February 26th, 2015
And here's a quote that kind of goes with the photo at the top of the page as well: ' ... Shivering almost uncontrollably, she moved back a little from the Quoit, and looked out at the view. The sky was still quite light, the sea a silky silver and gold reflection, tinged with blue, and turning milky at its edges. No light came from the moon, which was hidden in its dark phase ... The capstone was shaped like a giant granite hand, curved over the four vertical slabs that supported it. It looked like it was moving ever so slightly. Jessica blinked, and refocussed her eyes. The stone gave the impression of flickering every now and then, as if blown by the wind. That was impossible, the stone weighed over 30 tons. Was it balanced so precisely on the other stones that the wind could move it? Or did the background gorse and ferns shaking in the wind give it the appearance of moving. Or was it simply her imagination ...'
Money-Scapes in my hometown ...
Recent developments in my hometown of Portsmouth NH have - sadly - made my ‘Money-Scapes’ chapter very relevant. Portsmouth is a small town on the eastern seaboard of the US, about an hour' drive from Boston. It is perhaps one of the few live-able small cities left in New England. But the developers are moving in. Here is the letter I wrote for the town’s local paper, the Portsmouth Herald:
Over the past year, I have attended various meetings at the City Council Chambers, due to my concern over the developments both planned, and already existing in the North End (as well as the onslaught from smaller developers in other parts of the town) and have become aware of the enormous amount of unpaid work put onto the shoulders of the HDC, the Council and the landuse boards.
It seems to me that Portsmouth is under siege from developers, keen to make money now that the market is back. The few of us residents who find the time to come to meetings are too few, we are politely listened to, and mostly ignored. I don't think this is anything to do with villains and heroes. it’s just a structural weakness in the way towns are set up and run that leaves the field wide open for developers. Yet, I know from speaking with others more informed than I am that Portsmouth is a particularly soft touch, giving away far too much, and too easily. The very fact that so many want to come and develop here should tell us that we can be a lot tougher in our demands of them.
Portwalk III is an example of the kind of mediocre corporate megaliths that blight so much of the American urban landscape.
Portsmouth seems almost universally praised and loved, by residents and visitors alike, precisely because it does not suffer
from such development. Yet, here we go, making at least this part of town look like all those other places that James Kunstler called 'the geography of nowhere'.
111 Maplewood, which will be another megalith, has already
been approved. And now, we have the greatest megalith of all
in the process of also being approved, Harborcorp.
It is difficult to understand how the HDC in particular, charged as it is with looking after the historic legacy of this city have come to let this happen. Possibly they have simply been overwhelmed by the powers and resources of this corporate landgrab, whose executives' time is paid for and who have armies of lawyers at their call.
Whatever the reason, and while I feel an appreciation for all the work that is done by such committees, I also feel certain that however the idea emerged to turn part of Portsmouth into the same dismal, traffic infested series of corporate canyons that people come to Portsmouth in order to escape - it is a huge mistake. Let those who love this kind of architecture (although it doesn't actually warrant that term) go and live in Worcester MA, or Stamford CT, or thousands of other unwelcoming and unliveable towns and cities that have been ruined by what I call 'moneyscapes', meaning places that have been developed with only one value in mind - money. Not community, not aesthetics, not even practicality.
If Harborcorp is built as currently planned, it will be 50 % larger than Portwalk III. Far from being the vaunted 'gateway' to the North End, it will actually cut off the town from the North End, rearing up like a modern-day Great Wall of China. In addition, Wholefoods alone will bring 5000 cars per day, 8000 cars at the weekend, as well as 18 wheeler delivery trucks and box trucks. Yet it is well known, that
the developer has failed to provide anywhere near the needed
Tractor trailers, box trucks and cars will stream down
Maplewood Avenue and Market Street extension. In addition
to the four way junction between Deer Street and Maplewood,
the railway line, the turning into Vaughan Street, and into the
old cemetery, and the other turning into the backs of the shops on Deer Street, will be added vehicular access into the Harborcorp development. 18-wheelers, boxtrucks and cars will be turning
into this access, which will have the effect of rendering this junction, and this area of Maplewood into a permanent mayhem. Noisy, dangerous, chaotic and hostile to pedestrian and cyclist alike.
