Friday, March 13, 2009

Osmond Lange, James Kunstler and Black Ties and Jeans

Earlier this afternoon when I was invited I wasn't completely sure what a 'Black Tie' dinner entailed, and I wasn't too keen on the black tie part either. I'm serious. I even googled it to make sure it didn't absolutely have to involve 'black'. Nevertheless, I gave myself over to the dark side (comforting myself that this was a dress rehearsal for a possible-soon-to-happen wedding - mine!). I drew the line at the tie. No way was I going to wear one of those Jimmy Olson bowties. Well, neither was James Kunstler going to roll over and play penguin - although he looks quite formal here, below the suit he was wearing a pair of jeans.

I was surprised to be at Osmond Lange's function, surprised that they have been designing New Urbanism environments since 1929 (they started up during a Depression, go figure).
So after listening to Kunstler on 702, I emailed him and invited him to dinner. Jim's such a nice guy he even went to the trouble to email me back between his 702 interview and the formal dinner. Also when I finally left the venue (our conversation had been interrupted by the MD nogal) he had the presence of mind to greet me and wish me well.

One funny comment one of the Olsmond Lange architects made, a woman, was: "Oh Jim, your presentations are so realistic!"
Jim says: "Because it's reality."
She says: "But you imbue it with so much!"

I asked Jim two questions during our brief conversations. Firstly I asked him if the Melrose Arch of the future would be built with cabbage patches...and he confirmed what an architect at Table 12 had said to me...that farming and one's living arrangements are difficult to integrate, and there isn't necessarily a point in doing so. I guess my point is that for new projects, projects not necessarily in existence now, I wonder to what extent they will make some concessions to growings things..if any. A vegetable potplant on the balcony?

I know the Koreans, with their sophisitcated economy, grow red peppers on small square plots of land in the months before buildings are erected on this patches of land. Farming comes easy to them since all of them practically we farmers just a generation ago. I think we can learn something from their pragmatic approach. But I get what these guys were saying - Sure we may be growing a few vegetables in suburbia, but serious food production - crops - will always come from farms, and human settlements will tend to be situated somewhere else. I do think we'll be living closer to our source of food in the future (or vice versa) and more and more ordinary people will feel compelled to supplement their groceries with homegrown stuff.

The other question related to our security in South Africa given that our population is licensed to carry guns, our already horrific crime rate, the xenophobia and the levels of intractable poverty - versus the Middle Class mob in America, also gun toting, who may soon be baying for more than mere jail terms for the likes of Madoff and others worthy of their blame... Which is the safer place to be right now?

Have a look at some of the slides James presented below. I'll upload the full list later and give a few additional details.

I met some interesting people at the dinner (including an architect who looked like the actor Brian Cox, responsible for designing the Bus-Rapid Transit sit and someone else who looked like a brunette Kirsten Dunst, well, same mouth) and also had quite a funny experience being seated at 3 different tables, being served two main courses, and it was quite odd chatting to Jim - not only because I diin't even know he was in South Africa until I'd read a 702 Tweet, but he seemed to be suffering from jet-lag, especially at 11pm. I can commiserate. The trip to Seoul is about as far for us as it must be for him to here from New York.

I also met an interesting chap who also did time in South Korea as his father had been a diplomat...or ambassador there? Matt if you're reading this, you might find this clip quite funny - click here. And here's a video from Ilsan.

So yeah, an interesting evening and I'm chuffed that we were even given two of Jim's books. I've read World Made By Hand and The Long Emergency, and got an autographed copy from Jim of The Geography of Nowhere. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Finally, I guess what I found interesting, on a personal note, was to find myself sitting amongst a bunch of architects, listening to a man I'd met basically by almost randomly buying a book in a Korean bookstore. Then I'd googled his name, and found his blog, then we entered into an infrequent correspondence etc... On the architecture side I read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and this sowed the seed to become an archtect (since my father was a builder too, and had been responsible for building Bloemfontein's town centre and many other developments).

It occurred to me while sitting there that all these things may yet come to fruition. I mean, staying in tented accomodation at Botlierskop made me consider the possibility of building a walkable, self sustaining community on our farm, using natural materials. But the idea would be to design a very pleasing setting for a small group of families, and connecting these to the orgasnic systems around us. It would not be a village, or suburbia or a farm, but a combination. I'm not suggesting all people should try to live this way, merely that I consider the idea of it an idyllic setting possibly for myself and my own family, and perhaps a group of like minded New Urbanists who would appreciate the peace and calm of a walkable, semi-rural setting.


Anonymous said...

I just watched your precis of the Kunstler talk last year in SA. Very good distillation. I noticed on YouTube that you were planning to release a video of that talk. Do you still have plans for doing so?

Vancouver, Washington, USA.

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