July 30, 2006

Why do fences make good neighbors?

This question was posed by Robert Fost to his wall-mending neighbor in a poem titled "Mending Wall" written by Frost in 1919. Though the infamous line from the poem is "Good fences make good neighbors," if one reads the entire poem, one realizes that Frost questioned the whole fence making enterprise. An excerpt from the poem, courtesy of bartleby.com :
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!" I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
Frost's poem is very pertinent given two recent manifestations of fencing : (1) the New York Times (June 18) design challenge for the USA-Mexico border and (2) electronic gates for private homes reported by the Wall Street Journal (July 28). Case #1 Thirteen architects and planners were asked to design the US-Mexico border. Five submitted drawings and the remainder declined. The Times reported that those who declined did so "because they felt it was a purely political issue." The five submissions included - James Corner, of Field Operations, submitted 'a kind of Bush meets Gore hybrid' plan of sustainable energy and enterprise production. - Calvin Tsao, of Architectural League of New York and Tsao & McKown, proposed "a series of small, developing cities." - Eric Owen Moss employed the idea of the paseo to develop the Glass Forest, a wall of surface columns and underground exhibition space. - Enrique Norten, of TEN Arquitectos, proposed highway construction. Norten sees Mexico of the future as Spain is now : from "a border country [to] part of a greater community." - Antoine Predock's concept is the most esoteric. He states that while the border will 'discourage you from crossing...the message would be one of good will.' A fence as a message of good will? If one looks closely at Frost's poem, there are a few more salient lines that are not often quoted. Before I built a wall I'd ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence Case #2 In 1972, architect Oscar Newman wrote Defensible Space. The idea of defensible space and its many iterations is still with us today. The defensible space theory in brief is that smaller, more private areas, especially around the home, will promote territorial behavior in residents which would result in lower levels of crime and other uncivil behaviors. One famous iteration of the theory is Jane Jacobs' (1961) "eyes on the street" explanation of street life in Greenwich Village, New York. The defensible space theory has been used for less common good purposes, including the "privatization of the architectural public realm" (see Mike Davis, City of Quartz, 1992: 226). and scholarship on gating and gated communities. The Wall Street Journal wrote about a television writer and producer, now living in Greenwich, CT, as one of many house-owners who have installed remote-controlled gates. The producer justified his purchase thus, 'I get apprehensive when there is nothing separating me from people selling things.' This is a disheartening response to Frost's question : What was I walling in or walling out?

July 28, 2006

Professional Porch Sitters Union

Note: This post was edited on Jan. 20, 2007. Hotlinked image(s) were removed. Follow the link(s) to the image location(s). A most wonderful NPR story, produced by All Things Considered, about the front porch was aired today. Michele Norris interviewed Claude Stephens, founder of the Professional Porch Sitters Union Local 1339 as well as David Schuyler, a biographer of landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing, who popularized the porch to distinguish American residential architecture from British architecture. Listen to the story. View the "Porch Sitters" painting by Michael A. Palmer.

July 27, 2006

Reports of a declining urban middle class

Recently, the Berkeley Daily Planet (July 14-20) and the New York Times (July 23) carried articles about the disappearance of the middle class and middle class neighborhoods in some of our major metropolitan areas. The articles are based on a recent Brookings Institute report titled "Where Did They Go? The Decline of Middle-Income Neighborhoods in Metropolitan America." The data is from the 2000 U.S. Census and contains family and neighborhood information from 100 of the largest metropolitan areas and a selection of 12 of these : Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Louisville (KY), Oakland, Philadelphia, San Antonio (TX), San Francisco, and Washington D.C. According to the Daily Planet, between 1970 and 2000, "middle-income neighborhoods were replaced in roughly equal measure by low-income and very high-income neighborhoods" in the 12 select metropolitan areas. There are multiple effects report the New York Times : limited upward mobility in terms of housing, reduced quality of schools as well as the number of quality schools, and fewer bridging social ties. In addition, commentators predict polarized politics. One solution to retain the urban middle class might be housing. On July 26, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Phoenix Realty Group has raised a $243 million fund to finance for-sale and rental housing. While there are government subsidies for low-income housing, the new fund is an instance of "housing for a more middle-income bracket." For now, target markets include Los Angeles (civil servants, first time home buyers) and northeastern areas like Port Chester, NY and Hartford, CT.

July 19, 2006

Eating from my foodshed

Foodshed, like watershed, emphasizes the connections between the area where food is produced and where it is consumed. In May of this year, Locavores, a San Francisco "group of concerned culinary adventurers" hosted an Eat Local Challenge. The San Francisco foodshed is 100 miles or less. I missed the May challenge, but I have been trying to eat more locally. For example, I recently bought fruits and vegetables from my local farmers' market, a known source of local produce. The Berkeley Farmers' Market is held in three locations - downtown, North Berkeley, and in my neighborhood, at Derby and MLK. I purchased red butter lettuce from Blue Heron Farms (Corralitos, CA); organic Red Haven peaches (Esparto, CA); eggplants from Full Belly Farm (Guinda, CA); and Riverdog Farm tomatoes, also in Guinda. Corralitos and Guinda are approximately 91 miles from Berkeley and Esparto is a 74 miles away. Full Belly Farm and Riverdog Farm are community supported agriculture farms(CSAs). Read our previous CSA post.

July 7, 2006

A neighborhood farm branches out

47th Avenue Farm
Zenger Farm CSA
I first read about Southeast Portland's 47th Avenue Farm in an article by Todd Schwartz in the February 2005 issue of Reed Magazine. The farm, owned by Laura Masterson, began on a double lot in the Woodstock neighborhood of Southeast Portland in 1994. Laura Masterson now farms at Zenger Farm, an agricultural park that is part of the Johnson Creek Basin and Watershed. The farm and its watershed are owned and managed by the City of Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services. Masterson farms at Zenger Farm in exchange for property maintenance and educational outreach for the city. In addition, Masterson farms at Luscher Farm, in the neighboring city of Lake Oswego. This fulfills Lake Oswego's goal of combining “a park with working CSA farmland” (Schwartz). Masterson employs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model at all three farm sites. In the CSA farm model, shareholders pay at the start of a season and receive a portion of the harvest on a weekly basis. The shareholders' subscriptions pay for the farmer's labor and farm equipment. I visited the original 47th Avenue Farm and the Zenger Farm CSA. I did not meet with the farmer or any shareholders. For more information: 47th Avenue Farm Zenger Farm Programs Luscher Farm CSA

July 6, 2006

In & around Portland

Here are a few photos from our holiday weekend in Portland.
Canyonville, Oregon Blueberries Kruger's Farm Market Sauvie Island, Portland
Woodstock neighborhood Portland 47th Avenue Farm Zenger Farm Agricultural Park Portland