Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The trail, part 2

A little more about the trail, from the client.

The area has been a historic gathering place, lush marshland, and vast natural resource. From the mid-1800s to the 1920s, it had also become the industrial center for the city, employing tens of thousands of workers from vibrant neighborhoods on the surrounding bluffs. During the second half of the 20th century, its economic position declined. The once-vibrant natural ecosystems and then vital industrial center became a large expanse of devastatingly altered land, contamination, and vacant buildings.

As conceived, this trail would be much different from other state parks and trails typically preserving an area of obvious natural beauty; this trail would be located on the state’s largest brownfield--importantly, within a 15 minute bike ride of over 400,000 residents.

Today, broadening the vision inspired by the trail, the area is in the midst of an ecological and economic resurgence. Quality jobs are being created close to those in need, with buildings built and operated with sustainable practices. Environmental quality has improved dramatically, the river is once again the heart of the community and wildlife is increasing. Hundreds of people participate each year in planning and stewardship activities, creating an extraordinary sense of community ownership.

I know that we can seem gushy and mushy; we care a lot, and we like to emphasize the positives. Part of this is because of needing to transmit optimism because there has been a vast amount of historic (and even some in more recent years) negative attitude to this place – some earned, some simply not deserved. Part of this is to support our own need to be persistent to an extreme in the real world of trying to get anything good done. Part of this is because there really are amazingly wonderful parts of the project that we want everyone to know.

Something on my mind all the time… is attention to detail and concern for getting to a critical mass of "cared for". It is the nature of brownfield remediation and building trails and restoring native landscapes and cleaning up rivers that they have a rough first several years, and people don't like how they look (even when formerly brownfield). I know that those of us who are in the place all the time sometimes miss an eye for perceived problems... our rose-colored lenses are pretty good at tuning them out. I get so used to my work space under the viaduct and the dust that I can forget how it seems to others. So I know people new to the site have responses that I may have forgotten how to predict. And it is a fine line between fighting against what my friend lorrie otto (an elder in the environmental community) calls "the tyranny of the tidy mind" that wants concrete and turf and expressing enough beauty to let people love a place (a kind of place and a kind of beauty unfamiliar to most people) and learn its health. We emphasize our own kind of beauty, including the spotted eggs in a ground nest, the reflection of the viaduct when it rains, a particularly gorgeous leaf, artist glass panels, kids on bikes, fisherpeople in waders in this urban river, employees in the city having greenspace for a lunchtime walk, return of leopard frogs, a dance performance in the wetlands. Your mapgiving project can help give us a large boost in the critical mass of "cared for"... beauty and detail and function and helpfulness and communication and story-telling, with complete respect for the context… helping reveal the latent potential and beauty of this complex urban place.

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