Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Paradox of Meddling 1

The paradox of meddling in the margins arises from human interaction with urban wastelands. Since the social appeal of these marginal spaces and wastelands is the absence of official sanction and control, we risk destroying the very characteristics which make these socially engaging spaces in the first place when we try to improve them through planning and management. For Kevin Lynch these spaces are “liberated zones” freed from social expectations of proper use of urban space,

“Shabby, ordinary places escape the weight of power, the intent to impress; they are liberated zones. They relieve us from the necessity of calculated communication and behavior. Not that they lack meaning – far from it – but they have the simplicity and ease of well-settled custom and familiar use. In many famous cities, the backsides are not only more revealing to the inquiring eye, but offer more enduring delights, once we are no longer tourists.”[1]

His perspective is decidedly a minority one within urban design and urban society as a whole. Whether it is urban planning, urban ecology, or urban nature appreciation, there is a compulsion to meddle with this waste space. The paradox of meddling is not just a problem for the social values of waste space, but it emerges as an unrecognized dilemma even for supporters of urban nature, such as urban landscape architects whose primary commitment is design with nature. However, as is the case with the new High Line landscape, urban nature enthusiasts purge the unwanted, weedy species which comprise marginal nature, and so, through this meddling “improvement” of the wastelands, we undo the cosmopolitan community which thrives there.

[1] Lynch, Kevin, Wasting Away
San Francisco : Sierra Club Books, 1990. p. 27

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