A Philosophy of Yard: Imagining Community Change
A Practical Guide to Understanding Place, Change and
Community Problem Solving
A Preliminary Working Outline
Introduction: The Yard as Measurement of Self
The great places of the world are reflections of the past, the present and the future and how both individuals and groups perceive them. But so are the intimate moments that we pass in our own personal environments.
To me the work that I have done as a city planner and writer and the way I have perceived that work, has always, in part, been related to my fondness for and gratitude to, The Imagist Poets.....T.E. Hulme, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, D.H Lawrence....all of them. Their idea that any given moment or thing will be interpreted differently by everyone is a unique metaphor for "place". Places are, indeed, poetic and that poetry begins in our own back yard.
The great places of the world, from intimate plazas like the Santa Fe Plaza to the large, regal gathering spots such as St. Peter's Square in The Vatican, or the personal meanderings of Central Park in New York City, are all experienced differently by everyone who passes through them. Yet, there is some kind of constant, some kind of design or feeling, that centers a particular place regardless of what it evokes individually. Town squares, fountains, obelisks and monuments of all persuasions are ways in which some places are "centered". But there is more to it.....lots more.
Imagist Ezra Pound put it profoundly..... the image or "place" as we are referring to it here, is "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." Again, that's what real places are, emotional complexity in an instant of time! How well Pound put it.
What's even more fascinating in the comparison of imagist poetry with relevant placemaking is Pound's definition of the tenets of Imagism, which we will consider in relation to the notions or tenets of placemaking that we will discuss in this manual.
Pound defined the tenets of Imagist poetry as:
1. Direct treatment of the "thing," whether subjective or objective;
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation;
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.
Put that into the placemaking context:
1. Direct treatment of the "place", whether subjective or objective;
2. To use absolutely no" building material or structural component" that does not contribute to the "place".
3. As regarding movement within the place, compose the area for the activity that occurs there or might occur there, not jus for strict design principles.
While places accommodate everything from "hanging out" to ceremonial events, their design, magically, allows these disparate activities to occur. In a very unique way, places that are created with precision seem to allow for both regimen and dreaming. The precision can be of a grand scale or meditative simplicity.
T.E. Hulme, the acknowledged "founder" of the Imagist Movement put it this way... "To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word."
We'll shift that one into placemaking vernacular as well...
"To create a place that is common in concept, but precisely focused, using exact structures, not the nearly-exact or just decorative architecture."
Placemaking is about us as individuals and also as groups of people who live, work and celebrate together. While there are many common elements, or “building blocks”, if you will, involved in placemaking. It is not formulaic as many planners and designers would have us believe. It is organic, organically derived from the natural, cultural and geographic characteristics of a certain area or specific geographic location.
The purpose of this book is to look deeper into the importance of personal "place space", that is, one's bond with the earth and their immediate surroundings, and how that relates to a person's image of themselves, their immediate environment and how they perceive and react to a larger community and to community problem solving and the extent to which they are involved in these activities. Simply stated, A Philosophy of Yard is about how one learns about the rules and realities of governance and how one gets involved in that process to solve the evolving problems of place.
Somewhere along this "placing paradigm", connections malfunction, places deteriorate and dreams become truncated. As Nigerian author Chinua Achebe wrote....."things fall apart". But there are also new connections being made, always...new places developing and new dreams being charted and, in some cases, realized. When all is said and done, imagining and creating places comes down to two important concepts; perception, how we choose to see something, someone or someplace and context, how all the parts of place work and how we fit into that.
Poet Wallace Stevens said it quite perceptively:
Anecdote of the Jar
I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
This is certainly not the first foray into "imagining" place. Kevin Lynch's city planning masterpiece, The Image of the City, has been a guide for many of us in visioning principles for planning. Even more so, perhaps, is A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al because it provides actual "building blocks" for both imaging and actualizing basic city planning and place-making concepts. More recently, How To Turn A Place Around, has led a revival in thinking about public and private space in an urban setting.
To write about planning ideas always seems to necessitate some kind of more precise measurement (involving as it does such precise professions as architecture and engineering) to better determine what makes a great place and what makes an unsuccessful and uninviting place. Much of an endearing place is about scale and design, that is the science of geometry but another part of it is less tangible as it is about "spirit", the spirit of a place.
The Rise of Spiritics
The art and science of motivating the soul of our residents.