Monday, January 21, 2008

And you thought you had a long trip.

Forgive me if I don't make sense in any of this but I just traveled halfway across the world in a day. That used to be inconceivable, but so was flying. Sounds like we have all had some very interesting experiences since we have been home and while we were traveling there. I read Mike's post and it jogged my blurry memory of one of my flights to the other continent, Alaska.
I usually am a little similar to the person Mike sat next to on an airplane. I don't really enjoy just sitting for 5 hours at a time inches next to someone I don't know and probably will never see again, so I bring a magazine and my ipod to entertain myself. Well when I sat down on the flight from Seattle to Anchorage I for some reason began a conversation with a young man my age that lasted some three and a half hours. Amazing conversation that hit on multiple topics that focused around the built environment in Alaska. He also grew up in Alaska just outside of Anchorage in a suburb that has been expanding tremendously in the last 10 years. He just built himself a house with the help of his friends in the middle of a classic developmental mentality town. All of the houses look very similar and only a few select contractors were allowed to build in this area, with himself being the exception because he works with these contractors. Not to bore you but I am going somewhere. We talked about a Alaska's image, what sense of place Alaskans are trying to show and he was as bewildered as I have been why people do not try to engage it. I found it very interesting to sit down next to someone my age and have very similar outlook on our sense of place. So my thoughts, how do I engage this generation, the one that will change my lifetime that will in turn set up a change for the next generation. I feel the key is in the design, in the questioning, in the process.

Research Paper Thoughts:
Three towns, largest being Kenai, Alaska 7,000 population, second being Nikiski (5k) which is 12 miles North of Kenai and then Soldotna (4k), which is 10 miles South of Kenai. Each city sprawls into one another and none of them have a sense of place. They are very linear in nature, most buildings are single story with the exception of a few two and one three story building. The community does not walk, it drives. Everything is at a distance, I want to go the post office, 15 minute drive. I want to go to the grocery store, 7 minutes. The other notable large problem is the image projected to the people that inhabit this community and visit the community. Residents have very limited design criteria and are often wanting to accomplish the largest program for the lowest price. In turn each building has any lack of character and materiality is something unknown.
The nature of the problem is in a few different area's. The one I would like to explore is in the Psyche. People do not see the reward in a well designed place nor community. They do not know what experience will be gained if they had the opportunity to live in a place that reflects more than the lowest budget possible. The community is a product of a large boom in oil and fishing both of which were not concerned with establishing a place for a community. Most oil workers work then fly home to another state. The money that showed up in the 70's has been used to build oil related buildings, which are some of the most dysfunctional looking places. The fishing community is built on the morals of survival. This sad state of affairs is an unusual one because it is built on some of the most beautiful land with a world famous river running through the middle of these towns.

The community that resides in this place now are here to stay if they can. They still mainly are the result of good jobs to do with oil and fishing but many other people and services are there to help that endeavor. The community even with their disarray has a very strong sense of pride for their community and their relationship to the larger whole or state. Its this that I would like to engage.

The community needs something that might engage them. To question what exactly they live in. They are in need of an example of design that relates to their scale, function and atmosphere. Going into a city and running out of your car to go to the post office and then running back to your car to get groceries to do the same and then driving to the bank to do the same thing again is a dysfunctional realm.
If there was an example to show how buildings might function in close proximity to help keep a sense of place. Not only would this product function well pragmatically it would also function to stimulate there being. There has not been an investment in the experience of the user and if it was the community would invest back in that change.

Bringing About:
A community that perpetuates itself to question its environment. This is what is not here. The questioning of why my town is set up to function the way it does. If a town could function to question for example, why we are going to build a bank at this particular location versus any other location and with these materials versus any other materials, it might be able to function as a whole, not for the betterment of the individual investor but for the total community.

Please feel free to let me know what you feel, see, think, smell and hear about this issue. Thanks.


Melissa said...

On the way home I was wishing my flight wasn't a full 3 hours...sorry! Glad to hear it turned out to be pretty fun though. :) Just out of curiosity, if you flew for the same amount of time in the other direction, where would you end up?

