Sunday, October 14, 2012

does it matter?

Okay so: the countryside here is beautiful, yadayada

There's a part of me that never wants to go back to the United States because there is so much ugly shit there: highways, subdivisions, sprawl, and ugly ugly buildings. There are also beautiful buildings of course, but it seems like we stopped building them 60 years ago for the most part.

When I am riding around the country roads here, I want to help preserve this beautiful landscape somehow. Paraguayans emphatically do not build beautiful buildings, and I imagine that it is just a matter of time before the scraps of forest that remain are added to the growing argo-industial farms here.

But the question arises, does it matter? Does beauty matter? Or is it just something to amuse first-world artistic-types? I decided that it does matter and that I would be an advocate for beauty just because there are so many advocates for other important things like economic efficiencies, freedom from regulation, the virtues of vegetarianism, the dangers of smoking, the convenience of smart phones...
But I wasn't really able to say why exactly it matters. These two blog posts (would it less lame if I said articles?) by Kaid Benfield develop two good reasons to value beautiful places that could stand up in a debate.

Says that beautiful places are more sustainable because they are more likely to last; they won't be torn down every few decades to built something new. This is also important in designing sustainable communities, that they at least place some priority on beauty, that people will continue to value the spaces after the newness and trendiness has work off.
Scott Dycon was quoted in another article by the same author, with a similar point about preservtion of historic buildings:

"Most would agree that, at some point, our built environment stopped responding to a shared, cultural understanding of what's beautiful and started expressing - at the upper end - the personal artistic ambitions of its designers and - at the lower end - the need to cut costs.

"Either way, the result has been buildings and places that often lack the one thing most likely to ensure their preservation - the ability to be loved and valued by the everyman."

The second article is a review of a book called The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment. One of the points the book makes is that beautiful places ought to matter to Christians because they inspire a sense of the divine and allow people to slow down and develop their relationship with God.
Benfield also states:

Central to The Space Between is the concept of shalom, which we usually translate simply as "peace" but which he believes contains much more meaning, including restored fellowship, human flourishing, justice, and relational wholeness for everyone. Jacobsen argues that, while each one of us carries a longing for shalom deep within, much of our recently built human settlement "bears not the slightest hint of that blessed condition that is described in the Bible."

One of the ways in which we fail to move closer to shalom, he continues, is that today we experience our world not with our bodies and senses at human speeds, as Jacobsen believes God intended, but through automobiles and a world designed almost wholly to accommodate them. He cites several biblical passages that suggest something quite different, that walking is central to observant living. 

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