Some places seem to remain largely fixed in time despite the constant changes that occur in the world around them. The narrow strip of land, affectionately known as the Oklahoma Panhandle, is just one of those places. Even today, the Oklahoma Panhandle evokes vivid images of the Dust Bowl era, of homesteading pioneers venturing into the Great Plains by wagon, of hard labor by farmers trying to eek out a living on the prairie, and of strong people like the fictional Joad family from The Grapes of Wrath, who were forced to move further westward in search of a better life.
Agriculture (especially wheat and sorghum), energy production (oil, gas, and wind), as well as sand and gravel mining are primary economic drivers for the Panhandle, as they have been, with the exception of wind energy, for the past century. As a result, the three counties comprising the Panhandle are often subject to the rise and fall of crop and commodity prices set in distant financial and political power centers.
The Panhandle is a remarkable place where one can find abandoned farm buildings slowly crumbling on the windswept plains, while miles of power poles mark the outermost limit of modern infrastructure set against distant barren vistas. It is a place where discarded farm machinery eternally rest amongst the fields they once harvested, as enormous modern machines till the soil nearby.
The Oklahoma Panhandle is not bisected by any busy Interstate Highways, but by several federal and state highways, as well as freight railroads streaking across the prairie. The asphalt byways allow visitors close-up views of this hardscrabble country, of tiny towns and small cities where grain silos and water towers punctuate the skies, and of the hardy folks who occupy this unique patch of American landscape.
Everyone in our country should try to visit the Oklahoma Panhandle at least once to better understand the challenges that our ancestors faced while crossing the continent and while building the United States. We have traveled across this solemn land several times over the past few months. It is a unique and vivid adventure that you will long remember and it will greatly increase your appreciation for those who settled here, those who endured here, and those who now reside and toil here. Peace!
If the Oklahoma Panhandle and the Great Plains interest you, here are several book options to consider that are available on Amazon.com.* This blog author has read The Grapes of Wrath (fiction) and The Worst Hard Time (non-fiction) – both are excellent reads.
*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using the above links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Below are twelve cities around the globe that have very long formal, original, or ceremonial names. Needless to say, these would be tough to include on postage or any document for that matter. The majority have long names associated with a religious association. The list is not meant to be a complete one, but as always, any additions, corrections, or suggestions are most welcome.
Bangkok, Thailand = Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit [The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Intra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn]
Buenos Aires, Argentina = Ciudad de la Santísima Trinidad y Puerto de Nuestra Señora la Virgen María de los Buenos Aires (City of the Holy Trinity and Port of Our Lady the Virgin Mary of Buenos Aires)
Caracas, Venezuela = Santiago de León de Caracas (Santiago de León from Caracas)
Concepción, Chile = Concepción de la Madre Santísima de la Luz (Conception of the Blessed Mother of Light)
Guayaquil, Ecuador = Santiago de Guayaquil (Saint James of Guayaquil)
La Paz, Bolivia = Nuestra Señora de La Paz (Our Lady of Peace)
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales, UK (St Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near a Rapid Whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the Red Cave)
Los Angeles, CA, USA = El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula (The People of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the Porciúncula River)
Montevideo, Uruguay = Muy Fiel y Reconquistadora Ciudad de San Felipe y Santiago de Montevideo (The Very Loyal and Reconquering City of San Felipe y Santiago de Montevideo)
Quito, Ecuador = San Francisco de Quito (Saint Francis of Quito)
Santa Fe, Argentina = Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz (Saint Francis of Assisi’ of the True Cross)
Santa Fe, NM, USA = La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís (The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi’)
Vastu Shastra doctrine are ancient spiritual design priciples that can be described as follows:
Utilized in India for many centuries, Vastu Shastra has a number of cultural/historical linkages and similarities to both Feng Shui in China, as well as the design principles of the Ancient Greece. More recently, the traditions and tenets of Vastu Shasta were largely set aside in modern society. Even within India itself, Vastu Shanstra was being abandoned by professionals in deference to more contemporary formulations and design protocols within architecture and planning. This was due, at least in part, to opinions from some who felt Vastu Shastra was dated and too wrapped in superstition. Despite these feelings, many people in India continued to incorporate Vastu Shastra principles in their home design much in the way Feng Shui is applied in Chinese culture.
