Effective Viewing Distance for Sculpture

During a discussion about placing a sculpture in the small park at Fourth Street NW and Blair Road, referred to as the triangle park, I was sent this diagram of the effective viewing distance for sculpture in relation to its size. It may be from Jan Gehl’s paper “Close Encounters with Buildings.” Apologies if posting it violates any copyrights. Our decision is approaching and this information might be helpful.

Chart of Optimum Viewing Distance for Sculputure

A meter is a bit more than 3 feet. If the sculpture in question is 10 feet tall, it would be  3+ meters. Effective viewing would be about 5 meters or 15+ feet. If it were placed against the Barack building to the south, it could be viewed comfortably from the front of the park or the street. That’s if it’s 10 feet tall and if could be placed there without affecting the one remaining tree which is close to that wall. How close can a heavy object be placed to a tree without damaging the root structure? How will be sculpture be affected by birds in that tree?

The sculpture may also be on a base when it is installed. Sculptures are often put on bases not to make them taller and more impressive but to protect them from casual vandalism. A three-foot base would mean an effective viewing distance of an additional three feet of viewing space. We could be up to 20 feet. Anyone sitting or standing in the park would not have the most effective view of the Hand.

Retaining Human Scale and Honoring the Sculpture

If the goal is to eventually have a park in which a variety of people can sit and enjoy the flowers and, hopefully, new Cherry Trees, the Hand could be a pretty overbearing presence. The Hand would also not be well served by being hidden behind Cherry Trees. An oasis of green at that corner isn’t compatible with that size sculpture. It and the neighborhood would be better served with a placement in front of the Takoma Recreation Center.

Discussing Race in Washington, DC

This post is my response to discussing race in Washington DC, specifically to a discussion on my neighborhood email list, takomadc@yahoogroups.com. There are those on the list who believe that not discussing race means something but what it means varies. No matter what they think it means race is always raised in terms of discrimination and oppression.

This is my response to the current discussion. Or my response of the day. If I were to spend another two hours rewriting it, I might replace “culture of victimization” for “culture of oppression.” Tomorrow I will probably be sorry I took the time to write this but so be it. Pass the Olives.

Obama’s Speech on Race in Philadelphia, 2008

To begin, I believe Obama’s 2008 speech given in Philadelphia during his campaign for election in response to his continued relationship with his controversial minister and the place of his church in his life will become a classic on the meaning and influence of culture on who we are. I believe the issue of race for all of us is more the culture we grew up in and the one we choose than our skin color. Discussing the cultural difference that our many races give each of us, whether it was chosen or forced upon us, will produce a richer discussion than focusing on oppression.

Obama’s speech is worth rereading in this context.

Perceptions of Race and Culture

I’ve been discussing the issue of cultural discrimination and racial discrimination with an African Jamaican British Canadian American neighbor who has considered jobs in foreign countries. As a European, I pointed out that these countries were populated by people of color and this would be a good experience for her daughter — immersion in a culture that is populated at all levels by people of color than in the US. She says that is not true because there are so many distinctions in Africa and the Middle East that have nothing to do with shared skin color. The discrimination is both huge and more subtle than she thinks, as a “white” person I could even perceive. She would still be excluded as different. “People would know.”

I have an African-American son and a European American daughter. At a gut level I perceive a difference in their place society. When as a teenager my daughter went out to a party on Saturday night, I worried about her being sexually compromised in some way. Raped or made to feel her own body was not hers. When my son when out, I worried about him being killed.

But growing up in a generation very different from my own, in an educated upstate New York suburb, they are unaffected by the cultural expectations that I grew up with. Now in their early 40s they lead very different lives, one a Manhattan Yuppie and the other a police officer in the town he grew up in. They both believe these are personal choices. They still deny that there were any events in their lives that had anything to do with their skin color or facial features. They share a common culture and speak a common language.

Culture Changes and is Changeable

During Black History Month my Dutch American granddaughters, with the reddest hair and the whitest skin, were learning and singing Civil Rights songs at Shepherd Elementary School, which has a veteran Civil Rights Movement protester for a music teacher. They corrected my singing because they learned all these songs with a touch of Gospel and lots of body language. When I sing that way, I feel that I’m crossing the boundary into a culture where I would be viewed as an interloper.

In the course of these discussions about singing, I discovered they had no idea who Rosa Parks was or why they were singing about her. She was just a famous African American like all the other famous Americans they study. They had no knowledge of the history of discrimination. The lessons they were learning didn’t have that deeper significance. They were “only” about being famous. About heroes. At ages 4 and 7 they had no beliefs that needed to be corrected or negative experiences that needed countering. Are there cultural differences amongst their friends that they notice and either reject or admire? Yes, but they are cultural, even if they are sometimes described as “black” or “African American.” They are not seen as inherently defining or attached to skin color or family history.

When I explained that Rosa Parks had defied the law by sitting in the front of the bus they gave me blank looks. When I explained that there used to be laws that said where “Whites” and “Negros” could eat or sit, and which drinking fountains they could use, or movie theaters they could attend, they didn’t believe me.  “That would discrimination,” they both objected, looking at each other for confirmation. To them, this could never be.

