June 13, 2019

Dr Hazard’s approach to cattle

June 7, 2019

Neal’s Death Owl

Homer Neal LewisHomer Neal Lewis

For a month I have witnessed only a white sun blazing down with nearly 100 degree temps and dust, there is no rain. And it is only May. Two weeks ago one evening a death owl came visiting. I spotted him before dusk in a tree staring at me, then after a few long moments, he flew away as I raised the camera.

The death owl

According to family lore, he is warning that a death is coming to the clan O’Carroll. And death did come days later; our patriarch died in his sleep. Homer Neal at 97.

With him, I think dies a part of us. Not that many of us” exist anymore. Not the real Carrolls. We exist in the ground of this place, our bones interned, in spirit and in the memories of a few that are dwindling in number. There is a log cabin and church we built and gave to the community. But largely we are fading away into a forgotten history and being absorbed into the red clay. When all the living are gone and no on left to hold the memories of those who came before us…what then ? Do we cease to exist ? I have always questioned why we were here and why G-d gave us such deep knowledge of this place (we came in the 1820’s). My Great Uncle Homer Neal reminded me the value to knowing a place in a multigenerational way, working the land season after season year after year, father son then many grandsons down. But there are also he warned demons. With such time you begin to understand what is not obvious and lies beneath the surface of whats seen by others, the why behind it. The less you know is sometimes best, the more you know worse, you can never go back to the illusion you held.

Below are a few photographs of him, the day before he left for World War Two, the moment he came back and kissed his wife Eloise. Above the day he started being a farmer. We will miss you Neal.

Leaving home to join World War II, Barbour County Alabama

Kissing Aunt Eloise

May 30, 2019

No Place to Play

Ms. Annie Helms in the Dudley Quarters community of Eufaula Alabama.

Ignorance is very hard to explain. Here is how I will describe it from a local perspective. Imagine you are a well to do politician. That term is relative what would be middle class in Colorado or California is wealthy in Barbour County Alabama. Nonetheless you own your home, a nice vehicle or two. Your wife doesn’t really have to work, but sort of does. You have a few dollars in accounts and everything is paid for. Your primary concern is watching and attending football games, keeping your affair secret, and providing for your children. Several hours a day is spent engaged in thinking about what others think of you. This is what more than anything else determines who you are.

Meanwhile on the other side of town there are children that have no place to play this summer. You know a few of their relatives because you pay them to wash your bass-boat and cars. Handing them a 20 on top of a hundred you think x’s the little block of redemption to balance the inequity. It doesn’t. But consider your children have taxpayer funded boat ramps to launch their 50k bassboat this summer on the lake. Their children don’t even have a place to play.

Do something.

May 8, 2019

William Burks, Boyd Alabama 2019William Burks, Boyd Alabama 2019

William Burks worked at a country store in rural Alabama for over 49 years. I’ve known him since I was two years old. So many good memories of this place and what it meant to the community. Spontaneously filmed a little piece on him sharing his thoughts this week here.

April 14, 2019

Alabama’s Tombstone

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery Alabama

If there is a myth of what Alabama is (outside of football), this is it’s burial ground. Witnessing hundreds of millions of dollars being spent at Auburn, it is humbling to drive just an hour west and experience the most significant example of architecture the state will likely ever produce. The reality is the next generation of Alabamians not once stopped and recognized the holocaust their ancestors perpetuated. Instead, they chose to omit it from history books and build monuments to white supremacy.

Mr. Hughes was lynched a few miles from my family’s home. I went to high school with several of his family members.

The county my family is from.

April 7, 2019

Unsullied Wyoming”

This [the West] is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”

Wallace Stegner, The Sound of Mountain Water (Penguin Books 1980, 38)

Last fall a former professor initiated a discussion about planning’s role in forming landscapes. The argument played out on this online journal, so it was never a secret if read carefully. No one should be surprised my coming to Wyoming was in part a documentary photography project from the onset.

It was continuation of an argument in every graduate design studio at Auburn. William’s position is known, articulated in a series of books about the American landscape, East 40 Degrees and Easy On Easy Off, He holds the belief lessons learned from studying our best human efforts at creating landscapes of the past and identifying failures or urbanism can be applied to making decisions that benefit society in a top-down design approach.

I attended a class of case studies of planning decisions and their outcomes in Boston and Denver taught by Michael Robinson at Auburn University. He is a student of the unseen forces that drive development. Both these men are contradictory, living polemics in the top-down-versus-bottom-up debate that started when they came of age at Harvard with the debates of Jacobs, Mumford and McHarg.

