This is the second in a short series of posts on the issue of “place.” Place and space are sometimes used in interchangeably, but less so recently. If you think about it, you can reason why. “Place” has connotations of significance to the people who use it. “Space” could have these same connotations, but the word itself implies a sort of nothingness: think outer space. Through this short series of posts, I’ll be emphasizing the importance of examining your own world in terms of its places and spaces. This has more implications than just academic, if you do commit to understanding places and spaces you can begin to change them and make them “better.” For an introduction to this series, click here.
This post presents some of the legacy of “modernism”, specifically the gift of the no place. By way of introduction let’s discuss “modernity”, in terms of discussing the humanity’s impact on the physical environment you would probably think of two things: tall buildings and highways. While tall buildings can be places – of work, residence, or fun – highways are most definitely not places. Highways are space we utilize to get from place to another, very few people are enamored with them. Quite the opposite nowadays, not least because they are a place of extreme danger for anyone not in a car. I sometimes wonder how many roadside memorials exist (in the United States) for children hit by motorists?
Ah – the car. For a fantastic discussion of this machine-god see James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere (1994).
Highways, in all their concrete and steel glory, are a monument to the car. And while they exist solely to make automobile traffic somewhat economical (to say nothing of the time-wasted at this point), it wantonly destroys the rest of the landscape. In particular, where the highway is, human beings – pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders, and skaters – are not. Unless they’re crazy, it takes a man or woman of nerve to share the road with a 3,500 pound beast hurtling at 60+ mph. I invite a physicist (or mathematician) to enlighten us on the amount of force such a mass would have when hitting a standing pedestrian.
Side note: I was hit by a taxi cab once, so this does practical applications.
The three pictures below I took during one of my runs in Arlington, VA. This is the “natural” lighting (that is 0 F-stops, no compensation in shutter speed or aperture to increase available light). They were taken under the Jefferson Davis Highway and George Washington Parkway bridges that span Four Mile Run (the body of water).
There are two comparisons to be drawn from these photos. First, the importance of light. When I’m running under these bridges I run faster, always, not just because its cooler but because its dark and dank. I don’t want to be here. Second, things that grow. In the third photo, there are a pile of rocks in the corner. In the first two photos there is a veritable explosion of greenery (thanks to the available light).
The area under these bridges, human-made structures purpose-built to facilitate automobile traffic (ONLY), is empty, wasted space. There is no light and nothing grows here. More often than not this space smells worse than the water treatment plant up the trail.
To be somewhat even-handed, these spaces aren’t a total waste. I often see people fishing under these bridges. And some pigeons roost here as well.