Sunday, August 10, 2008
The Ever Changing American Landscape
Having just returned from a week in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, the long ride home gave me ample opportunity to reflect on what was a glorious vacation.
Thinking about the Smokies as a vacation destination, I had been apprehensive about what we would find, having visited and loved this area over 40 years ago. But I did know that housing had sprung up and multiplied in the area of Highlands, the town where we would be staying, and the numerous real estate offices we passed on the outskirts as well as within the town center had me concerned. Would these be the Smokies I remembered so fondly?
There is no denying it. The area has certainly become much more residential with private homes and housing "developments" in significant proliferation. But almost all of the "developments" are out of view of the road, and walking through them one would hardly qualify most as developments as we know them in the north east. The homes in the Highlands in developments are on large parcels of land, and the trees and shrubbery surrounding them is so dense it's impossible to see other homes. Neighbors may as well be a mile down the road though most are only an acre or two away beyond the green borders.
Despite the building boom that has taken place in 40 plus years, the character of Highlands and most of the neighboring towns has changed little. The country surroundings remain green, serene and beautiful and the little town center of Highlands has grown up considerably. There are now several upscale restaurants, a lovely hotel, antique and gift shops, ice cream parlors and other niceties that the residential population increase obviously suppports. In many respects, it reminds me of the European "village" model I have always coveted, a country house within a quick drive or long walk to the village center.
Of course, in these same four decades, the character of West Orange has changed, as has the character of many of the surrounding towns---- though not nearly as dramatically. West Orange in the 1970's was certainly not the country setting that Thomas and Mrs. Edison preferred, choosing to live here in 1885 rather than reside in the much more metropolitan NYC. But it is still recognizable as compared to four decades ago.
However, projecting 40 years into the future---- as determined by the current tree ordinance under consideration----- the town will no longer have the slightest resemblance to what it is today, let alone what it was four decades previously. Should this ordinance go through with the latest language, West Orange will undoubtedly become so densely populated that whatever trees remain after the building takes place will be few and far between. It will be bricks and mortar, and little else. The trees will be the decimal points and commas between houses, not the lush setting for the homes that they are now.
For those who chose to live in West Orange for its acres of woodlands and pleasant green spaces, there will be little attraction to stay. For those who might consider moving here in the decades to come, the urbanization that will undoubtedly happen with a weak tree ordinance will only add costs and decrease quality of life making the township most unappealing.
What the City Council decides in 2008 in regards to the preservation and protection of trees can very well be the architectural plan for West Orange's future, if it is to have one at all.