It should be noted, that there are some aspects of Vastu Shastra city design that should be discarded, astray suggest physically separating the working classes from the ruling and more elite classes. Beyond those, in light of the accelerating global challenges taking place in relation to the Earth’s climate, those Vastu Shastra principles that help enhance humanity’s proper place in and relationship to nature are worthy of further examination. This blogpost specifically examines those aspects of Vastu Shastra that help build a harmonious relationship between humans and Mother Nature in a planning context.
To begin, Vastu Shastra’s foundation is centered upon the five forces/energies of the universe. These are:
Prithvi = the earth
Jala = the water
Vayu = the air
Agni = heat or the fire
Aakash = the space
A key component of Vastu Shastra is to properly align a structure or place in a manor which is creates balance with these cosmic forces/energies. To do so helps enhance well-being. To not be in balance with these forces, risks unhappiness, problems, and disappointment.
Vastu Shastra is applicable to the home, the neighborhood, the community, and beyond. How each of these aligns with the forces/energies of the universe can impact whether there will be a positive or negative flow over time.
Applications in Planning
There are numerous principles of Vastu Shastra that would be useful to the planning profession. These include how to properly site a building or community so that it aligns correctly with the cosmos in a manner that takes fullest advantage of the five forces of the universe. Here are just a few examples:
A city/town should be developed aside a river, sea shore, or lake — if this location is bow-shaped, even better;
Mountains and hills are helpful in that they provide security;
Verdant forests, gardens, green belts, and flowers should be incorporated into the city/town design;
Orientation to the cardinal directions is very important as are specific compass directions for specific purposes and needs;
Primary streets should be lined with shops and intersect where the main open markets are located.
Quarters of the city/town should be further divided by lanes and alleys;
Each quarter of the city/town is dedicated to the production and sale of specific crafts;
Use of non-toxic, energy-efficient, and sustainable building materials is emphasized;
Minimize disruption during development;
Five city/town shapes are recommended:
Chandura (square) – considered the most balanced shape
Krittta Vritta (elliptical)
Gola Vritta (full circle)
Beyond the planning guidelines listed above, it is imperative to remember that there are also actions that could produce negative outcomes. These could lead the home, business, or community away from prosperous future and into decline. Essentially, for every positive step into balance with cosmic forces, there is a potential equal and opposite misstep that should be avoided if at all possible. These can be everything from improper siting, orientation, and design, to poor road layout.
Climate Change Applications
So…could human development patterns and how we orient and design structures be a contributor to accelerating climate change? Well, it is safe to say there are many places that have not developed in a manner that is in balance with the forces of the universe as they are described in the teachings of Vastu Shastra. The same could be said for specific residential uses, factories, mines, and many other projects. Some improperly located places should be obvious even to those not familiar with Vastu Shastra, as evidenced by their inharmonious, if not downright hostile relationship with nature.
Perhaps the single most beneficial aspect of Vastu Shastra in regards to the ongoing challenges of climate change is that it requires a different mindset in our individual and collective relationship(s) with nature. Throughout much of history, many humans have used Old Testament texts contained in the Book of Genesis to regard both nature and the Earth itself as things to dominate (a.k.a. have dominion over). As a result, humans have desecrated, polluted, contaminated, and degraded the Earth through their misguided actions and deeds. Well, guess what? Mother Earth is fighting back with more powerful storms, extended droughts, horrific floods, rampant wildfires, rising temperatures, and the like…and we (humans) are a primary cause through our wrongful actions.
