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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blog Assignment #2

Post your questions for the reading due Wednesday, January 27, at 12pm

13 comments:

  1. Possibly an obvious comment, but one that is centrally critical to the topic of our reading relates transy's relationship to racial and cultural landscaping. Our university has several significant traits that could be significant to this discussion, but I'll satisfy myself with only one. Our campus was overlooked in Schein's article, but I think what he was addressing is rooted deeply in our history and the human landscaping of our campus. Of course, our insitution has had many figures associated with the Confederate era, and even our building's names reflect that history, though not as overtly as some of the examples used in Schein's article. Although, the Greek-Revival design of Old Morrison carries with it an afiliation with the same southern heritage Schein addresses in discussing the statues in our downtown in addition to the unique history of our campus.

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  2. One of the main arguments in Rich Schein’s article is that the built landscape is not inert or innocent. Instead, Schein claims, the landscape perpetuates, reproduces, or challenges the “very norms, values, and fears” that mark our understanding of who we are and who we want to be (203). The landscape, then, both reflects and shapes us socially.

    My question has to do with the Lyric Theater, a once-active spot for entertainment for the African American community in the East End of Lexington. Located just a few blocks from Transy, it falls within the neighborhood that Thoroughbred Park deliberately hides from view. That the city is renovating the Lyric Theater (which is expected to open in September 2010) seems to be one of those acts of challenging the racist workings of Lexington’s built landscape that Schein calls for in the last section of his essay. I am curious about what Schein thinks about the prospects of the Lyric Theater. What kinds of organizations and institutions should lend it support, and in what ways, in order for the challenge embedded in the Lyric to work?

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  3. This article was published well before many of the current landscaping and architectural projects around Lexington, yet the arguments advanced by Schein may be even more appropriate today as the city prepares itself for the World Equestrian Games in 2010.

    Schein states that Thoroughbred Park "reifies Lexington's racial and spacial boundaries, boundaries that are both Cartesian and social. That it probably does not do so intentionally makes the park's normative dimensions even more insidious." This park was created as a visual entrance to the city. Schein questioned the absence of Isaac Murphy and Lexington is now preparing the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden (IMMAG). This is not, I am quite certain, a civic response to Schein's article.

    Located where Winchester becomes Midland, the IMMAG is a central piece in the visual redevelopment of the traffic corridor from Winchester Road to Main Street--this redevelopment includes the Lexington Design Center and the Community Ventures building, across the street from IMMAG. Clearly designed, like Thoroughbred Park, to be a park for viewing while driving past, IMMAG will create another visual barrier between visitors to the city and the traditionally African American Community directly behind IMMAG. Like Thoroughbred Park, this is probably unintentional. How can a city learn from these mistakes of normatizing a landscape? How can Lexington work towards responsible development when the Cartesian space and structure of the roadways is so clearly problematic?

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  4. link to the IMMAG website

    http://www.isaacmurphy.org/IMMAG/Garden.html

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  5. As I finished reading the work of Schein, I found myself completely overwhelmed and feeling in lost in the midst of a world that I did not really know. What I mean is how oblivious I am as is our culture as a whole to the messages that have infiltrated society and are being accepted, neglected, or, more rarely, challenged with the simple stroll across the street or the purchase of a soft drink. Each action contributes to the overall direction that our cultural landscape has come from and will move toward. To simplify my thoughts, I held upon to his thesis statement on page 203:
    “The cultural landscapes of the United States reflect and are symbolic of individual activity and cultural ideals, as they simultaneously are central to the constitution and reinforcement of those very ideals. In short, the landscape is not innocent. Its role in mediating social and cultural reproduction works through its ability to stand for something: norms, values, fears, and so on. Through our ability to read landscapes, those very norms, values, and fears are perpetuated, reproduced, or challenged. This power of landscape makes it inescapably normative.”
    The power of symbols is the basis of this inescapable normative. I believe they hold so much power because they can often be vague and subtle, so many overlook them and in doing so often normalize the past injustices and perpetuate them into the future of an even more clueless generation that knows no different. They then will be more apt, in their ignorance and by default, accept what they see and hear without challenge. The power of symbols cannot be overstated. Their usage in our cultural landscape is a safer way, if you will, to ensure that the ideas represented are not lost. But does this not then backfire, after progress in their cause is made? It seems to me, that there is some important transition that must be made when it comes to symbolism. It can only be as powerful as the people and idea it represents. Therefore, when the people have an identity and cause and use a symbol they all understand, this progresses their beliefs. But then what often happens is that after their issue arises from the “fire” the symbol no longer ties the people together yet is still carried on. Soon no one even within that group knows why they are using the symbol in the first place because it is not a binding source. In this sense the very essence of community is the foundation of all change. If the community moves from the usage of symbolism, then it is their duty to use other means such as public meetings, speeches, and other community-focused activities to prevail in society. In the mean time, we all are walking amongst ghosts of our past we neither know nor understand, and yet their presence silently prevails.

