Saturday, January 07, 2006

Four Most Influential Places

I'm heading up to Denver tomorrow for a reading Monday at the Tattered Cover Historic LoDo (7:30 p.m. with Lois Beebe Hayna), so look for the next post on Wednesday or thereabouts. Denver is just one of my four most influential places:

Sonoran Desert
When I was in third grade, my mother moved with her two youngest children from Lexington, Kentucky, to Tucson, Arizona, at the (relatively) lush northeastern edge of the Sonoran desert, sixty miles from the Mexico border. We moved to a home along a dry riverbed (wash) in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. For the next few years I wandered up and down the wash, exploring and creating an environmental ethic that continues to drive me to this day. Since then, the Sonoran desert (where I now live and to which I returned whenever I could, whether I lived in Colorado, Florida, or Maryland) has both inspired and influenced me, from my poetry to my sense of community, and much beyond.

Ocala National Forest
After Tucson, we moved to Ocala, in the rolling hills of central Florida. Over the next years, as I moved from middle to high school, friends and I journeyed throughout Ocala National Forest's clear springs and tannic rivers, sawgrass and palmetto prairies, alligator-lined lakes, scrub and live oak groves, and majestic forests of longleaf pines. The subtropical forests of central Florida are similar---and similarly threatened---to the Sonoran desert, I found. In Ocala National Forest I first undertook biology fieldwork, studying endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, as well as learning about U.S. Forest Service timber, prescribed fire, and wildlife management policies, prompting me to study wildlife biology in the early years of college.

My wife and I lived in Denver, or at least the northwest suburb of Denver called Westminster, for four years before I entered the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at the University of Colorado at Denver. Then it took less than four months for me to fully appreciate the urban vitality of Denver: historic lower downtown (LoDo), quaint residential neighborhoods like West Highlands and Washington Park, incredible local retail like Tattered Cover bookstore, and wonderful amenities like the Denver Zoo, Cherry Creek, and Coors Field. My time spent downtown, and my studies in planning, created a sort of urban ethic to match my environmental ethic. It's something like the New Urbanism movement, and something not quite so defined. Undoubtedly, Denver has influenced my adult and professional life more than any other metropolitan area; more, I think, than any other place.

Community of Civano
On a small bluff overlooking Pantano Wash in southeastern Tucson, Arizona, the community of Civano is a "sustainable, New Urbanist" mixed-use community dedicated in 1999. We moved to Civano---after studying it for years---in 2000. It has won numerous awards for its "smart growth," energy-efficient design and indigenous landscaping, including Sunset magazine's Best New Community of the Year in 2004. Not long after moving to Civano, I got involved in neighborhood politics: not hard to do with a bunch of passionate, community- and environment-oriented residents. In 2002, I was elected to head up the newly formed Civano Neighbors neighborhood association, which operated on a consensus approach rather than the traditional Robert's Rules of Order. My time in Civano---where I moved to 'walk the talk' or perhaps more appropriately 'live the jib'---has taught me a number of things, including the meaning of community, sustainability/New Urbanism in action, consensus process, and perhaps most of all no small amount of humility in the face of challenging community decisions.

Up Next: Four Most Influential Books

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