By Duncan McFetridge
In the above article, the modern phenomenon of losing place is identified as a new form of illness: “homesickness at home”. It is a sickness by which placeless projects gradually undermine the foundations of a community until one day we wake up and, seeing our city and our wilderness drifting away, we feel a surge of homesickness. Suddenly, like strangers in a strange land, we all ask ourselves, “Where is the farm? Gone. Where is the wilderness? Gone. Where is that beautiful town or city? Gone.” These are the same questions asked by all those rooted in and sustained by community when they see the elements of that community disintegrating. Chief Seattle posed the question once and answered it: “Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.”
What do the downtown stadium, harbor project, Merriam Mountain, Rancho Guejito, the Del Mar Fairground Expansion, Poseidon Desalinization, Lilac Farms, and Hwy I-5 projects have in common? All these projects –and countless others in San Diego County — are conceived without relation to place or function in the community. In fact, the idea of a functioning community as a standard by which to measure these projects has never even arisen. Yet we must ask ourselves, “What is a forest community, what is a farm community, what is a harbor? Indeed, what, is a city?” Pondering further, we ask, “What are the essential and vital parts of a forest, a farm, and a city — essences without which these places would cease to exist?” And, finally, we query, “Does the community measure the project, or does the project measure the community? Do we prize property first, or function?”
In architecture, there is a famous formula that says form follows function: the shape of the building serves to enhance and perfect the purpose for which it was constructed. Thus, whatever is added to or built on the farm promotes the function of farming; whatever is added to or built in the forest promotes the functioning of the forest; whatever is added to or built in the city should enhance the functioning of the city. Or, as Plato once put it: “The beautiful is the useful and the ugly the shameful”.
In the political realm, on the other hand, the shameful and ugly have become interchangeable with the useful and beautiful; form follows money rather than function. Thus, in San Diego County, the sole rationale of the above-mentioned projects is the market rationale of profitability. Even a cursory examination of these projects reveals that they do not come close to fitting or functioning in their immediate environment; nor do any planning documents even contemplate their existence. Yet, in the world of politics, the environment and community do not seem to matter because dysfunction can always be mitigated with money. Nevertheless, one cannot help but question whether we can build the foundation of a community on the awkward pairing of dysfunction and mitigation. Can we build a community by injecting placeless projects connected by placeless roads? Can we reach the beautiful by building the ugly? Can we ever get to the true by mitigating the false?
Without a strong sense of place and a clear knowledge of how parts organically function in our communities, we become rootless as a society. Just as a plant cannot grow without roots, so a farm cannot exist without a farm community and a city cannot thrive without a city-center. And the more San Diego pursues placeless projects guided by placeless thoughts, the more our community’s roots will shrivel up, leading to a profound homesickness for its members. In the end, who will blame our residents for desperately seeking substitutes for home in the form of the endless diversions and addictions of the marketplace where everything is for sale? Homesickness at home; the end of living and the beginning of survival.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…”
- From Yeats “The Second Coming”