Given the importance of restoring and maintaining a proper balance with nature, applying the principles Vastu Shastra could be a helpful tool for humanity to begin to reverse climate change. While it is unlikely that micro-level developments (individual homes and businesses) would be enough to sway the powerful forces of nature, at the macro-level, enormous urban agglomerations or the sprawling aggregations of homes, industries, and businesses across the planet can have more profound effects on our planet.
For the planning profession in this era of climate change, the call for “an equilibrium with nature” found in Vastu Shastra should also be incorporated into our efforts to build better, safer, cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous communities. Furthermore, forging solutions to ongoing problems that have arisen from having been out of balance with the five forces/energies of nature should be applied as one way to begin reversing the negative effects of humanity’s prior misdeeds. Finally, the single most important, productive, and long-lasting solution would be a focus on teaching universal harmony with each other, nature, and our planet. Otherwise, we risk the very survival of civilization itself.
The following lists identify my favorite canyons and gorges that have been visited over the years. They are broken into two categories – regular canyons/gorges and then slot/box canyons or chasms. As more are visited, they will be added to the list. Enjoy!
White Rock Canyon – New Mexico
Bryce Canyon – Utah
Zion Canyon, Utah
Rio Grande Del Norte Gorge – New Mexico
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon/Washington
Oak Creek Canyon – Arizona
Horseshoe Bend Canyon – Arizona
Palo Duro Canyon – Texas
Sabino Canyon – Arizona
Grand Canyon – Arizona
Dragonback Canyon – New Mexico
Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado
Glenwood Canyon, Colorado
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Montana
Cañón de San Diego, New Mexico
Sturgeon River Canyon “Grand Canyon of the UP” – Michigan
It’s not often when one can witness the palpable difference infrastructure can make on the micro level. However, a small summer cottage beach neighborhood on Lake Wawasee, Indiana presents just such an opportunity. Here, the Natti Crow Beach neighborhood installed a lakefront sidewalk between the beach and the cottages facing the lake many, many decades ago. Few other areas fronting this 3,000 acre water body have a sidewalk on the lake side connecting multiple parcels.
One may ask, so what? The so what is that this sidewalk has helped foster a sense of place, camaraderie, and community. Why? Because it allows the residents and their guests residing along the sidewalk corridor to mingle, to get to know one another, and to build relationships without feeling like they might be trespassing. It is essentially a narrow public conduit of community placemaking.
Birthday parties, family reunions, playdates, neighborhood gatherings, and holiday celebrations are each interconnected to one another by means this narrow path. Youngsters have learned how to ride their bicycles and tricycles along here. Even marriages have resulted from young people socializing along this sidewalk. It is truly a unifying linear connection.
If a single sidewalk extending across a dozen or so parcels has such an enormous effect on a summer cottage community, imagine what networks of sidewalks are capable of doing elsewhere?
They unite neighborhoods;
They link residents and residents to nearby businesses and services;
The planning world has officially joined the 21st century, as three planning professionals have recently debuted an informative and fun podcast called The Planning Commission. The podcast is hosted by by Chris Danley; Jessica Smith, AICP; and Donald Kostelec.
As of the publication of this post, nine (9) episodes have been released, ranging in topics from first planning jobs — to dealing with obnoxious members of the public — to broken zoning codes — to public participation. Each episode includes a lively and entertaining dialogue among the planners, some whiskey pairings with the episode topic (who doesn’t like that!), and a special guest who adds insightful and informative thoughts on the subject matter at hand. Some of the podcasts are so interesting that one wishes they could have been extended beyond the standard 30-60 minutes. Younger planners and planning students should find The Planning Commission particularly useful, as a way to gain a better understanding of the profession beyond what’s typically taught in school.
Throw all this in with real world planning tidbits from the hosts along with some light-hearted hilarity to which anyone who has been planner can relate and you have a recipe for a dandy addition to the airwaves? digital universe? video world? all of the above? There hasn’t been an episode heard yet (five so far), where this retired planner didn’t laugh out loud.