As citizens and committee members, we must demand that Harborcorp break up the building, scale it down, take out any entrance to traffic other than access for emergency vehicles on Maplewood Avenue and provide adequate parking.
Walking into town along Maplewood from my neighbourhood, which is on the North MIll Pond, I find it ironic to look out at the long, high dark red brick buildings, stenciled with rectangular windows with mock Victorian window panes. The Sheraton, the new luxury condos, Portwalk, and the former Portsmouth Herald building. Maybe in fact, we have achieved a return to the past after all - because the approach reminds me now of the view as one drives past Lawrence MA, with its gaunt dark red mill buildings lining the river. Only instead of a river, our modern version line the railway line!
Is this really what we wanted to achieve?
Unless we change course, far from presiding over a new fun area and era for the city of smart, well-designed, appropriately scaled developments, we, the council and landuse boards, as well as the developers, will have presided over the permanent blighting of Portsmouth as we know it.
One of the chapters of my new non-fiction book ‘Coherence‘ is called ‘Money-scapes’ and is about the way the depleted values of our current materialist-based society show up in physical form in the shape of hideous urban ‘developments’. Here is an excerpt:
“Values are abstract, but they show up in form all around us. And architecture is a form in which we can literally see them. If we walk down the western nave of Chartres Cathedral, for instance, and gaze up at the vaulted ceilings, we see an embodiment of harmony. We are impacted by an interplay of architectural feature, proportion and perspective and the way light interacts with all these qualities of space as it shafts in through the multi-faceted stained glass windows. Every part is in meaningful relationship to every other part, as well as to the whole structure and even to the cosmos ....
.... the same cannot be said of the majority of modern urban and commercial development, particularly in North America. Even the word development is a euphemism, because most of the time what one is really talking about is sprawl, the cookie cutter sameness of large chains and mega malls and grid-like inner city apartment blocks and projects. These sites have not been developed in the sense of aesthetically designed and thoughtfully integrated but developed in terms of turning acreage into either a money-making or money-saving venture for as little cost as possible.
What is fascinating about these places is that as we try to interact with them, whether just by looking at them, finding our way around them, or living in them, we get to experience the absence of those unquantifiable values which have been left out of the equation, and in their place, to come up against the incoherence and constriction of ‘flatland’. ....
Proportion and perspective are qualities that require the sense of meaningful relationship between parts. As I have been exploring, it is possible to think and act in ways that lack proportion and perspective. But proportion and perspective are also visual elements needed to make designs aesthetic, or to give us a sense of relatedness to them. We know that we respond visually to the proportions and patterns encoded in sacred geometry and the golden mean because the same proportions and patterns govern the design of our bodies. This is why most of us prefer to walk down the nave of Chartres cathedral, or through woodland than across the wastes of parking lots and strip malls. ...
..... The confusion about value and meaning gives rise to an oddly literal-minded approach, which is usually founded on the depleted values of utility on the one hand,
and money, or cost-saving, on the other. Yet even though utility is emphasized -
let’s build a box and a parking lot and highways to get there - this idea does not function well. The literal-minded, utilitarian approach seems unable to integrate function with design...’
Also in the works ...
Writing is a strange business because you spend years thinking about and forming a book, then it gets handed over to the often longwinded process of either being sold or published, and it seems as if everything stops! All that work, and nothing - yet - to show for it.
However, my debut novel, “The Curve of the Land’ is reaching the end of that process and will be out very soon from Skylight Press, a small independent publisher, based in the UK, which I am very excited about.
But also in the works, is a new non-fiction book, entitled ‘Coherence’. This book argues for a sense of personal coherence, a deepening of the sense of who we are and what is valuable in life.