Monday, November 23, 2009

more learning - imagine that!

the great thing about being in school is that you're constantly learning new things.

(of course, the downside to being back in school is that you're constantly learning new things, too. for example, my math professor is fond of saying, "consider a set..." or "consider the relationship..." which, in my opinion, simply begs the retort: "how about we don't consider it, and go home instead?" this reached the maximum of ridiculousness at our recent midterm, which i no doubt failed. the last question began, "consider an arbitrary universe...". you can perhaps imagine what my impulse response was. hint: it wasn't the answer.)

anyway, originally i was going to write this about the great things i'm learning in a fire management class, but that got preempted by a seminar i attended the other day. the main speaker was a man who, at age 88, is mostly retired, but who has been a major force in the rural studies field. he had an interesting talk about a conceptual frame for considering rural places, something i'm genuinely interested in.

then the discussant got up. a professor at psu's urban studies program, he proceeded to talk about regionalism in general, and where we could go from here as a rural studies program. in his brief talk, he said several things that were so fabulous i intend to steal them and run with them in my own future work. until then, i at least have to give them breathing room here.

first was the notion that perhaps, as technology advances, place becomes more important, not less. part of the difficulty in advancing a philosophy of 'place matters' is that, with our increasingly homogenized landscape, we may be moving to a future in which built places are no longer so different from each other. his point, however, was that increasing technology has enabled more choice in people's location decisions - thus, enabling place to matter more. if i can choose to live anywhere, that says more about where i do live.

he also talked about the fact that, along with this, as people choose more consciously where to live, the importance of place is allowed to interact more with their lives. as an example, he used a jazz musician in portland; a world class caliber musician who chose to live in portland and is now, instead of seeking to make his music more cosmopolitan - instead of striving to be more truly urban and fit into the music capitals of the world - is seeking to identify, purposefully, what role living in portland may have on his music. in other words, letting the region influence his music and work. a la dvorak, coming to the US - but maybe the first time a classical musician went to portland to be influenced by the region.

two classic views of regionalism are that you can define your region in opposition to the whole - rural is what urban isn't - or, you can define by what it contributes to the whole - rural is the things that it contributes to the overall state. here the discussant also made an excellent point about oregon in particular. we have an outstanding opportunity - should we want it - to explore this idea of rural and urban in our own little exemplary, non-standard place - oregon. not only is our one urban area not very urban, in the grand scheme of things, our rural areas also aren't the typical rural. portland as an urban area doesn't even register on the national or global scene. and certainly, one of the defining things about oregon is their interconnectedness - a rural resident can easily drive into portland and be comfortable, and our urban residents surely spend more time than the average in rural areas. isn't that outdoor lifestyle what Oregon's all about?

well, for those of us excited by ideas but getting lost in the math sometimes, and forgetting the magic of possibility and thinking of ways to redefine where we are and how we identify ourselves, all this was a much-needed motivational shot in the arm. at least until the midterm grades come back.

1 comment:

  1. as usual - fantastically put and funny, too. I want to hear your answer to the "arbitrary universe" question over some wine sometime!

    There are so many things I love about Oregon that I'm never quite able to express. I'm glad to know it is not just my perception that this place is unique in both its urban and rural areas - I hadn't quite thought of the interconnectedness, but it's true - well put. It's also those qualities that I think many people who've moved here or visited from somewhere else (for example, the east coast) don't like. Portland/eugene/corvallis is too sleepy, not big enough, not developed enough, not urban enough - but they do usually say it's certainly wet enough. To them I say "good - then don't live here."
    Yeah yeah...I hardly have a leg to stand on as an east-coast-transplant myself, but I feel like if people can't appreciate what a place is all about and embrace the way it is and why it is so, I'm at a loss trying to understand why they are there in the first place.
    One runs into this attitude when traveling too (i.e. people want to transplant their version of the world to everywhere else in the world), but that is a whole other discussion.

    Anyway - all I really wanted to say was "hell yeah!"

    oh, and "Go Blazers!" (i think you need to do a sub-blog of this blog regarding why Oregonians love the Blazers so much).