I’m actually Vita, but I’m logged in as Skid. I have one more thing to say:
In leaving behind Decay Preserves, I may have, ironically, found their greatest defense. It is no argument, no defense, no justification at all. Look at the pictures in the Tour Decay blog posts. There we are, in Cecilia’s abandoned sheet-metal factory. The building and the space it creates have a dignity and grace of their own, which are in part the results of decay. The absurdity of that statement really gets at the heart of what decay preserves offer: the existence of things and beings, in and of themselves, for no justifying reason outside of themselves. They bring us by this path to simple existence. There it is, in front of you. And there you are, you and you alone. In the space of the decay preserve, know that you are and where you are. What else is there?
Projecting the Flash animation we created for the Model Decay Preserve at Westlake Park on October 15 didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped. We want to share it with you, though, so here it is. We hope These images give you an idea of the potential for turning decay into Decay Preserves.
Dash, here, again:
Regarding Decay Preserves, I seem to be at heart an old-fashioned sort of purist. There’s a lot of talk of usecreeping into our discussions of DPs. Places that could be Decay Preserve appeal to me for their own sake, not because they serve any purpose that most of the people most of the time take to be useful. In the interest of full disclosure, as public radio is always saying, I have my own use for DPs: putting little pieces of writing in them, maybe making a little music, with no audience at all except for any homeless people who might happen to be hiding out there. I suppose that simply to have the community convert decay into a Decay Preserve doesn’t really seems to be much more of a use. But feel like making like some old druidy phantasm with eyebrows you could stand on, pointing and moaning, “Beware the slippery slope!”
I can’t really argue with what you guys are saying about Party People. Maybe it’s bad on me, but I just can’t get motivated to give actual time helping others. I know I should, I know it’s important work on real needs. No argument. And if I ever have enough money to spare a donation, I will. But what I care enough about to actually spend time on is making music and writing. People who work in nonprofits and community organizations do incredibly dedicated work, and on one level, I can’t really defend my lack of involvement that way. But maybe it’s like the city’s One Percent for Art program. How can you justify spending money on art, when people, including old people and kids, are still homeless and hungry? But despite that, the city still has its One Percent for Art. Maybe that’s the one percent that I’m part of. Even if my one percent are self-centered bastards as much as the fat-cat one-percenters. Wait, this argument has kind of backfired on me. Umm, maybe when the DP initiative effort is over, I’ll see about donating time.
Your most excellent post, Red, shows a clear road for Decay Preserves to have a substantively positive influence (which makes one feel convinced anew of the value of DPs—quite reassuring!)! Making a decaying resource a community asset seems like a long shot, but it makes sense, too. And it’s really what we’ve been proposing all along, isn’t it? Gasworks had to have been the most unlikely of long shots when it was first proposed—and for the very same reasons.
Decay Preserves are not intended to designate entire communities or cities. Good grief, that would be not just flippant disregard, but a face-slapping insult. Instead, we have in mind individual structures, spaces, or pieces of ground, that a community designates as a Decay Preserve. (It occurs to me that a vacant lot is much more than a space. Space by itself probably is the one thing that cannot be a decay preserve; it is the one thing I can think of that cannot decay.)
As limited entities, uncharacterized pieces of blight can become positive community assets when you convert them to Decay Preserves. You don’t even need to make them the centerpiece of a park (I refer our readers once again to Seattle’s Gasworks Park, a treasure both for the city and for the community of Wallingford). Simply by putting a presentation frame and name around a single decaying piece of the community, the community rises above, becomes greater than that decay and makes the decay into something that serves the community. By the community’s having converted decay to an asset, the community empowers itself. DPs thus become a point for fighting back against blight. More than that, the community can decide the use that it makes of the DP, whether it’s housing for the poor, or a park, or a meditation space, or, as happens in Detropia, letting a building “return to the prairie.”
This is how Decay Preserves can be a lever for community revitalization…over and above personal transformation.
Red, Decay Preserves has, amazingly, made me see the world around me differently and think about things differently—prominently, disvalued or ignored or semi-ignored parts of our world, (see your second bullet point above). But let’s face it, encouraging people to leap from reconsidering the esthetic value of a decaying building to revaluing parts of our world that we usually reject or that are simply distant on our radar, is an analogy that is stretchy as spandex and tenuous as cobwebs. I fear that at best Decay Preserves are irrelevant to the people in struggling cities and neighborhoods. At worst, they may be seen as expressing a flippant disregard for some very real, very serious struggles.
Those benefits in your list, which we have relied on in promoting DPs, seem to be about personal transformation. They may address a psychological need in our culture, but they don't address more materially compelling needs: providing jobs, nurturing neighborhoods, providing food, protecting the 99% from the economic forces that benefit the 1%. The Party People finale (which did not mention percentages, by the way) brought home to me with tremendous force the needs of those communities where staying afloat is a deep challenge.