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  6. The cities cited as examples in the article are obviously products of the histories in which they were created, or in the case of Thoroughbred Park, the histories which shaped their modification as a means of masking a social/racial problem the political body would rather not address (or simply does not see). My concern lies in the author’s lack of mentioning “built” or “constructed” environments—that is, new or maintained sidewalks, ramps, curb-cuts, lifts, automatic doors, etc. Though the main focus of the article seems to be about visual aesthetics and how they sometimes reflect a racist history, I wonder why there was no argument of function before form, of present NEED outweighing past injustice and modern embodiments of that injustice. Yes, city landscapes are a reflection of the pasts which shape them, but Schein’s modern critique demonstrates that equality is still not involved when these projects are planned, executed, and later discussed. Problems of accessibility inherent with the multilevel, elevated, many-stepped buildings of Lexington—a problem that still isolates and limits a portion of the population—is made to seem like less of a problem than aesthetics in a city that is unwilling to accept it’s sordid history of racism. Why preserve physical reminders of a history that still marginalize and segregate when modern innovations could foster inclusivity? Why criticize Cheapside for not advertising its participation in the slave trade when a huge percentage of buildings—stores, apartments, homes, etc—are still not accessible to the physically disabled (the information is available to any interested party, Squecial Media is not). Does historical importance and visual pleasure outweigh basic human dignity and the freedom to go where one chooses?

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  7. I was especially stricken by one statement in particular within the text, "Through our ability to read landscapes, those very norms, values, and fears are perpetuated, reproduced, or challenged. The author provides compelling evidence for all three of these stages in the life of a social/political landscape. For example, racism was perpetuated by such things as the exclusion and racial singularity of the later form of Kinloch park and also through the construction of the Thoroughbred Park, which, whether purposefully or not, keeps the poverty stricken East End shielded from the public eye. These racial ideas were reproduced in future generations through the lack of public attention to areas such as the East End, and as a result, people began to speak about blacks, the East End, and the high crime in the area within the same breath. My question lies in the third stage of landscape, that is, challenging the values that have been perpetuated and perpetuated. The author touches on this towards the end of the piece, but I still remained curious about a few things. Firstly, since this article has been written, have there been any significant government action to revive these areas in town and if so what are they and have they been successful? If not, what can be done to bring subconscious change within a community that has been set in it's ways for so long? Lastly, our class has had the privilege of experiencing firsthand the kind words and warm smiles of some of the people that live in this area. You can tell by sitting with them for just a few minutes that they are working tirelessly for change in their area. To what value are these efforts if the government and rest of Lexington's population do not get involved with the area?

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  8. I found this article about landscapes and racial divisions particularly prevalent after our tour of Northside Lexington on Saturday. The transition from the Transylvania University campus to the North Limestone neighborhood, although not mentioned within "Normative Dimensions of Landscape" is just another example. Transylvania has two nicknames that have both positive and negative associations. What we prefer to call our school is "the bubble," optimistically meaning that our community is so close and supportive that we become immersed in each other and our education, not needing to leave its boundaries to live happily. However, it is also referred to as "the plantation" wherein the vast majority of students who attend our school are white and wealthy. Although it is no longer a plantation of the Old South, it is a plantation of intellectualism. We close our borders to the individuals who fear walking through our campus and to the individuals equally capable of performing in the classroom but without the economic means to acquire the dignified education Transy emphasizes.

    Our walls face the outside community and our doors internalize our own community. We fear the outside streets, both out of misplaced racial prejudice against predicted violence, and the shame of their poverty paired with our general ease. According to the parameters placed by Schein on traditionally racial areas, our campus appears racist. How do we change our landscape? By reaching out to the community and bringing them within our "boundaries" or by isolating their potential? Do we need to alter our buildings to alter the landscape? Retreat from the surrounding neighborhoods or grow further into their communities?

    Aside from that tangent, I had another thought concerning Cheapside. Although as it's mentioned above, this article may have been written before a lot of the changes were made to Lexington traditional centers, I find it interesting that a traditional slave market has been replaced by a farmer's market. During warm weather, the area to the right of the courthouse, when facing Main Street, sells local produce and agricultural goods. Is this an improvement on the previous use, or an ignorance of the sensitivity others may feel at seeing the slave market's previous uses being ignored? I appreciate implementing positive changes to a sorrowful history, but it's also important that we do not hide that history.

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  9. As I read this I quickly realized that this was a text that is not easily accessible. There is great use of academic, erudite language that makes it difficult to fully comprehend what is being said, especially for readers not used to such academic texts. This bothered me because the more I read the more I realized the message of this text is one that is important not just for scholarly debate and discussion but also for society at large. However, if the message is presented as it is now, coated in savvy scholastic words that are rarely used in general society then it will not be well received (if at all) by those outside of academia. Lexington, in particular, would most likely benefit from a city wide discussion on how the racial formation of our city perpetuates racism in the city today. Which leads to my question:

    Is it possible to translate this text into something that could be easily accessible (both in language and message) to make Lexingtonians more aware of the subconscious messages spread by the very structure of our city and monuments?

