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Howard — Putting the city in nature

  • Published in Columns

By Elizabeth Howard

The Museum of the City of New York recently opened an exhibition entitled: "New York at its Core, 400 Years of History." While there are the traditional vitrines with ephemera and various archives, much of the exhibition is displayed using interactive digital technology. Children can design a park or figure out how to stop flooding by creating barriers against coastal waters. Maps cover walls and then light up to show where and when various immigrant groups settled. It's a fascinating exhibition and studying all of the various galleries would mean several trips to the Museum, not just one Saturday afternoon.

At one point walking through the exhibition, I began to think about Laconia. I realized I have much to research. What about the Abenaki Indian settlement that is now The Weirs? Where was the fort built in Laconia in 1746? Like the history of many New Hampshire municipalities, the history of Laconia is closely tied to the geography of the place.

Then I began to again reimagine Laconia using the questions posed in The Future of the City section of the City Museum of NY Exhibition. There are five questions: 1) How will we make a living? 2) Live together? 3) House a growing population? 4) Live with nature? 5) Get around?

For the last decade and until her death in November I worked with Diana Balmori.
Diana was recognized as a visionary urban planner and landscape architect who blurred the line between architecture and landscape. It was Diana who designed one of the first green roofs in New York City and, using this concept, created the master plan for a new government city in Sejong, Korea that connects eleven government ministries buildings with a linear park across the rooftops. The rooftop park curves like a serpent over two miles through what had been rice patties. It is a stunning accomplishment.

A Landscape Manifesto (Yale University Press, 2011), Diana's seminal work on her philosophy, includes 25 manifesto points designed to help think about incorporating nature and landscape into new urban settings.

"Two tasks emerge from this redefinition: landscape must create a new kind of city, and it must broker a new type of relationship between humans and the rest of nature. For the first, we need to put the city into nature. For the second, we must undo the harmful model of industrialization."

Manifesto Point 2: Nature is the flow of change within which humans exist. Evolution is its history. Ecology is our understanding of its present phase.

How can we put Laconia in nature? What about a community garden near the center of downtown? A place where everyone can garden and then local restaurants can purchase and serve some of the food.

Manifesto Point 17: We can heighten the desire for new interactions between human and nature where it is least expected in derelict spaces.

Imagine a building with a rooftop garden that overlooks downtown, creating a place where one has a view across the landscape that encompasses spires of the local churches, the mountains and the lakes.

It is helpful to ask the question: "What could the downtown center become?" If small retail stores, consignment shops and even eateries struggle, it might be useful to think about how the center could be redesigned so it is used not only by people in the community but by others in the region, or in the state.

A few of my fantasies? A bookstore, with new and used books. One that is perhaps connected to the Laconia Public Library and relies on donated books. Several nights a week there could be an author's forum or a talk by someone in the community.

A yarn shop where people can sit and knit all day. Annie's, a yarn store in Manhattan just a few blocks from my apartment, has a large round table where men and women sit and knit. It is a way to find friendship and if you drop a few stitches or begin a new pattern there is something there to help.

A soup kitchen. A place where local people would be hired to make four soups a day. These would be sold to support the people working in the kitchen. Who wouldn't want to stop and pick up a hot beef stew when it's dark and cold at the end of the day? Or a cold cucumber soup to enjoy with grilled hamburgers during the summer months.

A tailor shop where a few people who love design and fashion could re-imagine your old clothes. The jacket from a man's suit made into a woman's coat. The pants from a pinstriped suit turned into a smart short skirt for young women. A dress that becomes a skirt and takes on another life.

None of these ideas are particularly profitable. They might cover a low rent and need to be supported by volunteer help. What this might do is create more of a community downtown that engages and involves people. Downtown is a nice walk from many neighborhoods so getting there is a healthy alternative to driving.

In our digital world it is lovely to think about living together in a community that is inclusive, peaceful and considers creative and alternative solutions to overcome obstacles we have created and a community where the lines between nature and living are blurred.

My Valentine is to you – my friends in New Hampshire who love the lakes and mountains, as I do.

Elizabeth Howard's career intersects journalism, marketing and communications. Ned O'Gorman: A Glance Back, a book she edited, was published in May 2016. She is the author of A Day with Bonefish Joe, a children's book, published by David R. Godine. She lives in New York City and has a home in Laconia. You can send her a note at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..