The City Planners & the Planners

Explore the Ways in Which the City Planners & the Planners Powerfully Convey the Negative Impact of the City Planning Upon the Environment? In, both, City Planners and Planners, the concept of the redesigning of personality, past, and environment as a whole, is very much a theme – ‘so history is new again’ – and, indeed, thought of in a negative light.

Through this idea, both Kim Cheng and Atwood explore whether nature will, conclusively, be a stronger force than the planners and, essentially, an artificial society – ‘the houses, capsized’ – and, perhaps, suggest that the planners’ attempts to ‘sanitize’ the world are futile, regardless of their mathematical ‘grace’ and utilization of, effectively, brainwashing – ‘they erase the flaws, the blemishes of the past’.

This is elaborated, particularly, in the City Planners, in which Atwood proposes that this form of society is temporary, whereas nature is long-lasting and, therefore, nature is more powerful than the planners. The idea of a lack of personality is particularly stressed in the City Planners – ‘what offends us is the sanities’ – which negatively acts upon the environment. The fact that ‘these residential Sunday streets’ are so devoid of personality and difference unsettles the speaker and makes her feel conscious of her imperfections – ‘the planted sanitary trees […] rebuke to the dent in our car door’.

The way she judges, or views, perfection is clearly very contradicting to that of the planners; individuality is very much frowned upon by the city planners. Atwood also hints at the theme of history (which Kim Cheng expands in the Planners) – ‘houses […] will slide obliquely into the clay seas’. As the sea is described as ‘clay’, there is an impression that, once bellow the seas, the house won’t be seen, or heard of again, much like the planners’ eradication of history in the Planners.

The planners in Kim Cheng’s poem drill ‘through the fossils of last century’ to eradicate history. History is, arguably, what creates personalities, and destroying all memory we have of the past most definitely changes how we act in the future, hence ‘the blueprint of our past’s tomorrow’. When Kim Cheng states he wouldn’t ‘bleed […] a single drop [of poetry]’ , he could be implying that our new, revised, tomorrows will be boring and, therefore, he has little inspiration to write about. Part of history eradicating in the Planners is to do with the idea of, essentially, brainwashing.

This brainwashing comes hand in hand with many dental references in stanza two: ‘all gaps are plugged with gleaming gold. The country wears perfect rows of shining teeth.’ This correlates with the idea of getting rid of history, as a natural tooth is part of your body’s history. Yet when, what the planners see as, an improvement is needed; the tooth (history) is painfully removed and replaced with an artificial ordinary filling. A reference sanitary procedure is mentioned in the City Planners too: ‘the planted sanitary trees’.

The idea of brainwashing, itself, is brought up in the middle of the second stanza of the Planners – ‘anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis.’ Again, this reference is incorporated with the idea of dentistry, as you would take anaesthesia before having a filling.

The ordering of medical terminology is significant – the anaesthesia would numb the pain of having your history eradicated, before amnesia would come into effect (you wouldn’t remember the history taken from you) and through taking these actions, the planners could, then, brainwash you into believing something completely different. The concept of brainwashing has parallels to fascist states, such as Nazi Germany, in which through propaganda, the masses were brainwashed into yielding to the Nazis.

Atwood insinuates that the ‘insane […] political conspirators’, too, have an influence on people. In this case, the way people conceive the idea of perfection. Her theory, that these city planners have conspired to make the masses believe perfection lies with artificial improvements on nature, suggests that some act of, effective, brainwashing occurred to make the people believe so – for she cannot understand why a natural state isn’t a perfect, or pure, one. Perhaps without the city planners, the perception of perfection would be different, or perfection wouldn’t be regarded as a matter of high importance.

The speaker in the two poems contrast quite dramatically and, though both disapprove of their respective planners, their views on the planners are strikingly different. The speaker in the City Planners quite patently reveals her dislike for this perfect state – ‘sickness lingering in the garages’, ‘a plastic hose poised in a vicious coil’ – to the extent of offending her. She clearly disapproves of the sane residential streets as ‘the dent in [her] car door’ is looked upon by the ‘sanitary trees’ with fierce condemnation – signifying a very clashing view on such matters.

Kim Cheng, although still intimating that the effects on the environment are bad, is more open to the fact that, though used in conflict to his views, the planners are incredibly clever – ‘bridges all hang in the grace of mathematics’. He almost declares the planners’ changes are good, and does state some aspects of the planning is desired – ‘the buildings are in alignment with the roads which meet at desired points’. He suggests some good coming out of the planners’ work as, relating the planners to dentists; he is implying that, in some cases, necessary improvements are made.