Although most of the play deals with the problematic history of the Black Panthers and the Puerto Rican Young Lords, it ends with a hard look at the present and continuing devastation of neighborhoods, entire cities, and vast numbers of families by dynamics that America’s economies have repeatedly created since our earliest days as a nation: from speculation to monetary or interest-rate changes to fiscally driven overproduction in the late 1800s to the shutting down of entire American industries in the later mid-Twentieth Century to the real-estate and financial crash of 2008. My goodness, Red, can’t America do better than to repeatedly create vast wastelands where there were vital communities? Or to expect the people of those communities to thrive when our economics pulled the rug—jobs and opportunities—out from underneath them?
The last chant/song in the play raised this question for me in the most powerful way: Today's adult children of Panthers and Young Lords hammer out a rhythm with stamping feet and repeat a phrase, something like, “Family, Home, Food, Justice…Family, Home, Food, Justice.” In art, concrete particulars are almost always more powerful than abstracts. Ironically, though, the moments on stage that hit me the hardest have come when a story reaches a level of emotion that spreads out, like a subterranean sea, beneath and beyond the particulars of its subject. Somehow, that happened here. That abstract of those words slammed out a concrete and forceful demand: How do we help repair America where America is broken—where we are broken? And does Decay Preserves have any place in that work?
Well, there are the benefits that got all of us interested in DPs? Here are a few you may recall:
• Preserving our past in the slow crumbling of its pieces: Rather than obliterating them or selecting some point in which to freeze them, as if we could suspend their decay, Decay Preserves let them decay in their own time. Ancient ruins—the Pyramids, or the ruins of Angkor Wat or Rome—are the great example. In Rome, they have such a regard for preserving decay that they will divert streets to either side of a ruin. (Skid once said that in this way, Decay Preserves make time visible, since decay is so much a function of time.)
• Making us reconsider what we think of the parts and people of our world that we might rather avoid. If you look at a piece of decay without making it mean something, it shows you a different face. I went and sat in a vacant lot the other day. Industrial refuse and weeds. A shack with graffiti. A sagging cyclone fence. A wrecked, rusting car and the half-covered skeleton of a boat leaning over on its side. I won’t tell you where it was, or you’ll lecture me on being safe. Maybe it was because it was a beautiful day in this late summer we’ve been having, but I was suddenly struck by the beauty of the place, if you could apply “beauty” to the quality that I felt there. And peace, Vita. I was in a Decay Preserve, even if I was the only one who recognized it as such. I can’t completely claim surprise at my epiphany of decay, since our movement was why I went there. But at that moment, I came into Decay Preserves in a way that I had not yet done. I think what I saw—the face that that ugly vacant lot revealed, was something like what you came to recognize in the Amick Building in your Greater Seattle Decay Tour posts. In my vacant lot, our dislike of decay (within limits) came to seem nothing more than a prejudice, a habitual way of seeing. If we can find a different way of seeing a decay preserve, then might we question other prejudices? Such as the value and rights of the homeless. Does that get closer to your target?
• Providing calming influences, places of mental retreat, of meditation, of removal from the incessant push of our commercial world and life. See preceding bullet. The more I think about it, the more I like this one, Vita.
• Finally, there is the Decay Preserves motto: “Why Decay Preserves? Because decay preserves”—because it preserves the greater life cycles by nourishing new lives and forms of use. This should all sound very familiar to you: These are the examples we’ve used from the start: From nurse logs in the forest sprouting ferns, mosses, mushrooms, and new trees to the Harmony Club in Selma, Alabama, which its owners have transformed (while preserving parts of it in decay) into their residence; to the great decaying buildings of Detroit and other declined industrial bases, which have inspired photographers and documentary filmmakers.
But because I know that you are at least as versed in these arguments as I am, I’m pretty sure that I have completely missed your point. (Although, just to preserve my self-respect, I ask that the record show that I know that this is a setup for us to get to your new concerns about the significance or lack thereof, of Decay Preserves.) So tell me, Vita, what other benefits and values do you have in mind?
Supporters of Decay Preserves, Karla (Red) Tucker and I are going to try something new in this blog: A debate conducted by blog posts between me and Red, the new co-directors of the Decay Preserves Initiative movement. The topic of the debate is, “What good do Decay Preserves accomplish?” I put this question or some form of it to Red after I saw a play, Party People, by the performance group UNIVERSES (http://www.universesonstage.com/page11/page22/page22.html). (You can see them discuss the play on this YouTube video post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc88hRmYDLA). The play compelled me to hold our project accountable to making a positive difference in America, for Americans. Well, at least in Washington for Washingtonians.
To test Decay Preserves with this challenge, Red and I will conduct a dialog in posts. More, we want you to contribute. So, please, dear readers, do send your thoughts about the Decay Preserves initiative project. We will respond to thoughtful comments that seem to call for a response.
Red, here lies the gauntlet: What good will Decay Preserves do?
We had a problem the day before the scheduled Model Decay Preserve installation at Westlake, and had to re-schedule it. Check back here for a new date. In the meantime, check out the Decay Preserves team’s visit to a DP candidate: http://youtu.be/bX5KdHZe4N0