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Essay: "A dense idea" by Tamsin McMahon

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
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  • Published: 2 October 2015*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 773 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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In her essay ‘A Dense Idea’, Tamsin McMahon argues that the smart growth method is actually a dense idea which is not capable of accomplishing what it is supposed to fulfill.
She begins by comparing an odd-seeming view from a city authority with the accepted wisdom to introduce the doctrine of urban intensification as well as its impact on different cities. McMahon then explains where did the doctrine come from and describes the definition of smart growth. After that, she utilizes a couple of researches from respected institutions or universities to prove that smart growth fail to make people healthier or help the environment. Additionally, she utters that smart growth may even hurt the economy and describes the phenomenon called ‘job sprawl’. The most appropriate sentence that could be considered as her thesis is ‘It turns out cramming more people into citied won’t help the environment or our health and may even hurt the economy.’
Clearly, the author has two target audiences. Primarily, she speaks to the city planners who are obsessed with the dense idea, but this essay is also intended for general audience who are educated and socially informed since it was published in the popular Canadian magazine Maclean’s.
From my point of view, the essay is quite effective in the light of the well use of logos, excellent integration of pathos and strong sense of ethos. McMahon manipulates logos well, for the most part, with her abundant use of examples and statistics, though there are a few instances where her appeal to logic is somewhat weak. However, she integrates pathos perfectly in the light of appropriate placement of strategies. Given that McMahon covers business and the economy and has been nominated for a Michener Award (The Michener Award is one of the highest distinctions in Canadian journalism), she is also knowledgeable about the issue, which strengthens her ethos.
Because McMahon has a definitive thesis and target audience, she utilizes logos effectively most of her essay, though in some places her logic is weird. The organization of the paper starts with the comment from a city authority and then move into the smart growth examples that based on Canadian local news throughout the country, which describes a vivid picture of the current smart growth trend. Afterwards, she elaborates the reasons why smart growth become popular. With statistics and accurate dates in previous and recent news and history, McMahon uses logos to reinforce her credibility. As she focuses on the proof of the drawbacks of the smart growth, she continues to use effective researches from respected institutions to support her message that smart growth fails to make people healthier or protect the environment. However, it seems that the second research from University of Southern California have little to do with what she states earlier. This appeal to logic needs more support as to prove the statement ‘It would be nice to think that simply having more people live close together downtown would make people, particularly children, healthier.’ Basically, the statement wants to prove that smart growth won’t make people healthier, especially children; but actually the examples quoted is just able to prove the children’s part instead of all of the adults. When it comes to economy, McMahon’s examples are very persuasive; from data instances to comment from authorities, from abstract ideas to practical examples.
Besides, McMahon used pathos and ethos quite appropriately throughout the essay. In order to attract audience, Emotional appeal was applied at the beginning of the essay by quoting Doug Holiday’s comment ‘I could just see now: ‘Where’s little Ginny”?She’s downstairs playing in the traffic on her way to the park.” One of the examples of pathos used here is her example of a reverse commuter, which makes the whole story of ‘job sprawl’ more reliable. Her ethos is based on her credibility to write about this topic, since she has been nominated for a Michener Award once. Also, another stuff that reinforces her ethos is that she thoughtfully addresses the reasons why city planners will be obsessed with the smart growth, as demonstrated by paragraphs 6, 12, 13, 16 and 17.
Essentially, McMahon delivers an effective argument for her original audience through her use of logos, pathos and ethos. She proves what is fundamentally stated in her thesis. However, despite her effective use of examples, her argument could have been more effective if her logic was more developed in some areas. Also, this would have made her more credible from the eyes of reads. Aside from this, she produces effective emotional appeal that is appropriate for both her target audience and for current readers.

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