Let a Place Be As Much Itself As Possible

James Walpole/ August 1, 2020

Almost every day I drive to work down the brilliantly landscaped two-lane road of a local resort island. And what I see is nothing like what I see on the side of pavement in most of the rest of my state.

The place is swarming with wildlife. Despite development of many golf courses and houses, the place is still so green and so thick that it feels like a jungle (Jurassic Park, really). It’s planted thickly with local vegetation and trees from live oaks to palmettos to cedars and five other plants I can’t name. Herons and ibuses and alligators and deer live amongst vacation homes. It’s gorgeous. And I considered today that it could have been otherwise.

Once upon a time planting and cultivating native vegetation and using native building styles would have been natural and inevitable. But now when people decorate their towns and homes in these globalized days, they have the option to import home styles, landscaping, and vegetation from almost any time and place they can think of. They often don’t even know what things are native to their own place to begin with.

In a world like this, there is much scrambling to make one place look like another. The result is ostentatious and occasionally ridiculous and out-of-place homes and weak landscaping. Imagine someone planting a grove of northern maple trees in South Carolina, or building a Spanish-style villa in Alaska. It *can* technically be done, but in our gut and our minds’ eye we know it is wrong.

To make a place beautiful (as the designers of my morning commute have done), imports are not required. Instead, we should make the places around us as much *themselves* as possible. By planting and arranging native plants and trees in abundance (and in allowing habitat for diverse local wildlife), the makers of the local resort island did just that. They didn’t change the makeup of the island – they just intensified it.

I think we’d be surprised by how much more beautiful our world could be if we stopped reshaping and remaking and started fertilizing the natural, evolved responses of human need and design to land.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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