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An urbanist abroad in the Palouse

The rugged, rural landscape of southeastern Washington inspires surprising comparisons between country and city life.
Palouse barns

Palouse barns Chuck Wolfe

My Facebook page usually caters to a distinctly urbanist clientele. But the most “liked” photos on the page last week were far from urban, with subjects dramatically divorced from city life.

Almost every person who clicked “like” is a transit, bike or urban density proponent, leaving me to wonder why my photographs attracted such sudden admiration for life on the farm.

I took four days off to photograph the Palouse, a beautiful region of southeastern Washington near the Idaho border, with 14 others. The trip was organized and led by online photo personality Steve Huff and Seattle Leica enthusiast Dr. Ashwin Rao.

I staged the best photos far from Richard Florida’s creative class, amid the rural character that to some is a world forgotten. There, the relationship between land use and transportation displays differently, and clouds, roads, houses and colors show more art than science, especially at the end of a Palouse Spring.

But envision an agricultural landscape, and look back at the farm-to-market forces from which many cities grew. Take a harder look, and see the reasons forests and farms have been elemental to growth management legislation, emulating the naturally evolved agricultural region that has always surrounded the City of Rome.

On the trip, I suppressed my urban interests in favor of banter about lens choice and camera type, and I doubt my traveling companions knew why I kept asking questions of our Moscow, Idaho-based guide, Ryan McGinty.

Me: “Why are there lone trees?”

Ryan: “They say there was once a barn next to each one.”

I thought of shade trees in cities, past and present, and remembered again that rural and urban share a common sun. Nothing like a wide green canopy to keep a barn cool in the heat of a Palouse summer.

I have spent time in the Palouse before, documenting storefronts and streets for my recent book, Urbanism Without Effort. Like those trips, I had a mission in mind last week: to share the remnants of homesteads and small towns past, and buildings and settlement forms that motivate nostalgic reinvention. Small markets, the local bar, the library, the school. No longer needed in their former context, they rise again in reinvented urban settings.

I’m reminded of something I saw online recently, a National Geographic tool for curriculum development. The accompanying “Love it or Leave It Organizer” worksheet has students assess the relative advantages and disadvantages of urban vs. rural living, using a range of fundamental factors such as the availability of food, housing, jobs, health and natural beauty.

Students can list the pros of rural and urban living in the ”I’d LOVE to live in an urban [rural] community because…” column. Beaneath it, as if inspired by the likes of the scenes displayed here, the worksheet goes contrarian, with the simple phrase, “On second thought…”

In the photos presented here, those second thoughts speak with color and tribute to a lifestyle still full of urban precursors, framed by a landscape so basic and poetic that it retains a special place in the Facebook urbanists’ world.

All images taken and composed by the author in Washington State and Idaho. 

Charles R. (Chuck) Wolfe, is an attorney in Seattle, where he focuses on land use, environmental law and permitting. He is also an Affiliate Associate Professor in the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington, where he teaches land use law at the graduate level. He serves on the Board of Directors of Futurewise and Seattle Great City, the Management Committee of the Urban Land Institute's (ULI) Northwest District Council and has held leadership positions for the American Planning Association and the Washington State Bar Association. Chuck is an avid traveler, photographer and writer, and contributes regularly on urban development topics for The Atlantic, The Atlantic Cities, Grist, The Huffington Post, seattlepi.com and others. His book, Urbanism Without Effort (Island Press, 2013), was released in May. He blogs regularly at myurbanist.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jul 5, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Urbanist?

When I was living in Palouse we called them city slickers and just like Wolfe, they came, took pictures and then left, returning to the dark side.

Djinn

Posted Fri, Jul 5, 1:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Would you have preferred that they stayed?

rjudd

Posted Fri, Jul 5, 9:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Just the red heads and blondes, its cold out there in the winter.

Djinn

Posted Sat, Jul 6, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Striking photos. thank you.

kieth

Posted Mon, Jul 8, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Considering the thought of Seattle's urban photographers going to almost timeless Eastern Washington for photo ops – it struck me - local areas just beyond Seattle"s city limits offer unique photographic challenges. These transition areas – places susceptible to development of all kinds - often disappear without notice.

I live in the Snohomish County part of Woodinville and for the past year I’ve been taking photos and blogging about Wellington Hills Park. It's a 100-acre park of rolling hills and 100 year old trees. Snohomish County’s plans for the Park are staggering and, to me, represent all the past mistakes of terrible land development. The Park is in a residential neighborhood yet the County wants (because they got mitigation $$$ from King County via the Brightwater Sewage plant) to build a huge commercial park w/ artificial turf sports fields, stadiums lights, paved parking for 730 cars, a 60,000 sq. ft. mountain bike building, 50,000 sq. ft. “activities” building, etc.

We're just people attempting to stop over-development in a rural setting and I've used my camera to record the nature of the Park.

If interested in the issue or you want to take photos of a jewel-like greenspace, check out my blog on Wellington Hills Park.

http://neighborstosavewellingtonpark.blogspot.com/

WJS

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