The references to situations we planners all have experienced and the terms the hosts use to describe them are especially enjoyable. For example — “frequent flyers” for those who people show up and comment at every meeting. And, if any of the hosts mistakenly use an acronym during the podcast, a gong will sound loudly as punishment for employing “plannerspeak.”
If you are a professional planner, work in a closely related field, are a planning student, a planner wannabe, or just love city topics, you will enjoy this podcast and get hooked very quickly. So, be sure to amend your weekly agenda to add The Planning Commission. It’s certain to receive an unanimous vote in favor from all those in attendance.
May 4, 2007, will always remain a pivotal day in the history of Greensburg, Kansas. On that day, much of the city of Greensburg was obliterated by a EF5 category tornado. Thankfully, most residents survived the tragedy due early and persistent storm warnings, as well as the swift/brave actions of their friends, neighbors, authorities, and other caring citizens. Regardless, the post-storm statistics are both staggering and heartbreaking:
Ten residents of Greensburg perished
More than 90 percent of the city was destroyed
5,700 trees; or 95 percent of the city’s tree canopy was lost
There was $250 million in damage to the city
Only 66 of the 110 businesses in Greensburg before the storm indicated they planned to stay afterwards
The amount of debris and rubble removed equaled nearly 1/2 million pounds per resident of the city!
This post identifies and discusses some of the planning lessons learned from Greensburg. As can be surmised from the list below, not all aspects of the city’s resurrection have gone as smoothly or quickly as was hoped for during early stages of the rebuilding phase. One only need walk around the town to sense that something very tragic happened here — missing trees, empty lots, and remnant foundations are testaments to the ferocity of the tornado even 15 years later. For this retired planner, Greensburg in 2022 evokes much of the same post-tramatic aura that Xenia, Ohio did when visiting there in the early 1980s.
Here are the planning lessons, but frankly there could be many, many more given the complexity of the situation here.
Unlike many places that would throw in the towel after such a calamitous event, Greensburg took a brave “greener” approach. The city decided to rebuild as a “model green town” of energy conservation and sustainability utilizing LEED standards.
2. Some residents of Greensburg also took the unique step of establishing a non-profit (Greensburg GreenTown) to help facilitate the rebuilding process and promote sustainable solutions. Sadly, this organization is no longer exists.
Model eco-homes have been built in the city to promote and demonstrate sustainable design.
6. Greensburg has been able to serve as a “living laboratory” for renewable energy and sustainability. As a result, it has observed first hand what works well, what doesn’t work, and what improvements/changes/corrections need to be made.
Macroeconomic and societal factors, some of which are unique to rural communities
FYI – A quick review of Census data on Wikipedia shows that despite its 4.8 percent decline between 2010 and 2020, Greensburg’s population did not fall as much when compared to many small cities and towns across Kansas.
8. Greensburg continues to champion sustainability, through its website, by offering guided green tours of the city, and through the book Green Town USA in 2013.
9. Despite the setbacks, Greensburg is and should always be synonymous with resiliency, as the city demonstrated great courage and resolve to “restore, rebuild, and reimagine” after the 2007 tornado.
10. Rebuilding an entire community involves huge initial leaps in rebuilding and reconstruction, followed by many years of baby steps, as the community gradually restitches itself back together. The second part of the timeline is harder because the initial enthusiasm has worn off.
11. An important lesson that Greensburg learned from the disaster and which is wise advice to other communities, was the following:
It is hoped that despite some setbacks, Greensburg will stay the course and continue to champion sustainable solutions as it has the past 15 years. Many challenges await while attempting to chart a bold new course, not the least of which is the pressure to rescind certain regulations and turn back the clock. What is often forgotten by those who advocate for taking steps backward, is that doing so also has inherent risks, including the potential loss of the Greensburg’s own identity to market forces beyond the its control. These can gradually strip away the very attributes and qualities that even a EF5 tornado could not shake — the ones that set Greensburg apart from most others places of similar size across the country — local business and property ownership, ease of access to community services, and especially a bold vision for its future.