Moving Beyond the Culture of Oppression

In two generations, the cultural changes in relation to perceptions of race have been enormous. I believe that it is too easy to dismiss them. To carry forward the culture of oppression even when we could let it go. Accept the past as a reality, and even the present as a reality, and focus on that which is culturally rich and nurturing.

It was a shock to move to Washington DC in 2000 and experience not in the Federal enclave people refer to as Washington but in the general culture of the city that the culture of oppression is so dominant. I would never encourage my son to move to DC even though there may be more and higher paying jobs for police officers here. I don’t want him or my grandchildren to absorb that culture. The same way I don’t want my European American daughter with the Jewish father to absorb the culture of oppression that many Jews live in.

In two generations, cultural oppression isn’t no longer a determining reality in the lives of my family and I don’t want it to be. Understanding and recognizing the influences of our past is not the same as keeping the culture of oppression alive.

Diversity of Another Sort

One of the aims of developing cohousing communities is diversity — in age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, household composition, sexual orientation, etc. You name it, we want it. Recruitment focuses getting more but groups feel they have failed if those who come forward are not different from themselves. Both forming and built communities are proud to say, “We have 2 of these and 1 of those and 3 more of these are considering joining.” They cite their diversity statistics in order to convince city councils to approve their zoning requests.

Diversity of Another Sort in Washington, DC

World Bank Meeting 2012
World Bank Meeting 2012

A few months after move-in, all our diversity quotas met or met to the extent we could meet them, I realized we had met a diversity standard that none of us had considered that would probably be impossible to meet outside of Washington DC. Doris had called together a cookout, one of our first, by announcing fried chicken in the piazza on Sunday at 1:00. Everyone else who was around brought this and that and a bunch of us were soon settled around a big round table discussing the events of the weekend. In DC, that often means demonstrations. This one, a very big one, would be at the World Bank.

Always at the center of any protest, Herb was prepared to leave early in the morning to meet protesters from out-of-town at the end of the Metro line to escort them to the protest site. He started talking about other things he would be doing.  Anna was delighted because the demonstrations meant she had the day off since she worked at the World Bank and had been ordered for her safety not to come to work. She thanked her new neighbors for her good fortune.

Carol said, “Please. Don’t thank me. I have three proposals that I’m waiting to hear back on. I need to know if we have money to go back to Africa or not, and things in India are not so great if I can’t put more into the next phase than we put into the last one. I doubt if any of those offices took all their grant applications home with them on Friday.” Doris said that she would be off work that day too, but on duty with the Guard. Doris said, “It’s no vacation for me. I have to report for duty at 4:00 am and I have no idea when I will be home.

Everyone laughed and the conversation resumed discussing the last World Bank demonstration and the casualties that had resulted. The promise was more National Guard presence and more planning. Herb asked Doris what they had planned this time and where she would be positioned. Doris said, “I won’t know until I report for duty because that — ”

Silence. Everyone looked up.

Doris continued in a studied tone, “That would be confidential.”

Herb apologized, and we changed the subject. A perfectly innocent question on Herb’s part, serious interest in an event we were all watching but no intention of playing sleuth with his neighbor.

True Diversity

Army Officer UniformWhile the diversity points for that conversation would have been about a 10 on the basis of age, race, marital status, parental status, and a few more things I can’t remember, the ones that no one had probably even considered before that conversation were military status, activism, and opponents and beneficiaries of World Bank monies. When I told this story on the Cohousing-L email discussion list, one person contacted me privately to ask how we even live together. “Do you really eat at the same table?”

I receive similar questions when I report that we have an Army General who appears in camouflage fatigues and another resident who “works for Army Intelligence assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff” who comes home in his green beret.

In all honesty, just like our other diversity points, they are just like everyone else. The differences are in personality, not age, skin color, background, occupation, or sexual orientation.

Against Signs

This is a rant against signs. If you like signs, beware.

The origin and purpose of most signs: someone is irked so they post a sign to irk someone else. Give an irked person a wall, or any surface actually, and they will slap up a sign with sticky tape or nails, usually big, and irk everyone else. But the only people who read signs are those for whom they are not intended. Thus the irk cycle continues as the irkers piss off the needlessly irked, and the irkees continue as they always have, ignoring the irked.

Signs are the least effective and most practiced means of communication. Visually and emotionally, and in their manufacture they pollute the environment — and have no effect on the behaviors they are intended to control.

The only useful signs are those that post information that people need — the name of the street, the hours of operation, emergency numbers — or warn of hidden dangers, like “Touch This Fence and You Will Be Fried.”

Have you ever seen a park close at dark? Or no one drinking alcoholic beverages? Or no radios (or the latest equivalent). Our local park, a triangle at the intersection of three streets, very small, now has signs larger than itself. it has made no difference whatsoever. (Update, 2012: The park has been destroyed, cherry trees and daffodils uprooted. Because the vagrants who liked to drink there wouldn’t read the signs.)

In my next life I’m gong to be an invisible sign stealer. Sell them at Flea Markets for interior decor.