By David Anderson
And how ‘neighborhood’ is “a sentimental concept, harmful to city planning.” Dude and dud; hero and zero; lead and led; friction and fiction; immortality and immorality.
A single letter. A world of difference.
Here’s another: ‘place’ vs. ‘pace.’
With regards the latter, probably every parent and grandparent does it: counting the number of steps our children/grandchildren take when they’re first learning how to walk before the little tykes collapse upon the familiar and safe carpet where crawling has long been a proven method of transportation.
Of course once the upright version is more-or-less mastered, speed and distance are discovered as well as constant motion: “I’m not jumping, I’m just moving up and down” answers the three-year-old to the annoyance of adults longing for quiet or maybe a nap.
There’s a certain sadness when the cradle becomes but a memory, scrapbook pictures must suffice to record the toddler days as with each added step a radical transformation unfolds.
And pace quickens.
Another sentimental scene occurs upon reaching the far end of life’s continuum.
Sadder still is getting there before we’ve arrived.
When place succumbs to pace.
It may be over time that ‘time is of the essence’ and ‘time and tide wait for no man’ are inevitable replacements for “The Chairs That No One Sits In” but there is something poignantly lost writes Billy Collins in his poem by that title to see those forlorn chairs:
“on porches and lawns
down by the lakeside,
usually arranged in pairs implying a couple
who might sit there and look out
at the water or the big shade trees.”
But the chairs are empty. Evidently time’s a-wastin’.
If “an occupied rocking chair signifies peace and content” and, conversely, “to see an empty rocking chair portends sadness and separation,” then what does cut-through traffic of a century-old community signify?
Especially when blessed by the city?
Take, for example, one of the common denominators that describe both Amtrak (which wants to relocate passenger trains from the Puget Sound waterfront and run them through the life-congested neighborhoods that border I-5) and Camp Murray (which already has relocated its main entry gate resulting in military employee traffic cutting through its neighboring community of Tillicum.)
In a letter to then-Governor Christine Gregoire, the late-Senator Mike Carrell wrote, “As the Washington State Senator who represents the urban areas (mostly low income) that these high speed trains will be traveling through, with no grade separation between the trains and cars, I believe serious traffic and safety concerns exist that will create an unacceptable risk . . . all of this for a net time savings of only six minutes. This gain is insignificant and does not justify the problems it will cause.”
Meanwhile the Washington Military Department’s $4.7 M move of its main gate the distance of a couple football fields allows vehicles traveling to and from Camp Murray to save an estimated 40 seconds in travel time by utilizing neighborhood streets.
Prioritizing ‘pace’ over ‘place’ comes at what price?
And that’s just in monetary terms.
When ‘place’ comes in second to ‘pace,’ it is to move the concept of what constitutes community to an emphasis upon “facilities for movement (rather than) facilities for settlement,” wrote “prominent urbanist and ‘New Yorker’ architecture critic Lewis Mumford in a 1954 article in ‘Town Planning Review.’”
At what price?
“The destruction of neighborhood character,” says Mumford referenced in a 2013 essay by Tom Vanderbilt entitled “Welcome to the Jumble – What place do neighborhoods have in modern cities?”
A five-page memo issued December 31, 2013 by David Bugher, Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director, to the City Council, serves as an illustration.
At great length Bugher describes the many conditions – for the most part all met – by which the Washington Military Department (WMD) should show due diligence in addressing the affect that increased traffic would have upon Tillicum anticipated with the relocation of its gate.
With emphasis both Bugher and Don Wickstrom, Lakewood Public Works director and city engineer, declared to the Tillicum residents assembled at the neighborhood meeting this January 2, that “preliminary indications show that the impact of the new gate is less” than projected in terms of the number of WMD vehicles traversing the town of Tillicum.
In other words the situation is worse but evidently, according to the traffic tube counts, not that bad. At least not as bad as it might have been. Not that bad at all. Considering it could’ve been worse. An update has been promised to the neighborhood in April following the WMD’s annual review.
Prescient perhaps, Jane Jacobs, in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961), could have been assessing the WMD’s encroachment upon its neighbor when she charged that “as a sentimental concept, ‘neighborhood’ is harmful to city planning” (Vanderbilt’s essay). To Jacobs, “for many urban residents, neighborhoods are more than fictive constructs. They are real, and they are the very stuff of life and death.”
Neighborhoods are not “more or less a random swirl” (toilet-flushing action comes to mind) where “anyone could be ‘here’ just as easily as ‘there’,” but rather, writes Harvard’s Robert J. Sampson, “place is more important than ever.”
Place as opposed to pace.
“Neighborhoods remain a vital – perhaps the most vital – way of thinking about the modern city.”
Neighborhoods should not be quantified by the pace nor the time savings at which they are to be gotten through but rather should reflect ideally – admitted nostalgically – the Simon and Garfunkel “Slow Down You Move Too Fast” places to be.
The old adage “good fences make good neighbors” applies. Even though author Robert Frost in “Mending Wall” bemoaned fences as “unnecessary, unfriendly, outdated, and a bit rude to have,” still one time a year the adjoining property owners met to mend the wall, and perhaps mend and rebuild and restore relationships at the same time.
Conversely when a gate is cut in the wall and ‘cows’ – even with conditions: speed bumps, roundabouts, etc. – are allowed to freely roam the range it hardly makes for amiability much less does it describe community.
It’s interesting that in spite of Tillicum’s demographics – poor, transitory, single-parent homes, educational level, etc. – it ranks perennially lowest in crime in the city but also highest in community organization, school excellence, and consequently pride, among other priceless attributes.
To allow a gate in a wall, or suggest that the ‘walls must come down,’ or not be erected as the city does in its vision for Tillicum is to majorly misunderstand what matters most.
On page 72, under “Image” in Lakewood’s “Tillicum Neighborhood Plan,” (2009) is this:
“The City’s current policy and regulations do not disallow gating of private roads, but such a measure should be considered to preclude the creation of additional socio-economic divisiveness.”
Gated communities, developments, housing areas with their own set of covenants, have – in Tillicum’s experience – little, if anything, to do with the rehabilitation of a community much less perceived socio-economic divisiveness. The very well-to-do in homes on the lake, and the very poor living in trailers and apartments, sit beside one-another at neighborhood meetings for purposes of roll-up-their-collective-sleeves problem-solving and shared dialogue.
Better neighbors require respect for maintained boundaries.
Or as Benjamin Franklin said “Love your neighbor; yet don’t pull down your hedge.”