forms of placemaking and the role of ruins

The chatter today is all about placemaking. We have often let “local place” wither away. So we rush to rediscover what landscape essayist J.B. Jackson termed a past golden age–“a time when we seek to restore the world around us to something like its former beauty”.

Along the way, we encounter many types of places, functional and symbolic.

Below, the vital Easter community of St. Peter’s Square in Rome gives way to the evolved and rustic, sea-oriented towns of Port Townsend, Washington, Manarola in the Italian Cinque Terre, and the Orcas, Washington ferry landing.

Here we see transformative places. While function of buildings can evolve, the vitality of place remains as our senses witness new contexts for human interaction with tradition, time and transport. Perhaps now more touristic than pious or seafaring, such places live on.

But is it fair to say that some places are “less place than the next”, because they are new, reflect only modern consumerism or somehow deface an edifice? What of a suburban mall, or mere graffiti along a path?

Surely these are places, too, but with inherent value distinctions. While not downtown, indoor malls remain vital retail centers, and while not museum art, spontaneous expression has legitimacy, often even when rendered without permission or legal sanction.

And finally, what of a gravestone in a company town no longer serving its industry? What of a true ruin, or vestige, such as the Coliseum?

In “The Necessity for Ruins” (1980), Jackson answered unequivocally, first identifying the need for “that interval of neglect” before renewal and reform: ruins “correct history”.

“Ruins provide the incentive for restoration, and for a return to origins”.

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