Their challenge was to insert myself into the government side of planning where a culturally valuable agricultural landscape was at risk. Only with such first hand knowledge could I understand the reality. Williams advised me every day take one photo and analyze how decisions were made by public officials. Then document how these decisions shape the landscape over time the next several years. His prediction was I would become cynical about human nature. Robinson’s predictions were just as dark, that I would be forced to take the side of money or not be able to politically survive completing my education”.

Naively I thought they were wrong and believed in a process that is equitable and consensus-driven. Developed in part by the government’s response to the 1961 publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities and the federal funding of land use / master plans that created or revised zoning laws. The key to good planning is transparency and an informed public guiding the process. I believed this narrative as much as those on the Titanic thought their ship unsinkable.

The way it should work is a majority of citizens make decisions on a consensus basis which prevents individual citizens to pursue self-interest with the coercion of public officials. However as one prominent local attorney told me, The public doesn’t get to call the shots”.

My observation is to maintain public support, elected officials must mislead the public. This turns into a predictable Orwellian nightmare. The public denied information, prevents politically appointed boards to make good decisions about development. There is no lie per se, just an omission of facts and lack of transparency to the public that serves to undermine place.

The Road to Serfdom, University of Chicago Press. Right: The Road to Freedom, excerpt in Reader’s Digest, April 1945.

Wyoming, to quote the previous head of the County Commission, Steve Shockley, is obsessed with private property rights. We do not want anyone telling us what to do”. The commission’s two person majority denies they accepted the state statutes for example on the definition of subdivision”. Their fear of laws and personal theories on planning” being undemocratic seem copied verbatim from a reader’s digest version of Friedrich Hayek’s theories in 1945 to achieve their ends, the planners must create power … so that it can be used in the service of a single plan.” It was this use of power that produced what the author of these theories would contend was an inevitable and irreconcilable clash between planning and democracy.” The idea that consensus-driven planning decisions are taking away private property rights and is undemocratic is not healthy.

Communities across rural Wyoming were empowered through the federal and state governments funding of Land Use plans in the early 1980s were able to create plans of how they wanted counties and towns developed.

The Platte County Development Plan adopted in 2008 after a series of public meetings and consensus driven. It prohibits residential subdivisions in most of the County.

When a comprehensive land use plan developed by consensus with public meetings and used to develop zoning rules and regulations offers citizens a chance to plan their community the way they choose. Without this the process becomes manipulated by individual and political self interest.

If you ignore this process it creates a perfect storm for developers, mining operators, real estate speculators to exploit a landscape for profit. What generations have built up before them of open space, civic identity and community is erased. One need only drive south along the I-25 corridor from Wyoming to Colorado to witness the outcome of this approach.

I spent the past six months documenting how planning decisions are made by a municipal and county government, over time I will document how these play out on the landscape.

Platte County Wyoming is not unique; it’s not a story of good guy versus bad guy, nor about corruption; it’s about a failure of process. The former chairman of the Town of Wheatland’s Planning and Zoning commission Herschel Pruitt wisely said, When people break the rules they are doing it for only one reason; they have something to gain.”

There are three Cs of Planning I believe — First, identify the most compelling reason to plan in your community; second, rely on collaborative approaches; third, foster regional connections. A collaborative process allows local officials to weigh and balance competing viewpoints, and to learn more about the issues at hand. This type of open source - transparent process allows people most affected by land use decisions to drive the decisions, not a few seeking to profit from them.

Ultimately on a personal level I faced a situation where hospice had been called in for my parents two thousand miles away and if I was radically honest neither could I proceed as county planner when there is a refusal by the majority of the county commission to respect the process. It is not personal, and again I stress not a good guy vs bad guy debate, it is an ideological divide that cannot not be overcome.

My ability to preserve agricultural landscapes and encourage responsible growth is best not in the role of a planner managing tension between adversarial interests but using my photography, research and analytical skills to document the results of these decisions. These landscapes are complex bio-cultural systems underrepresented but worthy of preservation.

Ultimately this will be a reflection of a place on the cusp of change, documenting how it happened in those very last days when it was still what it used to be. Perhaps as well it will encourage socially conscious planners and lawmakers to reassess their methods.

Additional Resources:

Swanson, Larry. 1999. The emerging new economy’ of the Rocky Mountain West: Recent change and future expectation. The Rocky Mountain West’s Changing Landscape 1(1):16-27.

Center for Resource Management. 1999. The Western Charter: Initiating a Regional Conversation. Boulder, CO: Center for Resource Management.

