(This is the first of a two-part story.)
San Francisco landscape architecture Professor (U.C. Berkeley) Walter Hood has been hailed by KQED San Francisco Public Television and Public Radio as a leader in urban refurbishment. His resuscitation of local parks in Oakland and San Francisco, has “….integrated architectural features such as playgrounds, plazas and squares into city sites whose pasts are vibrant but forgotten. By reflecting the shifting cultural composition and respecting the evolving nature of neighborhoods….,[Hood] has created an oasis in these areas, and through his close involvement with the local communities, he developed tailored solutions for Bay Area based parks while retaining a cohesive artistic vision.”
Hood is principal of Hood Design; his reputation and projects span the globe. He’s at work on a new book, “Urban Landscapes: American Landscape Typologies.”
Last summer I had the pleasure of sitting down with Hood, and I asked him his impressions of Jackson’s landscapes–natural and man-made.
The first thing he told me was that green community plans are a relatively new thing.
Some years ago Hood met with Center for the Arts staff and officials to propose a project around the Center; that project didn’t happen, but Hood has had multiple chances to observe our town’s practices and choices about public art and landscaping.
“It was a great experience to come here… because I met so many people and I love this landscape. As a place, it is unique….I am much more interested in the landscape here and how we can live in a place and somehow bring the accoutrements from other places…. I was just out in Teton Village, and you could be anywhere! I could be in some California town, some hillside town,” says Hood.
Hood imagines a trail system connecting all valley communities; on the flip side, he’s surprised to find that, in a place as unique as this, people are living much like people do in most other places: with a car out front, standard roofs, excessive traffic. In a place like Jackson, we should be forcing ourselves to change the footprint we leave upon the earth.
In a place like Jackson, public spaces should be about scaling and shifting the existing landscape, to enmesh people in a landscape experience so that art and landscape are “legible.”
Pointing to a cluster of aspens and evergreens on a Jackson street corner, Hood says he’d never plant such species on that spot.
“With Snow King there–it’s all about Snow King. The trees block it. If I am working in a neighborhood of small scale, that’s one thing. But this is huge, the glacier on that mountain is EVIDENT.”
Indeed, when I retrieve my mail on Pearl Avenue, cross over to Betty Rock, and look up, I now see big, bulky condos. Snow King is wiped from view. As Franz Camenzind has said, if people look up and can’t see the mountains, how can they be connected to the space? The rim is gone. Landscape lost.
The only people who will be able to see the mountain from that vantage point are the new condo owners.
“How can you not work in another way?” asks Hood. “I’m being completely conceptual, I know. But that’s one of the things that’s really important. Every time we do a drawing, we always show Snow King in the background. Because everything you do is in reference to this thing. How you make decisions. Take this corner of town we’re talking about, with the trees, along this major street, Pearl Avenue, it would not be a hard thing to protect that view. You need to say that when you are on this street that ridge line view should be protected.”
Hood notes that our process is typical of what rural communities started doing in the 70’s.
“Before you know it, what you value is gone. You forget the place because you are so immersed in it. When you live there. It happens to a lot of communities over time because you stop seeing it. It becomes so familiar. Then one day you look around and wonder what happened. How did we get this way?”