Where Do We Go With What We Have?

“Opinions are like assholes…everyone’s got one” is a saying that rattles around my head constantly these days. I’m not really sure why, for it’s an old familiar quote that I can’t attribute to anyone in particular, though I first heard it perhaps twenty or more years ago while working as a contractor (btw: contractors have more witty and poignant sayings than philosophers, politicans and educators combined): maybe because it’s an election year…or because the war continues to drag on…or because the economy is flailing, like some kid learning to swim in the ocean against the tide…or because the New Jersey Giants beat up on the New England Patriots…or maybe because I have just returned from a winter-time conference listening to ‘experts’ and pundits talk about the state of ecology, horticulture, business and humanity…seems everyone’s got an opinion on where do we go with what we have…

Like politicians and economists, designers, builders, theorists and landscape gardeners realize everything is never quite what it seems, and so they gather together in their ‘off-season’ — at least the thoughtful ones — and wax poetic about “Creating Great Gardens;” “Re-Visioning the Landscape With An Ecological Approach;” “Building Raingardens;” “Organic Growth For Fun and Profit” and so forth. More and more these talks and conferences feature divergent schools of thought: those who see the world — or at least their corner of it — created largely by ‘design’ assessments predominated by aesthetic efforts deficient in environmental and social thinking (ie, exterior decorators armed with their bag of products); and those who look at the importance of building community and a sense of place (the whole-system processors). It can be great fun sometimes at such meetings to see how the divergent sides play it out. Like witnessing a horrific car accident and waiting for the ambulance to arrive, it’s hard to turn away from the scene before you know the end result.

Anyone who has ever read any of these rants here knows which camp I align myself with. Yet it’s become apparent to me that if one is to be truly educated in a liberal sense, one needs to be lucid, mindful and ‘open’ to be an effective designer. The profession of landscape design requires all to be artists, technicians, problem solvers, team players, writers, speakers, community builders, financial brokers, historians, ecologists, and more. If we are to get to the issues of our times we must dare to be bold and see across the boundaries within planning and design, architecture and landscape architecture, ecological and social, technical and theoretical. Our hardest challenge may be to sustain the basics and the fundamentals in a world that is operating under the mesmerizing and seductive umbrella of fast and ever-changing technology. And to remember that people are the most important building blocks of life. For as Henry David Thoreau said, “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” As we approach the start of a new baseball season, I hope my friends who are fans of the New York Yankees keep those words in mind as the Boston Red Sox raise their world series banner over Fenway Park on a fine spring day in early April. “Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one,” right?

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