Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Our Forgotten Connection with Time

Humans have lived for thousands of years and, yet, in our current culture we have forgotten about our connection with time.  People are connected through relationships, space and TIME.  We are connected to the people who came before us and we're connected with those who will come after us. Somehow, we don't seem to acknowledge this time aspect in many decisions that are made with regards to cities and the built environment.

 View from above the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Looking back just over 100 years at one of the most exciting times for urban planning, the City Beautiful movement - which took its inspiration from Haussmann's Paris - worked to create a society with order, civil engagement and social integration through placing world-class public space at the top of the agenda. During this time they created parks, monuments and civic buildings that we still appreciate today.  One of the crowning achievements from this era is the National Mall in Washington, DC, where tens of thousands of citizens meet for civic engagement.  The decisions made at that time are strongly connected with time. What do the decisions made today say about our perceived connection with time? How will our decisions impact future generations?  How do they relate to the past?

I can't tell you the last time a monument of epic proportion was constructed in one of America's cities.  Or in nearly any city to tell you the truth.  Can you think of one? When was the last time that we thought, "this is going to stand for many years and future generations will be connected with us through this space?"

Focus on the "NOW!"

Many of the decisions made, today, are made with weighing the costs and benefits - perhaps over the next 20 years for a major project. Generations in the past had the options to develop land in a way similar to what we call urban sprawl, but they resisted.  They did not spread out because they understood that once this land is developed, it will be very difficult to return it to the previous state. Now, we cover these valuable lands in suburban "snout houses" that probably won't be around in 200 years.

Instead of thinking about our actions as connected to our collective past(s) and to the future, there seems to be this overwhelming consensus idea that our form of society will not be around in 100 years.  That should be a sign.  But, instead, we use it as an excuse to build suburbs, shift public resources to private interests and over-consume nearly every resource on the planet.  I'm not even going to delve into petrol-chemicals.

Typical Suburban "Snout Houses"


Connection to the Past

We have forgotten our past, at least everything before WWII. Native Americans struggle to hold on to their past, but the dominant culture does its best to squash that memory.  African-Americans try to hold on to their past and remember, but the racial histories are something we don't like to discuss.  Is this why we forgotten our past and are so eager to think about the now?  Is it racism?

No matter the cause of our eager desire to quell our connection with past and the importance of history (it was once now!), in denouncing the importance we do ourselves a disservice in our civics and spiritual peace. We must remember the past, embrace it and learn from it. After all, the post-Depression reforms could have helped prevent our current recession if we'd remembered the lessons and not repealed Glass-Steagall during the '90s. In urban planning, as I mention in this blog post, we have a lot to learn from the pre-modern era. 

A Bright Spot

Sign welcoming you to the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness in Montana
The environmental movement offers a bright spot.  I'm not talking about sustainability and corporate green-washing (though some are good), but the movement that gave rise to the wilderness.  Being from Billings, MT, I appreciate the Beartooth Mountains.  I appreciate their beauty, wonder and natural state.  Getting out there in nature is one of the most calming and clarifying things and individual can do.

When I think about these mountains, and all wilderness areas, I am reminded that they will be preserved for future generations.  As long as the protections aren't watered down, generations 200 years from now will appreciate them in the same was we've been able. We'd do well for ourselves to consider these very long-term aspects as we move forward in our civilization.

It's time to make the connections!

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