13 October 2012

Small Town view

I crossed this bridge a few weeks ago, which caused me to stop in my tracks and snap a few photos.  And then it reminded me of something I wrote a long time ago about this same location.  It was the beginning of an essay I had written in architecture school in 1995 entitled "What constitutes the understanding of Community".  This is the introduction:

Forgive the dialogue if at first it would seem trite or experiential only in the emotional context of "small town"; however, I must begin with this recollection I have and am reminded of again and again.

It was a fairly warm but breezy July evening with clear, starry skies.  Some buddies and I that had grown up together were out and about and up to no good.  We had dad's old pick-up truck that I had equipped with speakers you could pull out from behind the seat and place outside on the hood-should you want to play a quick game at the park.  We were outside of town on Oak Road where we crossed the legendary "spook bridge".  It was an old iron bridge with wood slats for a deck-it had been there for nearly 100 years I suppose, crossing the railroad below.

We stopped and looked back toward town where the railroad led.  We were in no hurry, so we broke out a couple six packs of Coke and pulled the speakers out and put them on the hood.  The three of us sat on the extra-wide handrail and talked about...whatever, school and girls mostly.  We could see the glow of our little home town, bouncing off my old school, and the grain elevator's flag hoisted high on a tower next to the tracks.  And wouldn't you know it, Mellencamp's "Small Town" came on the radio.  It was a modern Rockwell moment.

Well, two years later they tore the old school down.  The grain elevator has changed hands and there is no flag on top of the silo.  And just a year ago, after it had been condemned, they brought down the old bridge too.  Don't cry for our small town though-since then we've had an Arby's, McDonalds (and now a Burger King), along with two mini-marts open.....at the expense of two (now three, with our family's place) long-established restaurants and a family grocery that had been around since the 1920s.

There is a lot of sarcasm, I know.  But I ask, with what sense of community will this next generation grow up with?  Is my generation X the first to be so nearly completely deficient of community?  Or have we just simply redefined it?  So many factors play into the idea of community, it would be nearly impossible to explore them all.  The best avenue to "know" community is to be "of" the community.  Understanding community must begin with playing particular attention to the mundane experiential aspects of common life.  Understanding community is searching out the common-ness of life.  It comes from seeing a little league game at the local park, from listening to the farmers gather and discuss crop conditions over coffee at the local cafe.  It comes from being with some buddies out on a summer night drinking Cokes and gazing back toward town.  These combined define a place in which to experience "community".


Certainly the loss of aspects of our built environment can have a profound negative impact on "community".  These are the things that tie us to a place, that give rootedness to our lives, and provide in real concrete form aspects of the memories we have.  In this situation, it was both the beauty of the place and memories that caused me to stop on the new bridge that now crosses the tracks.

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