Saturday, May 30, 2015

How do people use their landscape?

We live in our landscape and our landscape is an expression of our culture. So I think for most of us we don't pay attention to patterns of landscape use when we are at home. Traveling is another story, especially if we get out of the car. For example the impressions came tumbling in during a two week preparatory visit to Sri Lanka, where I was setting up protocols for my upcoming Fulbright. 

When you're there you can't help noticing the way people situate themselves in the landscape. Somehow it's "different" than the way we do things in the west. For example patterns that characterize the way people hang out in their landscape in Sri Lanka seemed distinctive to me. They became even more distinctive when after a day's rest in Boston, I came out to the Azores to work with colleagues on some educational initiatives. 

To a visitor at least, Ponta Delgada, The capital of the Azores, looks like a pretty quiet place. Especially away from the city center, the streets are fairly broad and the sight of people walking is seems rare. This is my second visit to the Azores so my impression of a quiet place was reinforced. There are however particular spots that are quite busy. For example a shopping mall (Parque Atlantico) near the center of town may be bustling while the streets around it are fairly deserted. The strip of restaurants and stores along the harbor also tend to be busier than the streets right behind them. If I had to use one word to describe the place, and I admit that this is biased by my own subjectivity, I would call it "quiet."

By contrast, Galle Road in Colombo might be considered "wild," at least at first glance. As a foreigner in Colombo the Galle Road appears untamed, chaotic, edgy, and perhaps dangerous. At least until you relax and get used to it. Walking a 1 km stretch of Galle Road from Hotel Road south to Templers Road, I came to discover that it had its own patterns of stillness and congestion. For example, the immediate vicinity of the Mount Lavinia bus stand seems to have people walking in every direction, crossing streets at every angle, and using a variety of vehicles in a variety of ways. Certain spots on the same stretch of road are quieter. But people negotiating irregular pavements, large puddles, and vehicles pulling in and out of spaces do give that stretch of road its particular character. If this sounds general, it is, because this is the very first time I'm writing down my impressions of the space. 

Galle Road dominates the western edge of Colombo, but it's not the only place in town. A few blocks to the east can take you to broad and shady residential streets that are practically as quiet as Ponta Delgada. And a visit to the ancient neighborhood of Slave Island uncovered a whole different set of landscape patterns, which I hope to study in detail during my Fulbright. 

noticed Colombo landscapes more poignantly after spending a week in the countryside of Sri Lanka. In the countryside there are some similarities with Colombo, for example congested city centers like Anuradhapura and bustling village centers like nearby Mihintale. When I visited Adampan village in the Mannar District I "discovered" a kind of hybrid, busy but not congested. This sort of hybrid landscape use seemed to be mirrored along some side roads in the countryside near Mihintale, with a significant difference. In Adampan, just like along the Galle Road there are people sitting in storefronts, in their tuk-tuks, and at various shady spots. This sitting is mixed in with lots of movement. I should add that not all the movement is oriented to "getting someplace." For example I stopped with my friend and colleague Dominic Essler to buy petrol for his motorcycle. There was plent of movement around the shop filling canisters, measuring, taking money, and examining his cycle. But on some of the back roads in the countryside there seemed to be just movement from one place to another, for example steady bicycle or foot traffic spaced by intervals of quiet. 

Lots of impressions here with no single narrative thread. But I think I want to study this further and work on some kind of analysis. 

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