However, this retired planner is rooting for the good people of Greensburg to bravely reject the notion of turning back and to instead maintain their collective desire for restoring, rebuilding, and reimagining this extraordinary community that graces the American landscape.
If the rebuilding of Greensburg, Kansas interests you, here are two books on the topic available through Amazon.com.*
*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using the above links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Just before the climatic car race scene in the movie Grease, John Travolta’s opponent turns to him and says the following:
Well, in the urban planning field, one can definitely NOT say “there ain’t no rules.” And that’s a problem. For we planners get so caught up in rules, procedures, laws, and such, that we forget that rules can hinder/squash new ideas, spontaneity, and innovation.
Should the master planning, site plan, and zoning processes be a free-for-all? No, but at the same time it should not be so regimented and staid that full participation and discourse are squelched. For many people not familiar with the workings of government and planning, the thought of speaking up at public discussion on the future of their community can be quite frightening. It’s that intimidation factor that limits a true discourse on important planning issues. By formulating meetings into structured events (even charettes) can silence and/or scare off the uninitiated.
To truly have inclusivity one must first remove the barriers to participation…and a structured format is a significant barrier, whether it is a physical wall or perceived one.
So, how does one “create a little anarchy” in the planning process? My suggestion would be to take some cues from the ten principles of the Burning Man Project. Several of these principles already fit nicely into the community planning process – communal effort, civic responsibility, and participation. Beyond those, planning professionals should incorporate:
Radical inclusion – proactively seek out and involve those who rarely are included in the planning process, including but not limited to the homeless, seniors, youth, students, poor, women, minorities, and the disenfranchised by going directly to homeless shelters and camps, women’s shelters, retirement and assisted living facilities, schools (at all grade levels), halfway houses, low-income housing projects, area community centers, food banks, art studios, apartment dwellers, trade schools, union halls, VFW halls, religious institutions, and even jails to name a few. The days of holding forums at a couple of locations and mailing out a random-sample survey ARE OVER!
Radical inclusion also means expanding access to meetings and hearings by allowing phone and email questions, as well as live video feeds, and not just during a pandemic. Furthermore, take the meetings to the public – the formal setting of a city/town hall can be quite intimidating.
Decommodification – while planning and zoning cannot and should not allow monetary reasons to influence decisions, far-too-often community powerbrokers, such as developers, the chamber of commerce, the wealthy, government officials, the highly-educated, real estate interests, and similar stakeholders have controlled the narrative on planning and zoning topics. While there is a place and time for their input, it cannot allowed outweigh or supersede the feedback of others. This is tough, as these forces are powerful and tend to be more familiar with the process.
Radical self-expression – FORGET THE CHARETTE! FORGET THE S-W-O-T ANALYSIS! These formats hinder true and open discussion by pre-structuring the conversion toward a certain goals – two of which are time and budget. Instead, allow a continuous free-flow of topics related to the community from those attending without placing expectations or limits on them, other than to assure they are civil and respectful of others. This route may take more time and effort, but it will likely produce a better, more inclusive product.
Radical self-reliance – this may take some time, but should become more evident when those who are hesitant begin to feel comfortable participating in the process.
Gifting – one may wonder how in the world can a planner/planning department gift things to others. Well, by opening up the the entire process to be more inclusive and less rigid is a gift to those often left out of the equation when comes to the community’s future.
I’m torn. A part of me wants to travel this very minute to Fly Ranch and experience the scenic landscapes on this lovely site, while also visualizing the various art/sustainability projects taking place there. On the other hand, the site is so beautiful, it seems it might be a better decision to just leave it alone.
