Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The view from here

photography by Lynda Norman

It happened this morning as I was caught up in my 'to do list', driving from one place to another, father-in-law Bud in tow, that I chose to take the slightly longer, more scenic drive home. And, as I headed from suburban strip mall and convenience food surroundings around the first traffic circle, then over the bridge and around the second traffic circle, the buildings became rural in their setting and character, the snow dusted mountains suddenly visible on the horizon and I breathed into my empty lungs… space, vista, and a bit of perspective.

Bud said to me, "This is a good way to go home… less traffic." and I agreed. Inspired by his words, I launched into a little sermon on the value of views, and how little they seem to be considered in planning terms these days. How the fish in the ditch are considered, the density of the buildings are planned, the curve of the road designed to fit the speed of the vehicles travelling on it for both safety and traffic flow reasons, yet the experience of the traveller seems a byproduct rather than a proactive, planned thing.

Back in University when I was studying to become a Landscape Architect, 'Visual Analysis' was an important part of the planning process. View corridors, positive and negative views, procession, scenic byways, parkways, and various other design considerations involving roadways and the experience of travelling on them, were taken into account. Any proposed development considered visual impacts as well, and while that is still true to some extent today, I wonder what happened to the planning of roads and highways?

This fall I excitedly awaited the completion of a 'Recreational Corridor' along a roadway near where we live. I anticipated the addition of trees, benches, grass, planting… things that would encourage pedestrians and cyclists to experience added value to the adjacent land uses… some rural, some recreational, some residential. My shock came when the corridor was finally complete… with black chain link fence along it's entirety, and asphalt paving from road curb to chain link fence… and not one living thing in a swath about 3 m wide and 5 km long! The experience will now be, for everyone including those travelling in vehicles, a wasteland along what used to be a picturesque section of roadway. And I have to wonder how this could have happened?

Perhaps my writing today is more of a rant than anything else, but I'm just concerned that the less tangible, less weighty things like beauty of form, open space, perspective, vernacular landscape, are the very things that are often overlooked or obliterated for reasons of function, monetary return, or politics. And it will hurt all of us in the end. If we don't stand for something, something will be lost. Somehow public policy must be changed, and the value of 'sense of place' must be held up as something to cherish, something worth saving, something worthy.

Or, we can continue to grow and change by focusing only on efficiency, productivity, function, and forget about the soul taming, grounding pursuit and choice of slowing down to smell the flowers, or enjoy the view.

Peace, out!


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