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A Fragment of a Prelude to the Coming Radical Geography

September 13, 2015

KT Walsh's

Landscape Architecture as a thing is less than 200 years old in name and not much more than 300 as a concept.  Why that is as being worthy of a query has almost everything to do with the history of our notions of the commons, of the relation between our private selves and public spaces, and probably a bit with the history of rich vs. poor.

To no one’s ( no one who is slightly educated anyway) surprise, the current understanding is that Landscape Architecture, outside the homes of a wealthy aristocracy, places of government and worship, was not practiced.   Outside of the aristocracy, government buildings and places of worship, the demand for any other designed landscapes was non existent and the rise of it was pretty much concurrent with the Industrial Revolution, and accelerated with the development of a middle class . Suggesting that the notion of having a home of one’s own, or some form of housing tenure, the range of experiences one expected, typically didn’t include displaying your home.  Home was something to be experienced on the inside as shelter from the hostile elements of the natural world, and not a public thing.

I am currently researching the history of home ownership, er, housing tenure, to see patterns of the starkest contrasts between those cultures where landscape architecture in the more modest private homes of others was adopted earlier and those later.   Not surprisingly the idea of the lawn as we know it now is roughly the same age as Landscape architecture.  It’s not just that the Rich landowning class had the luxury to exercise their vanity with aesthetic modifications of their immediate natural surroundings, they also could afford for others to perform the hard work to carry out the architects designs.

Why do I mention this?  What could it possibly have to with our mission(s) here at EPP?  Because we are interested in (and perhaps may get into the business of) promoting “curations by residency”  –or better, “curated residential experiences” — and I think many future curations will benefit by studies, redemptions, interrogations and reinventions  of past traditions of home dwellers’ relationship to the natural world and their interface with the delineated communities they “belong” to.

A few years ago we (Jamie Hofling and myself) had a conversation with a neighbor about what he wrote an editorial in our town’s newspaper about the importance of making the town more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, and after making my criticisms of the token changes the city had made, he mentioned, in a tone of fairness to the city perhaps, something along the lines that we are living in two cultures and we don’t yet know how to conduct ourselves.  That idea never left me and I begin to apply it to everything that has to change.  But particularly in regard to our need to adopt to future energy scarcity and the damages done due to climate change.  It is not a smooth transition, and part of me prefers those two cultures (though not automobiles particularly) to co-exist forever.  Especially upon leaving an urban area it is just refreshing to see a stretch of grassy space in which one could play.  I think that desire for open outdoor space to play in, because it is universal, can be a kind of pivoting force away from the boring and obscenely (water)wasteful lawns to more eco-centric types of residential landscapes, edible gardens among them. , I also know that the future scarcity will force a definite trend of edible gardens.

I am still under the spell of my nostalgia and excessive aestheticism.  That is to say, it’s painful to realize that concern for the environment and for human relationships to the natural world fill the whole horizon, under which ideas about our personal (and public) green spaces must develop*.   And, enthusiastically, there will still be the right of folks to display whatever they want in their yard (yard art, recycled trash sculptures, good ol’ redneck motorhead detritus).  EPP looks forward to courting local and non local yard artist in the future.

Also, there are these Private vs. Public/Entrepreneurial art vs anti-commercial vs.–even the whole institution of art which exercised by those may even come off as anti-commercial– and Populist vs. Elitist tensions that must be developed and played up fully, if my notion of “radical geography” is to fully make sense/be realized.

This post owes a debt of gratitude to Edward Bellamy’s populist utopian novel Looking Backward, the fact that it inspired so many 120 years ago, but does not now inspires.



* The newer generations won’t have this hang-up, as they won’t understand the hippy dippy connotations that I, on some unconscious level, am annoyingly reacting against.


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