbia in general are in reality.
These City Planners-calculating and manipulative in their approach to reach their ends are no less than political conspirators. In such a situation, they will be subjected to unsurveyed territories they had not even envisaged. They will be hidden from each other, where competitiveness will take a back-seat.
The poem eventually envisages the city planners’ consequences of being greedy, and ends by saying that, the creations of these city planners will inevitably be destroyed by nature. To counteract the disturbing effect upon the human mind, land must be used in an effective manner. Land is essential to instil serenity in people’s lives. To sustain the availability of land in cities, housing must be carefully planned so as to minimize the use of land. Green architects are required to maintain this balance between building and nature.
The driveways neatly side-step hysteria by revealing even roads that appear like mathematical units. Hysteria is conveniently side-stepped as nothing can defy logic. The roofs also display the same slant to the hot sky. The act of displaying a slant also means the projection of an angle. This angle of avoidance is everywhere whether it to the hot sun, the smell of spilled oil, or a faint sick smell lingering in the garage. Even a splash of paint on a brick is as amazing as a bruise. A domestic entity like a coiled pipe appears as poisonous as a snake, as it is out of place. The windows portray a fixed-stare as though everything is static, and nothing is kinetic.