Friday, November 7, 2008

Musings on the Urban Landscape


I live in downtown in a mostly rural area. I used to live way out in the boonies with a long drive but gorgeous scenic views of forest and mountains, farm and fields. Right now I live above the train tracks in the back of big office building - and yet I love the view where I live. Now that the leaves have let go their grip of the trees outside my windows I can see the great wide river, the tracks that run beside it. On the other side is the lumber yard. Last night I walked out my house to the sound of the train whistle, high and echoing from the mountains across the river, deep and low as the train starts to move.

My other view is of Main Street snaking up the hill, church spires, and brick buildings winding in orderly disorder. On wet nights like last night the road glistens black and the lights from the cars are red, green, yellow. This morning the mist rose up from the river and the town was shrouded in the grey with the tops of the mountains disappearing as if deftly rubbed out with a kneaded eraser.

I can think of many other town and cityscapes of equal or greater beauty from London to New York to San Francisco. As I was walking last night, loving the lonely urgent cry of the train on its way somewhere else, I realized how much I truly reveled the human landscape around me. It seems to me, these days, that we are increasingly turning our faces from the beauty we create and looking at nature for inspiration. We view the untouched landscape as more spiritual, more wholesome, and more pure. I am not disputing that. I love the wilderness and our natural world and actively seek to preserve it, but I can't help but marvel at the wonders we have created too.

There is that old chestnut: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it… of course that whole concept is inherently flawed. If no one else the bloody tree is perfectly aware of falling, and later we can go find the stump and rotting carcass with all its lovely burrowing beetles and borers. What I am getting at, however, is the fact of observation. The city is a landscape not only crafted by our needs and desires but constantly observed by us, but in a sense it is almost more invisible to us because of its familiarity.

There are evil urban landscapes - places so blighted by greed or disregard for either the social or natural environment that a bulldozer would be a blessing - but good honest neighborhoods with a mix of uses from shops to dwellings to lumber yards can be deeply rhythmic, throbbing, alive places with startling juxtapositions of chaos and order, all jumbled together to produce something distinctive and indeed… beautiful.

5 comments:

Skyclad said...

What man builds need not be all little boxes and cookie cutter communities… there can be art. It is when the art embraces the nature of the area, as your location sounds like it does, then there is a balance. Sounds wonderful.

Amelia Bosque said...

I wish that city planners out here could see it that way, I truly do. The ongoing "beautification" of our little city began by tearing down some truly stunning buildings from the 20s and 30s...and putting in condos that bear more than a passing resemblance to concrete bomb shelters.

*sigh* And now, as if to improve things, they're putting in flowerbeds.

Enjoy what you've got while you've got it...

Peter of Dreux said...

You're going to force me to write my own thoughts in my blog... LOL No wonder I get nothing done!

Skyclad said...

RE: amelia bosque...

I know... here they design house to look like shoe boxes and then try to get as many in as they can... then plant a tree and talk about the enviroment... of course the trere dies in five years so the local politicians can do it again and get their pics in the paper with the young tree...

Peter of Dreux said...

Lovely photo, BTW, Wyatt. Is it your own?