However, as both, in essence, are poets, the idea that either writer approves of the city planners, or planners’ abolition of individuality is highly unlikely. In both poems there is no rhyme scheme and frequent use of enjambment – ‘the smell of spilt oil a faint sickness lingering’ – and caesuras – ‘my heart would not bleed poetry. Not a single drop’ – give an irregular metre to the poems – suggesting lack of structure and freedom, in contradiction with the ideals of the planners and city planners .Particularly since Kim Cheng writes, sarcastically, in his final stanza that he wouldn’t ‘bleed [...] a single drop [of poetry]’ – almost certainly implying the exact opposite as he declares this in a poem concerning the planners.

The most striking thing which set the two poets apart is their conclusion on how the battle between nature and their planners concludes. In the City Planners, nature is undoubtedly stronger – partially due to the inevitability that, until the world ends, nature will be present and the temporary; and partially due to the ever-present realization that the city planners are not really sane or powerful at all. In the last 4 stanzas of the City Planners, this becomes apparent – ‘when the houses, capsized, will slide obliquely into the clay seas’.

This particular quote, not only, shows the planned city’s demise, yet also how nature is much more powerful. The suggestion that the houses will ‘slide’ gives the impression that these houses (the planned city) disappear almost unnoticed, relating to the idea that it will never been seen below the ‘clay seas’. The reference to the sea and ‘capsize’ hints that the houses’ departure is due to nature’s superiority. Atwood also hints this through describing the city planners as being in a ‘private blizzard’ in the antepenultimate stanza. The fact that references to the city planners occur alongside a reference to nature – such as ‘blizzard’ – show that nature always affects how the city planners act.

The concept of a ‘private blizzard’ also indicates that the city planners are self-absorbed and are blind – unlike in the Planners, where the planners work is very measured and in the interest of the people. Another weakness of the city planers is outlined in the penultimate stanza – ‘they sketch transitory lines rigid as wooden borders’. The fact that wood, being a natural substance, is the boundary which the city planners cannot sketch further than, shows nature’s overriding power further. The use of the word transitory corroborates my reasoning that the planned city is a temporary thing further, as their sketch lines are temporary; and the fact that the lines are sketched could show an indefinite attitude with which the lines were drawn.

The fact that at the beginning of the City Planners Atwood states the streets’ sanities offend her, shows that, when delving further into the city planners and finding out the city planners are, in fact, ‘insane’ politicians, shows their weaknesses further. And, as they are ‘guessing directions’, their plans are clearly far from pre-meditated or perfect. Therefore, not only is it more powerful, nature is saner and, arguably, perfect than the city-planners and what they plan. In the Planners, on the other hand, from very early on, it is clear that the planners are more powerful than nature – ‘even the sea draws back and the skies surrender’. Indeed, the planners seem so powerful that it is almost as if they are playing God, or as Mother Nature, in the opening stanza.

The fact that they are controlling nature – ‘the sea draws back’ – proves this point. Also, Kim Cheng describes mathematics as graceful – grace being a religious term connoting to God’s unearned gift of mercy and forgiveness. Therefore, arguably, Kim Cheng is proposing that the planners are more powerful than God himself. The aforementioned reference to dentistry does suggest some sort of improvement, regardless of pain, and due to the anaesthesia, this pain would not even hurt. The planners are, thus, very powerful and in control, it would seem, completely. References to maths and science, too, suggest that the planners are well-educated as, both maths and dentistry, are very academic professions.

However, the final stanza contradicts all the above points concerning the planners’ powers. The fact that Kim Cheng’s heart does ‘bleed poetry’ shows that, regardless of initial power, the planners cannot prevent Kim Cheng staining their blueprint. He undermines all that the planners have achieved in creating perfection – such as creating ‘buildings [which] are in alignment with the roads’ . Therefore, in conclusion, not only do both poems convey negative impacts of the city planning upon the environment

through stating how it destroys personality and history, but also by declaring that the planners are weak and, essentially, just temporarily preventing the overriding force of nature and, meanwhile, repressing nature from its natural behaviour. In neither poem does the final stanza conclude that the city benefits from the planning and, therefore, the planning has a negative effect on the environment.