Wijesuriya, Gamini, and Jane Thompson. 2016. Three people-centered approaches. Heritage, Conservation and Communities: Engagement, Participation and Capacity Building 34.

The Nature Conservancy. N.d. The Crown of the Continent. Online at https://www.nature. org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/montana/placesweprotect/crown- of-the-continent.xml.

Mitchell, Nora J., and Brenda Barrett. 2015. Heritage values and agricultural landscapes: Towards a new synthesis. Landscape Research 40(6): 701–716.

Kothari, Ashish, Philip Camill, and Jessica Brown. 2013. Conservation as if people also mattered: Policy and practice of community-based conservation. Conservation and Society 11(1): 1–15.

March 30, 2019

Springtime ?

The road to the Double Four

Everywhere you go now there are birds, willow trees are ready to explode. Rode up to the Double Four Ranch this afternoon, took a few shots out the window…of unsullied wyoming”. I am thinking this will be my last ride in this landscape as I am needed at home. The black suit in my closet if cleaned and ready never something as children we desire to face. Its not quite spring in Wyoming but its coming…or the birds say so. And the calves certainly hope so.

March 27, 2019

My Wonderwoman

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My mother, AKA Wonderwoman

Very difficult to realize one’s parents are mortal. The angel of death has visited my family repeatedly this past year taking many, some young and unexpected. My closet now has a black suit at the ready.

March 26, 2019

Dan’s coat is still for sale

March 25, 2019

Not suprising

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March 23, 2019

Hartville Wyoming

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Town hall in Hartville Wyoming

Got to spend some time with the Town Council of Hartville Wyoming last night. Unsullied Wyoming” they called it. Just good people sitting around discussing how to make their community better, so refreshing. There are very few places like this left in this country.

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March 16, 2019

Rules of the game

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March 15, 2019

Affordable housing study

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Yes a shipping container can be interesting and designed well.

March 14, 2019
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Wyoming is definitely not the Bible belt

March 2, 2019


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The North Platte River below Guernsey

As you look upon this river, you think how beautiful it is. But what you don’t see beneath the ice there are brown trout slowly dying. They naturally spawn in fall, unlike other trout. On the Platte, they establish their spawning beds only to have the water lowered (from 400 cubic feet per second to 25 cubic feet per second) killing their offspring, then slowly their habitat shrinks as pools go away and come March those who have survived the starvation wait for the water.

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Diagram of the effect of the reduction instream flow on the Brown Trout

On the Platte we have Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Pallid Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus) and Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus), What makes one endangered or threatened species more important than another? A crane lives and trout and a natural river starve to death to support it’s artificial habitat. I’m going to keep watching this river, photographing it, asking questions and see where they lead me. Of course the reality about conservation is there are often only the best choice among bad options.

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My puppy experiencing springtime in Wyoming

January 14, 2019

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I-25 exit near the Colorado Wyoming line where suburbia begins southward

There is a fear in the West, the old west that is. The monster of suburbia now stretching from south of Colorado springs north to the state line of Wyoming is not stoppable. Ranching communities one by one have fallen and been transformed into a form of urban sprawl that could just as easily be in Atlanta or Dallas has spread across the front range of the Rocky Mountains. This line of development is now north of Fort Collins quickly approaching Wyoming. I’m going to spend the spring with my camera documenting it, trying to understand the changes it brings to communities. A less writing, more photographing, let the image tell the story kind of thing.

December 30, 2018


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Our new Mayor in Wheatland Wyoming

Urban versus rural is an ongoing conversation — in words and images — between Jack Williams and Jon Kalev. Williams is Emeritus Professor of Landscape Architecture and former Chair, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, Auburn University, and author of East 40 degrees: An Interpretive Atlas and Easy On Easy Off.
Kalev is the town and county planner for Platte County Wyoming and former student of Williams.

Do two distinctly different poles rural vs high density or urban exist, and (I’ll add) is the fault line so deep as to prevent a form a cohesiveness…necessary for governing?

But how, why and where are the fault lines?

If rural Wyoming is different there will be threads of ecology, economics and physical geology affirming this. As to whether the resultant physical form is different is a intriguing question. I’ll go ahead and put my hypothesis out there - it is different.

First Jack…Wyoming is not just high desert”. Do not confuse Annie Proulx’s wonderful description of a specific region - the Red Desert with the state as a whole. Much of what appears to be an alkaline desert in Wyoming like the western slope of Colorado, Utah or Nevada’s Great Basin are influenced from humans tunneling under mountains and diverting water at a massive scale underneath mountains to other regions. Wheatland Wyoming is such a place. You were right in the fact that coming to a place like this as an experiment will revel what happens beneath the surface.

