Thursday, August 14, 2008

Nature Abhors a Statue

Central Park's memorial to Richard Morris Hunt, a prominent 19th-century American who is best known today for his pompous memorial in Central Park.

I'm currently reading The Politics of Park Design, by Galen Cranz. It's a history of the dominant political forces behind the landscapes of our city parks, and it has this to say about statues in parks:
"Statuary reminded the viewer of man's handiwork, not nature's, and, because it was associated with European aristocratic formal gardens, it was an anethema to democrats... Most designers objected to statuary in general."
Cranz also includes this 1903 quote from Mrs. Herman J. Hall of the American Park and Outdoor Art Assn.:
"There should be no place in [parks]... for granite pantalooned remembrances of deal musicians and soldiers and statesmen. If we cannot teach people to realize that they should keep their effigies of statemen where they belong, then let us hide them in thickets... We should put nothing in our parks which suggests unrest or anything disagreeable, or that will frighten children, but we should put in objects that will suggest woods, trees, water and nature.
And more explicit is Charles S. Sargent, editor of Garden and Forest magazine, who wrote that "the public is only half-educated in matters of taste, and not only admires these very bad figures, but is continually pestering the commissioners to put up more like them."

And the rabble prevailed: German immigrant groups erected monuments to Schiller, temperance activists built fountains to proclaim the virtues of pure drinking water, and the pastoral refuges of our largest cities grew cluttered with Ozymandiases.

But what Sargent and Mrs. Hall fail to note is how their "natural" parks are every bit as man-made as the statues are: the rustic aesthetic of nineteenth century pleasure grounds required a great deal of excavation, planting, and maintenance to come by their "natural" appearance. We're more prone to being fooled these days, when the trees and undergrowth have attained a maturity that really does look primeval. But nineteenth-century city dwellers, who witnessed these parks' transformations from sand dunes and swamps, might well have wondered why it was all right to build a pond, but unacceptable to build a statue.

In spite of the memorials, nature survives, and children manage to show remarkable courage when confronted by a rusty bronze general.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Migratory Industries

Late last week, a ship unloaded dozens of huge steel tubes on Portland's waterfront - the first activity at Portland's cargo terminal since a container-shipping barge ceased operations a few weeks ago. These were the segmented towers that will soon be assembled into the state of New Hampshire's first large-scale wind farm, in Lempster.

According to the local paper, "The turbines, produced by the Spanish company Gamesa, were originally headed for Fairless Hills, Pa., but were diverted because Portland proved to be a more efficient and affordable option for the shipment of the freight."

What's in Fairless Hills? A quick google search reveals that Fairless Hills is an industrial city west of Trenton, New Jersey, where Gamesa recently invested millions of dollars to build modern windmill factories on the former site of U.S. Steel. The news article is scant on specifics, but apparently these turbine parts will be shipped directly to New Hampshire and assembled there, instead of being routed through Pennsylvania, in order to save on shipping costs.

So here, on the Portland waterfront, the changing industrial migration patterns of the early 21st century are coming together like Matryoshka dolls. With a weakening economy, Maine's exports of container-shipped goods dry up. The state's only container-shipping terminal goes dormant, leaving room for a Spanish corporation to open a temporary logistics office.

Meanwhile, an abandoned steel mill in Pennsylvania witnesses millions of dollars of new investment from a European wind-energy corporation. On a site that had once imported coal and iron ore from Appalachia and exported finished steel, a Spanish company now imports steel from China to export renewable energy generators to American prairies and hilltops.

And as always, huge oil tankers come and go in a regular, unceasing beat, delivering increasingly expensive crude oil into Portland's pipeline and to the refineries of New Jersey.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Worth Watching

"On July 2, 2002, Jean and Harlow Cagwin watched as their home, the last remnant of their 118-acre cattle farm in Lockport, Illinois, was torn down clearing the way for a new housing development. Several years later, Ed and Amanda Grabenhofer and their four children moved into the new Willow Walk subdivision, their house just yards from where the Cagwin's home once stood."

Photographer Scott Strazzante documented both of these families, living on the same land, over a 14-year period.

Watch this multimedia slideshow on MediaStorm.