For those who are unaware, Fly Ranch was acquired by the Burning Man Project several years back. The 3,800 acre tract is located 15 minutes north of Black Rock City (site of the annual Burning Man event) and appears to be very much a Garden of Eden set amid the high desert of northwest Nevada. The website describes it as follows:
Granted, much of the tract (nearly 3,000 acres) is intended to be left alone, even when establishing Land Art of the 21st Century. That is a very good thing that should be applauded, as should the climate, energy, and sustainability goals. But, that doesn’t mean that the scenic vistas aren’t going to be forever altered by the intrusion of humanity, nor does it mean there won’t be added pressures from ecotourism, as well as increased noise and pollution associated with continuous human interaction.
The website notes that over 700 public nature walks have been conducted to date. Potentially negative impacts invariably come with increased human activity, but unlike the week-long Burning Man event, you can’t “leave no trace behind” when the site is being occupied and operated on a year-round basis.
Furthermore, even if this site remained largely unaltered, what takes place on any private lands around its periphery is much less certain, especially once Fly Ranch becomes better known in the public realm. As is so succinctly stated in the film Field of Dreams; “If you build it, they will come” and as all of us planners know;”If you don’t own it, you don’t control it.”
So, why mess with such innate beauty? Why risk harming the very things that humans (including the Burning Man Project) seek to portray through their artistry and/or to save through sustainability?Aren’t there plenty of unused fallow farm fields, empty parking lots, abandoned cities, and brownfield sites across this country that could be repurposed for such an exciting utopian endeavor that don’t risk adverse human impacts onto pristine landscapes? In addition, wouldn’t locating this endeavor in a more accessible location allow it to involve and educate even more people?
How about just returning the land to the indigenous people who were there first (the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone) at no cost and then find a more suitable/inclusive place for this impressive and enormous project? Such a step would constitute the ultimate gifting of something tangible and real in the best tradition and principles of Burning Man. It would also be a gigantic leap towards initiating an “ethical, cultural revolution” championed by Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey. Besides, our Native American neighbors were experts at sustainability long before post-Columbian colonists, settlers, and pioneers arrived to muck it up. Who better to entrust this place of serene beauty for all eternity?
If the idea of gifting Fly Ranch to the indigenous people of the area cannot be achieved due to some unknown cause or circumstances, then perhaps a middle-ground alternative would be to assure inclusion of multiple representatives of the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone in key roles within the consensus-making community at Fly Ranch.
Please feel free to provide your thoughts and comments on the issues raised in this post. Peace!
As the use of mass timber design and construction expands in building development, it has also become increasingly used in airport terminal projects. Above and below are images from airports around the globe where mass timber construction has been incorporated into new buildings and/or terminal renovation projects.
Anahim Lake Airport, British Columbia, Canada – New terminal (2013)
As the photographs depict, mass timber can add character, beauty, charm, warmth, and a distinctive style to airport terminal design. In addition, mass timber can be utilized in a variety of airport design and construction projects ranging from small, remote airfields like Anahim Lake (shown above) to major international destinations like Cebu, Oslo, Portland, Seattle, and Zurich (see below).
Cebu International Airport, Philippines – New terminal (2018)
Long treks and lengthy waits at busy airports can all-too-often become a mind-numbing experience for air passengers. It is hoped that the added use of mass timber design and construction will help alleviate some of the tedium and tension brought on by crowds, long lines, layovers, weather delays, tight schedules, flight cancellations, jet lag, lost luggage, and other less-than pleasant aspects of air travel. A recent study at the University British Columbia showed that wood products can have stress-reducing benefits in an office environment (see below).
Chibougamau-Chapais Airport, Quebec, Canada – New terminal (2022)
It will be interesting to see if the use of mass timber products in airport development extends beyond those nations/regions/locales where the timber industry is important and wood is an abundant natural resource — which is the case for each of these airport locations. Furthermore, if the incorporation of more timber/wood products into terminal design can be shown to help reduce tension and stress at airports, it is likely to be employed at more locations to help improve the overall travel experience.