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Satellite view of Wheatland Wyoming

The past of any landscape is enormous with endless things hidden inside. As you have taught, and written about, the task of landscape architecture is to unravel and examine those threads and weave them into the new. I agree I am ignorant of how that really works at the public/gov side. But I am hopeful here it is not as bad that somehow there is a pride in the place that is a island. If anything this place’s history and the very name may serve as a fence to such greed. The name Wyoming” note was not a stolen place name but an indigenous adjective describing distinct landscape phenomena, mountains separated by valleys of undulating rolling hills of grass”. A very specific description of the shortgrass prairie in front range communities, formed when the ice age retreated around 12,000 years ago. In Wyoming the area along the North Platte and Laramie rivers, we would have confronted wooly mammoths, bighorn bison, both pursued by the famous dire wolf. At an archeological site in the north end of the county, Hell Gap, evidence of tipis and human settlement date back to the early Holocene period 12,000 years ago. Platte county remains one of the most continuously inhabited landscapes in the western hemisphere. Older than the oldest European city (Plovdiv Bulgaria, where Elena was from) and Athens Greece. Here the Mayflower did not crash land on a shoal of the Platte River and unload a group of Europeans naming everything new to them a new something else. Nor did they obliterate the native ecology and plant species of this place to construct a chemically dependent one in its place. This landscape had a vibrant culture and settlement pattern deeply intertwined with the ecology of the shortgrass prairie for thousands of years and in many ways, current land use continues this.

It has been humbling to realize where I serve as County Planner there is a settlement history predating European civilization. It has been disturbing that most public officials have no knowledge of this nor care.

Geologically where glaciers to the north and south clawed canyons, valleys and scraped aquifers clean an area of gently rolling hills and plateaus covered with streams and creeks define this landscape. If I had to describe it think of the narrow band of what’s technically a front range being stretched wide, as opposed to the west of Denver as you start to drive up into the mountains, imagine that transition zone being not a few miles wide but fifty.

If one looks from Raton New Mexico northward to the Canadian line and into Alberta on Google Earth, this is one of several anomalies where front range foothills are expanded and water plentiful. This area north of Cheyenne from Chugwater to Douglas wrapping in an arc around the Medicine Bow national forest is a particularly scenic one.

Etched to this day in sandstone are the rare footprints of a large canid’s paw was the size of a man’s head. Dire Wolves that at times were hunted by men, and at times hunted man. While just a stone’s throw away is where human’s record their names and those of the deceased who died along the Oregon trail at Register Cliff. History, at a vast geologic scale, is always on display. Even among schoolchildren, it is not lost that Pleistocene lions, saber-toothed cats. short faced bears all lived here alongside humans.

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Register Cliff, Guernsey Wyoming

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The botanical genealogy of this landscape reveals it was tundra, frozen much of the year with brief explosions of alpine green grasses and flowers coating the landscape in summer. Very much identical to what we see in the higher elevations of the Tetons and Medicine Bow range in summer. No bees were here, flowers and grass adapted to wind and evolved as self-pollinators. That plant community has literally only migrated east a dozen miles and is visible upward of slopes above 7,500 feet. The grasses that coat these hills are the genetic cousins of those on tundra within eyesight to the west from my office. There is an ecological integrity present that is absent on much of the American landscape.

Another factor is ranches are abnormally large. This permits cattle grazing that more closely mimic bison patterns. Mountain lions and wolves - the herd fear of predation compress the herd. The salad bar” effect of eastern bovines and those in Europe do not exist. By that I mean cattle wandering about picking and choosing what grasses they eat. Here cattle mimic the native Bison herd behavior, which is a compressed wave of eating like a lawn mower uniformly all grasses, urine, and feces trampled by hoof afterward reseeding and adding nutrients to the soil. The non-native species, clover, and alfalfa are primarily used for hay in the round patches visible from satellites. The bulk of the landscape is still shortgrass prairie, untouched by a plow, rich in native grasses like blue gamma, buffalo grass, and fringed sage.

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Area grazed by a Bison herd, Platte County Wyoming

The county has two known breeding wolf pairs along the western end which excite locals and are a source of pride. I share this briefly just to give you an idea of a few of the biological threads that make this place.

To understand rural Wyoming I am convinced one has to focus on what you cannot see and no longer exists. The cultural threads of humans are fewer and compressed in time but just as complex as those botanical.