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  10. everyones comments and questions cover a lot of the things i was curious about/ was going to touch on..

    as i read the article in a local 'store', i was interrupted from time to time by conversation. when i spoke to one of my friends about the nickname Austyn mentioned- "the Plantation", and told him how i believe the nickname is quite fitting, especially when one looks at the landscape and houses surrounding transylvania from an aerial view (the roof of forrer).

    the view is that of oversized buildings surrounded by some large homes in certain areas, but mostly surrounded by small "shacks". "shacks" that are usually hidden by the "upscale" homes when one takes the main roads.

    of the over-sized buildings i mentioned, there is one that is more prevalent than the rest.

    an architectural nightmare, burned and rebuilt numerous times, the giant cement blob that is Old Morrison seems to say: see me. fear me. i am so much bigger than you. look how high my steps reach.

    how often do you see anyone actually put that hefty flight of stairs to use? i was wondering if anyone knows a more in-depth history of Old- Morrison, and why they decided to build it the way they did..

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  11. After reading this article I realized how the topic of racial division and landscapes related to our class and especially the neighborhood tour we went on. You can tell with the landscape just walking street to street. The landscaping we saw on specific streets compared with others is remarkable different as you near the center of downtown or Transy. It makes me realize how even though Lexington might not be considered a racists area anymore, the landscaping in particular areas is evidence that yes, LExington does chose to focus on areas that are more white dominated. It gets progressivly better, cleaner, as you move closer to areas which are areas dominated by whites. I knew the history of cheapside before reading this article and understanding that it is a part of Lexington's history, I still find it strange that people choose to not learn about why its called cheapside and why Lexington chose to keep the name cheapside. I think by keeping the name, though its historical, it still makes me feel like we do have racial division in Lexington. Why keep a name that has notions of racism? Does Lexington raelly want to be viewed a city that is unequal?

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  12. This article spoke to me in that it brought to light many of the issues which I hold to be unfair in my hometown. I grew up in Eatern Kentucky and I can verify that it has not, and probably never will, progress beyond that Pre-Civil War notion that the South belongs to the White man. I have always struggled with the malice which African Americans are treated and have always made an earnest effort to change my community's racist sentiments. I can, in particular, think of one such beacon which stands to forever suppress those African Americans who live in my community, and it is called Niggertown. At the turn of the Civil War and upon the freeing of many slaves, the newly freed African Americans started their own small community on the outskirts of Jenkins. This community served as a safe place for them to not only live, but thrive. The community allowed the slaves to preserve that culture and that harmony which united them. It gave these people a sense of community, and a sense of belonging. However, in the Southern sentiment, the local whites began to call the area Niggertown, a name which some people continue to call it today. Although the community has been all but engulfed by the surrounding city, the area still holds within it a higher population of African Americans, and also, something more important, a unique culture. I was immediately reminded of this community after attending the William Wells Brown neighborhood meeting, and with the help of this article, was able to vocalize what I believe to be the good and true nature of a culturally and historically rich community. I was also excited to see if anyone knew any areas in their communities which are predominantly made up of one ethnic group. Thus, my story is what precedes this question, and my question to the class is whether they can think of one area in their hometown which is predominantly one ethnic group, and whether they know how this human landscaping occurred?

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  13. I believe I may have been confused about the new schedule.. I understood that comments were to be posted by Monday (today) by noon. If so, my sincere apologies.

    The novel is so rich in material, but I think most imortantly delves into something this class is trying to promote: how the power of "a story" can transform minds and make a difference. I am not looking at hard-core facts but rather the emotions and relationships that develop during the life of Henry Townsend. Interwoven is a strong amount of historical knowledge with a rawness and emotional connection, because of the ties formed between character and reader, that hit much harder than a chapter in a history book.
    One such example of this occurred rather early in the novel, on page 22. Here the topic turns to conducting the 1840 census. The methods used blew my mind. First of all, the census taker went from house to house to see for himself the race of the people there. Because of the amount of male slave owners that were having affairs with the slave women the amount of racial mixing sky-rocketed. Some were claimed by the family, while others were still enslaved. Then the amount of Chocktaw and Cherokee was taken into consideration. However, regardless of what anyone said, which was rarely reliable, the census taker took his own inventory. He did the census...determining someone's genetic make-up,and thus their entire future, based upon how dark they "appeared." ---"He thought the children were too dark for him adn the federal government to consider them as anything else but black." Inconsistency was overwhelming and completely and the process subjective. " And though he came away with suspicions about Travis's wife being a full Indian, he gave Travis the benefit of the doubt and listed her as "American Indian/Full Cherokee."
    Life was subjective and destiny literally determined by ones own beliefs on who you are, your amount of money, and what shade your skin is.

    And this 1840 census contained " an enormous amount of facts, far more than the one done by the alcoholic state delegate in 1830." Wow.

    I would like to have a better understanding of how the Native Americans in Virginia during this time period were treated compared to the African Americans.

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