Saturday, November 14, 2009

Building on Beauty

Randy Veitenheimer was a guest speaker on the final panel at our OLLI class. People were intrigued by his discussion about the "community overlay" he has developed as an economic redevelopment tool for Tecumseh, Oklahoma.

His strategy has several tenets. One is based on increasing the amount of opportunities for social interactions. This allows for an exchange of economics of course, yes, but equally as vital, giving

Another is to build beauty. A beautiful structure is not diminished by people looking at it. No one saves an ugly building from demolition, but a beautiful structure will be repurposed and remodeled for decades or centuries if possible. Beauty gives. 

Rights and Responsibilities is another tenet interwoven into his approach. Your community deserves to be beautiful AND each member has an obligation or responsibility to provide beauty by whatever means they possess. Everyone can do something.

Randy quoted the Navajo poem "Walk in Beauty" as a source of inspiration. Google it and read aloud. 

Randy's house is 1,300 square feet but lives large. Infill. Fruit trees. 9 ft ceilings. The thoughtful details abound. It has taken 3 years to build because it is build to last a century. The intentionally is what sets this house apart from others. It provides shelter, it gives beauty, it is not a burden to its future owners. "It is finished in beauty," echoes the Navajo. 

When I see cheap thoughtless new buildings erected in my community I cringe at the permanent blight being forced onto the public realm. When the only metric is the economic dollar, beauty is cut from the budget. It is no small tragedy to watch selfishness manifested in the name of economic development. The track house, the metal building, the bare structure, these all favor only one but cheat the rest. We must be proud of what we do and what we build, it is a measure of our humanity. 

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