I do not think it is known how the native people used this land. The Snowy mountains which are a part of the Medicine Bow range extend into Platte County from the west. The thick forests on their lower slopes and rolling grasslands beneath them are not wild” in the sense that they are untamed or need to be controlled. Yet there are many accounts by whites and early trappers as this region being a vast uncharted wilderness waiting to be settled. That historical record is simply not true. It was a settled place with permanent communities, some nomadic tied to bison herds and a sophisticated system of transportation and politics governing shared land use that was completely unrecognized by men willing to murder humans to trap and skin animals for fur hats in London. Hollywood (exception of Netflix’s Longmire) and the genre of western fiction has betrayed that truth.

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Stone tipi rings in Platte County Wyoming

The result was knowledge developed from a ten thousand year settlement pattern was destroyed at the turn of the century by European immigrants and the complex interplay of forest and range fires, migratory paths of mammals and birds, medicinal plants lost. Wyomans today though are a different breed. They would more closely agree with their Blackfeet or Absaroka predecessors that viewed forests and native grasslands as the ideal state of the landscape. Ecologically a fine-tuned system that supports an extraordinary biological diversity. On this landscape we were once we were protein hunters now we are protein producers. The simple dynamic of northeastern facing range slopes accumulating drifts of snow that persist for months reveals a mosaic pattern of wildflowers and nutrient-rich grasses a city dweller reading the New York Times would not notice. But cattle and bison do.

Today’s Wyomans (Scalia version) see the risk of the cancer to the south spreading north - mass urban sprawl with large malls, concrete boxes with row house subdivisions and community facebook groups as a replacement for a town hall. The new-new urbanists define these areas as mega-regions using commute times gathered from data reflecting daily movement. (1) Good men (our colleague Stuart Shockley is one) with design educations largely smoking weed and putting the strange shapes and forms of dreams (or hallucinations) on the landscape until eventually, it becomes an unrecognizable maze of asphalt taking hours by automobile to travel short distances. I call it the Californication of Colorado” otherwise known as an urban landscape”. Increasingly these regions are being defined by transportation and daily commutes. Platte county seems oblivious to whats coming but the bankers and realtors know it very well and are smiling. One local lawyer told me yesterday its time to cash out”.

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  1. Area of urban megaregions determined by A.I. and algorithms

What remains in Wyoming though is a population largely tied to the land desperately trying not to be absorbed into a monocultured “Denver front range” community. Reducing community to identifiers such as commutes, social media interactions and cell phone calls is probably where urban communities have been for some time we just have not had the data analyst skills of A.I. to recognize it.

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A.I. generated commuter model of where Jon and Jack live

European settlers that took possession of this land recognized what the Crow (Absaroka) did about the grasslands and winter grazing. They added a remarkable is a web of irrigation ditches and tunnels under mountains that gave this region year-round grazing ability for cattle and the ability to grow hay. Although this altered the landscape it simply expanded wet areas along stream banks outwards. It did not, as settlement patterns in the east and south did, replace a native ecosystem with a non-native one for industrial purposes.

I would posit this is the second fundamental difference between the two cultures. We know from maps of the country’s urban regions these ecological and cultural divides exist and are growing. No doubt your poles” exist but my question is how does this change the culture of place (or undermine it) and to what end is this headed ?

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  1. Urban regions in United States

Rural and urban may not so different in North Carolina or Georgia but in this part of the West, it is profound. Few would believe a savannah of wiregrass under trees the size of small redwoods ( longleaf pines) supporting herds of wood bison once defined the landscape of Alabama and Georgia. That chemically dependent landscape filled with exotic species is literally required to be dominated to supply the cities of Atlanta and Jacksonville of Charlottes their very existence.

It is not rocket-science ranchers were shrewd enough to see that stone tipi rings told them where in winter the landscape created a windswept area that would blow the snow away from where grazing could occur.

Today this landscape is anchored by two fixtures, polar opposites of each other Laramie peak at over 10,000 feet to the northwest and oddly an enormous coal-fired power plant that rises hundreds of feet above the landscape.

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Laramie River coal fired electric power plant, Wheatland Wyoming

They symbolically represent a war with ecology and its people resistant to urban form. Ironically this landscape powers the Denver’s and Boulders of the new American West. As politicians debate green energy and banning the use of plastic bags, women in Boulder dance showing their breasts at local drum circles. All while they rely on millwrights and coal miners of Wyoming wearing insulated grease covered coveralls to keep them from freezing at night.

