Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Our Cultural Landscape Report Progresses

On Saturday, January 12th, the Village Green Clubhouse was standing room only as the Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) Committee held the first in a series of events to engage in a community dialogue about the CLR. We wanted to know what is important to residents about our landscape and how to develop landscape guidelines that will help shape future decisions, yet maintain The Village Green as a livable National Historic Landmark property. After ten years of hard work mostly by volunteer members, the CLR is scheduled to be completed later this year. Over the course of the next several months, the CLR Committee will host more educational events, tours, and lectures, as well as distribute information gathered over the course of a decade. At this initial meeting, Tina Bishop and Shelby Sharen from the Mundus Bishop Design firm in Denver came to The Village Green for a workshop, with the goal of listening to the community, hearing what we like about the landscape as it is, what we’d like to see changed or improved, and other ways we might like to use the many acres of open green space we share. Mundus Bishop, who will be collaborating on the creation of treatment recommendations for the CLR, came highly recommended to us by the National Park Service. After the meeting on January 12th, I asked several attendees what they thought of the event, and what we might do to improve future events. The following is what they said.

About the facilitator of the day’s events, Tina Bishop, I heard nothing but praise. In addition to her ability to listen while not imposing her own opinions, people were impressed by her command of the audience. One commenter said that they thought Tina “did one of the most amazing jobs I have ever seen keeping people disciplined and productive during the meeting.” Another remarked that “I really appreciate how she stayed in control of the question session, so that it never got out of hand. You know how folks can be here ;).”
Overall, people felt that Tina was “sharp and knowledgeable about her field and about our property. She seems like a good fit to produce this half of the CLR,” and she presented the information clearly.
I think most people love the landscape as it is, and it’s natural that some felt apprehensive or worried about the process, fearing that they wouldn’t be allowed to provide input, or that the CLR Committee was only going to try to push for a Restoration of The Village Green landscape. People were concerned that alternatives to Restoration wouldn’t be considered. After the meeting, however, everyone I spoke to felt like their concerns were heard, and felt more comfortable that the upcoming treatment plan wouldn’t be a Restoration-only recommendation; that landscape elements the community has grown to love will be retained, and that alternatives would be part of the final treatment plan.
One of the people I interviewed had initially been fearful that Tina would be pushing for a Restoration approach, “but came away with a feeling that this report was not going to be just another ‘historic preservationist dream’ document with little significance for the rest of us. It was important for me to hear from Tina that she thought input and buy-in from homeowners was necessary to produce a good report.” Someone else came to the meeting concerned that “the planning would not be open to alternative/non-historic shrubbery and ground cover planting suggestions. That concern was quickly allayed. I hope that the planning will continue to be open to planting California natives that would attract even more butterflies and birds to the area.” Another concern I heard was “that the main green turf was somehow in danger.  It turned out that they wanted to de-turf the courts, which is fine by me.”
Areas for recreation have long been a controversial topic. In the last several years, a group of homeowners have been exploring the idea reintroducing play areas for children. A homeowner with children told me that “going into the meeting I was dreading what I perceive as an intolerant attitude toward children and their parents and it seemed to me those attitudes were on display Saturday. I felt on edge and sad about our anti-children neighbors but excited by all the other ideas. I hope we can make them happen.”
Even though the session in the Clubhouse went very well overall, there were some suggestions on how we might improve future meetings. One Villager said that “it would have helped me had the power point presentation been printed for the attendees, but just listening I had a clear idea of what was and will be transpiring regarding the treatment plan for Village Green.” Another pointed out that “there was a lot of information, all important, and I became a bit frustrated because the treatment of each set of considerations was so cursory before we had to shift to another set and then another and then on so quickly to specific details and owners' concerns and suggestions.  Since, apparently, "Landscape Architecture 101" had to be the format used that day, I think it would have been helpful had we been offered copies of the background criteria and considerations so briefly introduced.  VG people are smart and perfectly capable of digesting concepts and ideas.”
One person I spoke to suggested that we post information online, because “I prefer to read documents on my own time - post details on-line and I will read it all.” All very good points, and all will be considered for future meetings.

After the work session in the Clubhouse, the majority of the group ventured out into the Green for an outdoor working session, to talk about issues and concerns, and to hear more about the historic landscape through all of its phases. People really seemed to enjoy this portion of the day, and would like to see more walkabouts like this, as evidenced by these comments from several sources:
“I think it is a very illustrative way of showing the design concepts. I think EVERYONE should be encouraged to attend the tours; it really gives a clearer understanding of what we have planned. Maybe we can end the tour with a small picnic on the green if it is another gorgeous day?! I was reluctant to leave at the end of the last tour.”
“This gave me the visual perspective about how the historic fits into the current. It provided me an opportunity to see that more restoration is possible than I was willing to previously acknowledge. I hope another will be scheduled.”
“The tour was really an eye-opener. The concept of horizontal blocks of color and texture, which I'm sure I'd read before, became real as I was able to imagine and see advantages to decomposed granite or some similar permeable but NOT dusty and pebbly!!!! For me, the jury is still out on various other changes apparently to be suggested in the not-yet-written "treatment plan," but it was enormously helpful to see and hear the possibilities.”
Another homeowner said simply “the best vibe was when we were walking around.  Please continue to conduct meetings in that way.” And of course we will!
Some of the people I spoke with had expectations, as well as some concerns, going forward. Primarily, people hope “that the communication flow continues.” And I believe it will.
Another homeowner expressed concern that “people will reject the proposals without understanding them. Some ideas are actually money savers.  These should be highlighted in some way. I'd like to know if there is federal or state money for this, such as with the Mills Act.” Along these same lines, another homeowner told me they believe that we have bigger issues to take care of before we begin worrying about rehabilitating the landscape, saying “I'm concerned about money.  There was not a word about it on Saturday.  Okay, that's coming. I love the idea of rationalizing the chaos of our landscape and increasing its sustainability, but I really think doing something about the air leaks and inefficient heating systems in so many of our units should come first.  If grants could be secured that would cover the costs of landscape improvements that would certainly make a difference to my way of thinking.“
Tina has developed a Trip Report, detailing the information they gathered when they were here. This will be made available shortly on the Village Green's website.
Going forward, there will be more opportunity to be involved in the process. Tina and Shelby will be coming back to the Village Green for another community meeting, where the initial draft version of their treatment plan will be presented for discussion. This will be immediately followed by another walking workshop out in the Green, and hopefully, as some have suggested, by a picnic lunch on the Center Green. This will happen on Saturday, March 23, so mark your calendars now. The meeting will begin at 11am with Tina presenting a draft of their recommendations and welcoming further community feedback, then continue with a walking tour around the green. More announcements will be made in advance of the meeting to encourage as many residents as possible to attend and have a say in “their” Village Green.

Another great event will take place on Thursday, April 25th, when Charles Birnbaum, from the Cultural Landscape Foundation, will speak at the Village Green. We had the opportunity to show him the property a few years ago, which I wrote about for this blog.
I really encourage you to attend; he is a very powerful speaker!  Details to follow later.