Out for a Sunday afternoon drive in dry August, the poet and her companion are in a residential area. This is the premise for “The City Planners” by Margaret Atwood. Whereas in “The Planners” by Boey Kim Cheng, the poet talks about the planners who create the industrialized areas in the large cities. Both poems have at their core, the unnamed, genderless men who determine the sites where men live and work.
“The City Planners”
Cruising these residential Sunday
streets in dry August sunlight:
what offends us is
Margaret Atwood’s poem concerns the lack of creativity found in the building of residential areas. The row after row of the same house with its slanted roofs and the sanitary landscapes becomes monotonous. These blocks of houses seem almost untouchable. No sounds can be heard except the lawn mower mowing the straight rows. The driveways line up in exact order with no variation.
There are some things that show that man has had a hand in the building. There are smells that are emitted from the garages. A spot of paint has been left on the bricks of the houses. In the middle of a yard lies a coiled hose that looks like a cobra staring down its prey. All of the windows look exactly the same.
The poet predicts that the planners overlooked building the houses on a hill side. With rain, the houses may slide off the hill slowly as the glaciers in the Antarctic.
The men who plan and build the cities begin by placing their sites on a grid which is full of variety and alternatives. There are things to consider: the alignment with the roads which come together at chosen spots and are linked by bridges, all of which have been engineered by technical, mathematical equations. The construction seems endless. The shorelines grow smaller. When one looks up, all that can be seen are the tops of the buildings or skyscrapers.
One of the purposes of the planner is to take down the old buildings that blemish the newer areas. The demolition is done with the precise artistry of a dentist. The planner places the new buildings just as the dentist would place his gold crowns.
The perfect blocks of buildings are anesthetizing and hypnotic. They lack creativity and art. They serve their purpose and do not cause any harm. Yet, the history begins again. The building and erecting goes right through to previous times when areas were built and planned.
He does not relish building the same as what was in the past. The planners give into politics and often garner support from people with ulterior motives. The planners have complete control. Often, they work without surveying; they guess directions and borders. Each of the planners has his own individual blizzard with which to contend.
The similarities between the two poems begin with their shared purpose. Each poem points to the sterility of the present style of building, with its rows of similar houses and buildings.
Everything is straight, aligned, and precise. Both poems portray the city planners as unfeeling and sanitized. Both of them describe some sort of collapse, from the houses slipping off the hillside to the destruction of the houses of the past.
The primary difference between the two poems comes from the approach to the subject. “The City Planners” approaches the subject with imagery and is more visual than the other poem. “The Planners” is written with more stark and harsh language and style. Each of the poems looks at a different kind of building: residential and industrial.