The part that Congress cannot grasp is Laramie River station’s power plant is always on, come wind, blizzard or any kind of inclement weather coal anchors the grid with consistent uninterruptible power. No legislature, despite all the rhetoric of global warming, has made it a priority to develop an alternative. It is confusing that those so against coal rely so heavily upon it. I have a hunch that this Urban-Rural cultural divide prevents that dialogue but that it is not political.

My first thought was these regions would be reflected in voting patterns so I overlaid the urban regions with the last presidential election and was surprised they were not. Not an in-depth analysis but we can see that urban versus rural” despite, how space and built form are radically different does not carry over into political ideologies. The fault Line” you have observed is not political. Image title

Animated overlay of urban regions with result of 2016 election.

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Urban regions in the 2016 election.

I think you can say that voting in rural areas are more red (republican) however you cannot classify urban regions as mostly blue (democrat) as is commonly reported. The data simply does not support the generalization of the media and its a mosaic. I have no idea what this means but it’s interesting.

For example politically there is not an attachment to coal as a energy source here, just a pragmatic reality that urban form has spread eastward it never stopped to address what it would take to support this carbon consuming monster called urbanism. Proponents of it fail to understand that we literally have to tear the earth open and cut down forests continuously to sustain it.

Ranchers in Platte County drive by scratching their heads of course ever focused on is their herd where the tipi circles of stones are and sit out blizzards at bars waiting for calving season (spring). They will tell you the whole world is nuts because no one questions where anything comes from. The classic example is where does the meat come from in a big mac eaten at Times square? No one knows, instead, they are discussing how cows farting raise greenhouse gas levels.

I have on a practical note observed rural communities tend to be less populated and when involved with agriculture more interdependent. There is a knowability factor exponentially higher. Denver as an example is connected through belief systems, winter recreation, and sports teams. Something that if you look at long enough discover is distinctly impersonal and market driven.

Compare this to a man buying hay from another. Both are dependent upon rain, both share horses. A tribal identity of ranching culture exists between them. Footwear (boots) is likely the same, trucks and their diesel engines that pull trailers are points of disagreement. We all have our tribes being the points that surface in shared landscapes. These are the cultural threads often hidden that connect us.

The ideas of fancy landscape architects - tree islands and roundabouts sound aesthetically pleasing to those presenting at ASLA conferences. But in northern Wyoming the idea of 30 ft. stock trailers dragging non-native plants through town and snowplows rolling over roundabouts didn’t quite appeal to the locals when suggested last year. Which worked out poorly for me as such a design disaster would have made a fascinating albeit disruptive magazine article.

Jack, I know you have heard the old Texas saying all hat and no cattle”, well in Wyoming there should be a saying all trailer and one horse”. Meaning there is a daily parade of cowboys with 30 ft long stock trailers that typically only have one horse tied at the front. These threads extend into the use of language. At the Platte County courthouse recently I ran into a group of title researchers from St. Louis wondering where the guards were for the cattle and why was cattle stealing so bad up here. On recorded plats there are Cattle” and Auto guards” noted along road easements. I replied technically its called cattle rustling and told them deadpan that guards were only used at night. Excited, they planned to go out and interview a few which I thought was a great idea.

This difference in the cultural landscape can also be observed by the use of new landscapes. Dog parks are not in vogue when cattle guards are on the interstate exits and most of the county is open range. One can watch the succession of men driving flatbed diesel trucks with cattle dogs on the back pulled over looking at the fenced-in off-leash” park. Several female newcomers walk their pets here. One rancher explained these are breeding pens”. I chose not to press for details.

Let’s do this - I want you to give me the quintessential New England town. I want to impose it with a similar western town. Let’s track the divergent physical form over time. Even if these towns share the appearance of an initial physical form it will be interesting to diagram and analyze how they each develop. Document where people meet, what defines the common space then versus today. My suspicion is we will find your fault line.

Oh, and by the way, we do not have the New York Times here. However, we have the Stockman’s journal. The Times does not have the price of steers or feeder calves listed thus disqualifying it from distribution in Wyoming. I do have a digital subscription and noticed that article. Perhaps more interesting though is the article of Stalking the Elusive Central Park Squirrel. Understandably I stick with my contention there is a difference between these two places in both scale and biological diversity. Whether that matters in what it becomes yet I have not a clue.