Your topic is cool because it covers something from just about everyone else's topics. It seems like we are all calling out for real "places" or downtowns or whatever it may be so that we aren't stuck in a crowd of boring, meaningless sameness. The idea of anywhere, usa comes to mind: you can be in any city in the us and have no idea which one it is or if it is even different from the last one you were in.

I'll have to post more later, gotta go home now!

Chad R. Kohler said...

Hey AK –

I am curious to see how weather would affect the idea of a closer community in the sense of not needing to drive everywhere. What I am thinking is that, with temperatures on a warm day being -20 degrees, are people reluctant to take a walk outside? If you could convince shops to be close in a limited area, and places to live incorporated in that area, would you need to build covered walkways that are heated?

Off of the top of my head I am not sure of any examples, but, what do towns in Russia or the Netherlands do to manage around the climate?

I think that the climate would be a big factor in the development of what is trying to be achieved.

Could new construction “areas” be set to limit the sprawl of new construction? Basically, fill in the voids and then continue outward?

What is Anchorage like? Big city sprawled out, or do they have a downtown area?

PS – I like how you broke down your ideas already into sub-categories.

Herb Childress said...

I remember going up to Soldotna back in 1999 and being thoroughly amazed at the WalMart and the traffic lights. The first time I'd been down the Kenai Peninsula back in 1980, the only structures that I really remember were the Russian Orthodox churches. Now it looks like Skokie. And the boom economy (and Alaskans' inherent "leave me alone" attitude that drew them there in the first place) is prime breeding ground for placelessness, because the "community" is so fluid and linked to resource extraction.

There's a scene in The Simpsons Movie where Homer and the family are fleeing the wrath of Springfield and wind up driving to Alaska. They get to the border and the guard says, "Welcome to Alaska. Here's your check for one thousand dollars." Homer asks why, and the guard replies "we pay everyone in Alaska so that we can despoil the environment as much as we want." Homer says something like "Why didn't anybody tell me about such a place?"

Anyway, I think there might be some places that are the world's repository of placelessness. Anchorage and its surroundings may well be one of them.

Singleton said...

Hi Chris!
While doing some research for my paper (houses falling into the sea) I found this article and wanted to share it with you. I thought it might be of some interest to you as well....enjoy!

Sea Change

Julia Whitty and Robert Knoth

Reportage by Getty Images
September/October 2007 Issue

Get used to it: real estate falling into the sea. And not just beach houses and seaside time-shares. Think towns and cities. These images of Shishmaref village on Alaska's remote west coast reveal the tip of a terrain melting so fast it will carry whole cultures away with it—rich and poor, polluters and nonpolluters, all vulnerable to the great leveler, the ocean. You think South Pacific island nations and remote Arctic outposts will be the only victims? Wrong. Because no matter what we do on the carbon emissions front in the coming decades, the world ocean is forecast to warm and rise for the next millennium or more. Pictures like these will soon be commonplace.

In Shishmaref, calamity has already arrived. The village of 600 Inupiaq lies on the fragile barrier island of Sarichef, where sea ice forms later each year, exposing the land to autumn storms that carve away 50 feet or more of shoreline a season. Two houses have slipped into the sea; 18 others have been moved back from the encroaching ocean; others buckle from the melting permafrost. Ten million dollars has been spent on seawalls, to no avail. Residents have concluded permanent resettlement is their only option. But considering America has yet to seriously tackle New Orleans' sea-level problems, no one on this distant edge of the Chukchi Sea imagines the $180 million needed to relocate Shishmaref will be easy to come by. And Shishmaref is not alone. A 2004 Government Accountability Office report found that of Alaska's 213 Native villages, 184 are battling floods and erosion, while another assessment foresees that in the coming decades, Alaska will require $6.1 billion to repair global warming's domino effect of fallen bridges, burst sewer pipes, and disintegrating roads. Worldwide, the situation is more dire, more expensive: Oxfam suggests the United States owes $22 billion, or 44 percent—our polluting share—of the $50 billion needed each year for poor nations to adapt to climate change.