Temporary Permanence

I’m 22 years old.  In those years, I’ve moved somewhere around 19 times.  Yes, I’m an Air Force Brat; it’s to be expected that transience was a major part of my life.  Growing up in this way I came to value adaptability and independence in myself over the dependence on a community of neighbors or friends.   (This is perhaps counter-intuitive to some people who see the military as a tightly-knit group of families, but in my experience that is not always the case and besides that I have – for most of my life – been a fairly introverted person.)  My temporary existence in any one space led me to see the location where I happened to live in a very detached manner – it didn’t necessarily stir any feelings of pride or empathy but perhaps made good stories to tell people when I got to the next place.

It is a given that time breeds investment.  So having spent very little time in one place until my recent adult years I think it is safe to say that I have a keen understanding of the human need for investment in place.

Now, I am an architecture student.  I am learning to be a designer of spaces that people can invest in: PLACES.

But I find myself challenged with questions.  Who are these people?  Who invests in their neighborhood?  Who invests in their city?  Why would you invest?  Who is allowed to invest?  How do you define a cultural investment?  How do you define an architectural investment?

For the last two centuries, the design of cities and places has been plagued by the master plan.  The top-down approach to ensuring stability, tranquility, health, identity and permanence for a place.  Planning of this kind is a direct reaction to the overwhelming out-of-control mess that cities were before centralized design processes were put into place.  Master planning is the tool that allows whole sections of society to detach themselves from a sense of pride or empathy in their place.  The place itself becomes not a qualitative and experiential part of the culture but a space with defining characteristics.  That is not to say that we do not still have places, but to say that we do not plan places in so much as they happen.  To be fair, this “place-happening” is exactly how places arose before planning and precisely how many post-modern designers, like Rem Koolhaas, say that it still happens if we sit back and let it.

Now, we are left with the knowledge that people build value around places that happen because of people, bring the thought loop back again to the question of what people?

People who live temporarily in a place are not the same as those that live there long term.  This is made obvious by the language of dualities that we use to describe these groups of people and the behaviors we perform to avoid the opposite group of people.  Renters are not home-owners; they bring down property values.  Migrant workers aren’t residents, they don’t run for office.  Students are not neighbors, they encroach on our neighborhoods. The one thing these groups share is a place, a space within the same cultural context, within the same neighborhood.  Yet, the one thing that is hardest for temporary residents to do is invest in the place that belongs to permanent residents.

It must be possible to breed investment in the community at shorter time scales.  It must be possible to harness the skills and embrace the personalities of temporary members of a community.  While the two groups have many different needs, they also have potentially diverse and mutually beneficial contributions.

How can place reconcile a diverse temporary and permanent population to provide the human need for investment?

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One thought on “Temporary Permanence

  1. I don’t know much about architecture or community planning, but I do know about the transience of military life and the value of place.

    Although it can be difficult to define permanence or to put value on the people who reside in these spaces, we can change our own specific ways of thinking.

    To me, places are sacred. Life is our most precious gift, and the places around which we live our lives collect the atoms, molecules, cells, and good intentions we send out into the world. They’re the only lasting things that matter, and even then, nothing lasts forever.

    Interesting posts. You got me thinking, which I always enjoy. Will follow.

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