Consider my suggestion and take care of that new dog or the ghost of Hobbes shall haunt you.
  1. Hagler Y. Defining U.S. Megaregions. New York: Regional Plan Association/America 2050; 2009. Available: http://www.america2050.org/upload/2010/09/2050_Defining_US_Megaregions.pdf
  2. Dash Nelson G, Rae A (2016) An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Megaregions. PLoS ONE 11(11): e0166083. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166083
  3. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Regional Plan Association, University of Pennsylvania School of Design. (2004). Toward an American Spatial Development Perspective: Briefing Book for a Policy Roundtable on the Federal Role in Metropolitan Development.” New York: Regional Plan Association.

December 20, 2018


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Christmas spirit in Wheatland Wyoming.

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Poinsettia wings

December 19, 2018


Urbanversusrural is an ongoing conversation — in words and images — between Jack Williams and Jon Kalev. Williams is Emeritus Professor of Landscape Architecture and former Chair, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture , Auburn University, and author of East 40 degrees: An Interpretive Atlas and Easy On Easy Off.
Kalev is the town and county planner for Platte County Wyoming and former student of Williams.

Jack’s response: The prefix new is a cultural marker reminding us of the hopes and aspirations of a generation of people tied of the wars and religious persecution of Europe. Every state has a new” — New England, New York, New Amsterdam before, New London, New Rochelle — even Wyoming has a New Castle! I would bet your ranchers would fell right at home in the old” York landscape — rolling grasslands, distant mountains. A landscape of sheep and famously reticent people. But New York too has a dramatic landscape. The placement of Manhattan, the convergence of rivers, the Palisades (Cliffs along the New Jersey side) all attach the city firmly to a place. So I think you are conflating two things here: a natural, physical landscape with place names. New York is a name, Wyoming is a name- each is attached to a landscape. High desert vers eastern escarpment. The fact that one is built upon, built very densely, makes it no less a landscape. In a way, New York as a name is more honest than Wyoming — for Wyoming is a name stolen from those whose original settlements where eradicated. Wyoming is hypocritical. We name our places (like my state, Massachusetts) for those we disposed. Kind of like a housing development called Fox Run!” No foxes, nothing running wild. I do not think that the written words of a constitution — or a Declaration of Independence — means much. We white folks are perfectly able to say one thing and do another. While I do grant you that women sufferage was a big deal for Wyoming, the population is 90% white, 8% Hispanic and less than 1% black. No real test of civil rights there! Why old Thomas Jefferson was able to say All men” when he was perfectly willing to hold a large segment of our population in slavery. So come back to the table in Western Skies Dinner when there is a true test of tolerance. (By the way, where do the coffee drinkers stand on immigration?)

I think the notion of a landscape influencing the way we look at the world is an intriguing one. I believe Jefferson is advocating education in the passage you quote — I would argue that education, more than landscapes, shape our world views. How is the educational system in Wheatland? Education makes us more self-reflective — and from that we make our world view. I do not doubt that landscapes do effect certain human characteristics. As a New Englander, my notion of distance is far more contracted than that of someone from the Great Plains. But can landscapes shape our values. I think not.

Nor do I believe that rural communities have any prescription or predisposition towards unique and altruistic values. Community can be found around a table in Wheatland. On the front stoops of row houses in North Philadelphia, on the back porches of triple decker worker housing in South Boston — even around the doorman in the lobby of a fancy high rise apartment building in Manhattan. Community is a universal human need found regardless of the place or landscape. In fact, I do not believe small towns are repositories of any unique values (as distinct from dense urban cities) — there are only human values such as greed, lust, honor, hope, betrayal, - I attach the front piece or prologue to my third book — a quote from Faulkner — that sets this out rather more poetically.

My position is that the small town as a repository of values such as community, neighborliness, kindness, etc is a myth. Small towns too have other attributes far less benign such a crushing social control and conformity.

Big cities also have meterological foreplay. New York City is dependent upon the moon — for the flow of tides and the transport of ships in and out of the harbor. (even if these are enormous container ships to the port of New Jersey — ships from the far corners of the globe as in globalism.) We are about to get this particular foreplay in full force and the ocean levels rise!) One enters Boston’s outer harbor with its many shoals and reefs only during a southwest wind — even if a big ocean-going freighter. I would suggest that all places have their geographies — both actual and cultural.

This is enough thoughts for now. A couple of things: there are Sanborn maps of Wheatland (and many other towns and cities in WY) — the Library of Congress has them but I bet there is another set at the University of Wyoming — or another university library.

