Monday, July 21, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 7-24-08
Jeff Gill

Stretching Out For Community Fitness

Borrowing a page from the Lovely Wife’s field of “natural resource interpretation,” there is a concept in planning and designing visitor experience at a natural or cultural site called the “genius loci.”

When you are trying to present, or interpret, the sense of a location or resource, you need to identify the “genius loci” or “spirit of the place.” What is the particular sensibility that a spot is already trying to communicate?

For the Grand Canyon, the “genius loci” is obviously grandeur and awe and deep, deep time, written in stone. If you go to Ford’s Theater in Washington, there is certainly a date and a history to where Lincoln was shot in 1865, but the “genius loci” there is something to do with “all our revels now are ended” in Prospero’s words from “The Tempest,” that tragic sense of life where a war’s end and a night of comedy ended in death and loss for a whole nation.

So identifying a “genius loci” is not always to state what is most obvious. Looking at Granville, the commonplace notation is “New England village with Greek Revival architectural treasures.”

That does say something important about the community, tying in education and aspiration and culture. What I’m coming to suspect is the real genius in our “genius loci”, though, is the Granville gift for adaptive re-use. It may be a gift we can keep giving ourselves and others well into the foreseeable future.

“Adaptive re-use” or “Flexible use of public space” doesn’t have the same sex appeal of “quaintness on steroids,” but I think it does say something important about who we are, and what we want and need to preserve.

The Great Granville Picnic is one basic example of this. We take Broadway, shut it down as a traffic artery, and put a bunch of people on it to eat dinner this Aug. 16 (nota bene: deadline to reserve a space for your basket at village offices is Aug. 4).

Well, sure, some may say, but we do that downtown every year for the Kiwanis Fourth of July street fair, right? We close streets for the Tour de Granville and other occasional bicycle events, the Cub Scouts’ Cubmobile races in the spring, we’ve had (and may have again) Antique Fairs on side streets. The Bluesfest rocks and even rolls a bit right in the heart, or esophagus, of the village. Doesn’t everybody do that kind of thing?

In brief, no. and some folks get itchy even here in Brigadoon, murmuring that we should not block traffic and impede business with these dratted messes. Streets are for cars, moving or parking, darn it.

What makes our use of public space so vital in Granville is that we give ourselves the room and the angle to view what is truly public about such areas every time we put a ferris wheel in front of the library or a bandstand in front of First Baptist. Is the Farmer’s Market an interruption of what a street is for, or an extension of the real reason we call some areas “public”?

One of the most contentious areas of local politics in the near future is going to be “who defines public use & public purposes” for public land. We need to stay flexible in our thinking as much as we need to stretch out before exercising, because if we do neither . . . well, you’ve all seen Wall-E.

Monoculture in agriculture or in land use leads to rigid, narrow, life-choking responses to changing circumstances; breadth and mobility means as times change, we have options, which is the only way we will preserve the things we value today into the future. Freezing it all in amber is not an option.

(Remember – No Child Left Outside, Tues., Aug. 12!)

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him how you’d adapt a public space creatively at

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