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A Sense of Grace

It is a short walk, an historic walk across Harvard Square with the red brick dormitories saved for Freshmen which must each year ground those students in that place in ways they will never forget or regret.

But on the week of finals there is a stillness a seriousness in the air. While in Cambridge, I stayed at the Irving House Bed and Breakfast on the 3rd floor and walked the 600 feet to Gund Hall for the final review of the designs so many of you inspired. When the dozen landscape graduate architect students took us on during their visit just 6 weeks ago, they were paying attention.

I know this because you were quoted and your issues and ideas lit up the screens in the posters, drawings, maps and visual renditions they each have created illustrated shown and discussed for their Ottawa County Remade designs.

When the critics had said their last comments. It went to their professor to sum the day's and semester studio's efforts and as overwhelmed as we all were -- he simply said the students had truly used a sense of grace as they engaged with place and people and through this they and he had found their way to a sense of calm at the end of this experience.

There was no historical anger towards those who created our site's mess and the urgency to solve our problems was approached in such a way to simply guide us to cleanup - restoring place and our relationship and kinship with water in what are achievable steps.

There were phrases that resonated with me and I believe will with you. Try:

Accessibility to water

Revitalizing our Downstream home

The Role of Water

The degree of wetness

Rekindling our kinship with place and water

Issues of great concern were brought forward with steps to mitigate and have climate equity deal with our flood infrastructure while also increasing the holding capacity and to better understand our shallow water table.

Addressing our food insecurity while growing not only food but clean dirt.

They found ways to give us walk-ability and deal with our public space deficit. Neglected Lytle Creek was brought forward and the concept of flood water controlled by wide usable levee systems that could enlarge the campus of our NEO College.

And Dear Rachel took on a proposal to both know and regain trust with the land and create a space for our children to have their own fish hatchery of sorts and grow and repopulate a currently depleted fish species while slowing down water in catchments and reduce flood risk in one of our Ottawa County towns.

We all anticipated the day, but the pace and the competence of the students, the questions posed to them by professional landscape architects did not stymie any one of the students but stretched them to think bigger, think detail in some cases and for a few wish they had 8 more weeks to keep the design details pouring out.

These designs will be contained in a book the Harvard Graduate School of Design will publish. We will invite their professor Niall Kirkwood to come in the Fall to the next Tar Creek Conference and will be adding the student work to our website. We are not hording these plans, we hope to gift the ideas to entities to install them or what they will inspire will become part of the future landscape we will enjoy living beside.

The challenge comes back to us. We need to imagine what our, your Ottawa County could be, how we deal with our "wetness" and enjoy a future, where neighborhoods will be built, how we bring the land back into the relationship that brought these generations here not so long ago.

Dream like Justin and Riley did of what the "new" mound culture might look, how re-wilding our lands with bison and other animals we are drawn back to.

Prowl like I did. Explore spaces like the Gund built for student work, structured like gymnasium seating but spacious enough for workstations open 24 hours a day to create in an atmosphere filled with the creative minds of designers and artists whose work will be the parks, monuments, structures built in the decades to come.

And in their basement library, in a random book edited by the man who brought his students to our county, a quote from a former president that could inspire you, too, to want spaces, lands, places .... "so our children grow up next to parks not poison."

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

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