There is a great article in this Sunday’s New York Times (that pesky new” again) on the front of the week in review section titled Abandoned America: The hard truths of trying to bring jobs back to small towns.” I would be very much interested in your take — perhaps you can access it on line as I am sure the New York Times never makes it to Wheatland! (sorry, couldn’t resist a little eastern snobbery)

And to put my perspective in context, I attach the epilogue to my book. So between these two , the prologue above and this epilogue, I must write the damn book! I should sit down at the table in the Western Skies and not get up until I finish.

Nice photographs by the way. Very nice- such desolation and emptiness. Are the souls of those that live in such a place equally desolute?

December 6, 2018

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Western Skies Diner, Wheatland Wyoming


Urbanversusrural is an ongoing conversation — in words and images — between Jack Williams and Jon Kalev. Williams is Emeritus Professor of Landscape Architecture and former Chair, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture , Auburn University, and author of East 40 degrees: An Interpretive Atlas and Easy On Easy Off.
Kalev is the town and county planner for Platte County Wyoming and former student of Williams.

In Jack’s word’s:

So my question is - are the two poles, rural community vers high density urban, mutually exclusive - or is that a cultural construct that is embedded in American society since Thomas Jefferson. Can the two co-exist in this country or are the fault lines too deep. Ask around your table in the local watering hole, what do the citizens of WY think of New York. Tell them you know this old guy that wants to understand their world view - can community be found outside of small rural places.

In Jon’s word’s:

I looked up Wyoming’s constitution while drinking coffee in Western Skies.” A gathering place where ranchers meet to discuss among other things sealing the border (the state border). If there is a difference in rural community v. high density urban” it will be found here.

Interestingly Jack Wyomin” is a description of landscape, traced back to the Delaware word Maugh-wav-wa-mu”; which means large plains and mountains with valleys alternating in waves. Wyomingnites (or if one uses Justice Scalia’s novel term Wyomans) derive their identity, in name, from the experience of a landscape, not a inherited place name, nor is it a new” anything. Presumably where you are in New“ York, to get to see the original York” you must go elsewhere.

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The landscape of Platte County Wyoming

I suspect Wyoming was formed with a different attitude than that of the founding fathers. Perhaps this was the beginning of the fault line” you describe. A rural identity tied to land and how it affects them. There is evidence of this in it’s government and laws. A rancher and miner, stand beneath a beautiful woman elevated above them in the state seal. As New” York and other former colonies - some recaptured by force in the south, continue to struggle with civil rights, Wyoming - known as the equality state,” explicitly granted women the right to vote and hold office in 1869 and strictly enforced equal rights among races and religion. Note the territory of Wyoming had the following in it’s Constitution as early as 1869.

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State Seal of Wyoming

Equality of all. In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal. Equal political rights. Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil rights is only made sure through political equality, the laws of this state affecting the political rights and privileges of its citizens shall be without distinction of race, color, sex, or any circumstance or condition whatsoever other than individual incompetency, or unworthiness duly ascertained by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Why is my question were they so far ahead of the rest of the nation?

Maybe your right about a cultural fault line. If Jefferson had a different cultural construct in mind maybe it was not about low versus high density, perhaps it was the strength of the land they were settling and the role that played in their ideas about government. Consider in opposition to the idea of how the land was settled being the cause - could it not be the influence of the land itself upon those settling? Is it possible that freedom and equality in men’s minds are tied to the experience of a majestic landscape and a huge western sky than we can imagine?

Read Jefferson’s letter to Madison in December of 1787 where he raises a interesting question.

And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government, or information to the people. This last is the most certain, and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is in their interest to preserve space and order, and they will preserve them….They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty.

I think we value information as a rural population differently and how it informs how we think about goverment. People describe the least populated state in the nation - Wyoming as self-reliant but I beg to differ. I would say they are a very reliant people. Ranchers are reliant on their neighbors, they are people that depend on one another as much as themselves in harsh winters and long droughts with no hay. The men at the coffee table and feed store are not just idling gossip and harrasing the waitress. If one listens closely, it is an ongoing workshop and charrette about community and beef production. Regardless of their differences they get along and need each other. The vast landscape of Wyoming connects them. This phenomena produces a unique relationship at a community level markedly different than a high density urban experience.

Yesterday a local lawyer explained why they were here. The wind in winter blows the snow off the ground and allows grazing - Indian’s horses and the buffalo. Thats an interesting connection to the land. Few places are anchored by such certain meterological foreplay with geography.

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Example of meterological foreplay

I will keep asking about what they think of New York. So far I have not found anyone that has even been there. The only reply has been where the hell is the old york” and what did they do to the old York.

Au fait, personne ne parle français ici !

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Dec. 20, 1787, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. XII, p 478.

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