Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guest Star Day: seeing Forrest about the trees.

An excerpt from my column, originally published in 2005. When this was written, I was spitting nails about eminent domain. My friend and I discussed the need for trees during our weekly coffee, and this interview was the result. A few things have changed since then, but he's still my friend, and he still loves trees.

Walgreen's has forced its way in. A bill has been passed that allows businesses to take private lands. Like Dr. Seuss' Lorax, it's time for us to speak for the trees. To that effect, we have a special guest today. A big hand for Forrest Lowry, if you please!

Q. Would you tell us a little about yourself?

A. I've been practicing law since 1987. I have a wife and two daughters: Jeanette, a teacher, and Megan and Marissa, 17 and 11 respectively. I was the co-founder and manager of Village Development Group, LLC, which is now dissolving. This is the organization that bought and restored two Main Street buildings, the Miller Block and the former A.B. Mulligan's. I'm an amateur actor and an avid reader, and I consider my five years of home schooling the most important years of my education.

Q. With all of the new construction going on, the phrase "green space" is being bandied about more and more. What does green space mean to you?

A. Green space is parkland and greenbelts. Parks are extremly important as a source of both physical and spritual renewal. Unlike lawns and backyards, which are essentially private, parks are places for chance meetings, public gatherings, band concerts, festivals; they're places for children to run and play. They offer the kind of centrality of experience that cannot be found in suburbia. I visited London once in 1979, and was impressed with how many small parks, all beautifully kept, were scattered throughout the city. Green space was never more than a short walk away. Greenbelts were the result in Europe of walled cities. The area outside often became parkland when the walls finally came down. The famous Vienna Woods are a prime example. Victor Gruen, architect, planner, and father of the modern shopping center, grew up in Vienna. He describes the effect of green space on his life in his book, Heart Of Our Cities. He later disowned shopping centers as bleak, ugly, and "anti-city"

Q. How much influence does green space have on your life? Does it have an impact on choosing a home, your hobbies, and so on?

A. We moved to Ottawa because it is such a beautiful town. The beauty comes from its 19th century regard for the public benefits of beautiful architecture, and its parks. City Park is a fine example of the essentially urban nature of public green space. The older neighborhoods are lined with trees. They are pleasant to walk in; they have a sense of calm, dignity, and permanence.

Q. What sparked your interest in this subject?

A. I have always loved beautiful urban design. Green space is essential to any well-designed urban millieu, from the smallest town, to the largest city. Olmstead recognized this when he designed New York's Central Park. The best parks are always found in compact towns, where people walk. Parking lots, big-box discount stores, and suburbia in general are antithetical to green spaces, because such aspects of modern America keep people in their cars and off of their feet. Greenbelts slow or stop sprawl, one of the greatest forces for pure ugliness the world has ever seen.

Q. Why is it important to continue to include green spaces in the development of Ottawa, or any city?

A. Parks provide gathering places, they are sources of beauty, and they are a deciding factor for potential newcomers. Ottawa, thank God, was designed by town builders who shared older and better notions of urban design than we employ now. This is a town built to be enjoyed from the sidewalks, not the streets.

Q. How can we, as citizens, play a part?

A. We can make sure that we leave space in our outlying areas as natural prairie or parkland, so that the town is not consumed by sprawl. Sprawl will wreck the town AS a town, just as it has done everywhere. Maintain and use our parks. Forest Park became even more accessible when the old railroad bridge was converted to part of the rail trail. This was a piece of far-sightedness that speaks volumes about the value we place on the essentially urban nature of our little town, and I consider it an extremely wise decision.


  1. Towns with lots of green and parks also possess the most personality, too.

  2. I'm watching my local farm fields turn into car dealerships and chain restaurants. I can't wait to escape it!

  3. One thing I love about a town, is their commitment to allow for nature's beauty, without the feeling of having to recreate it!

  4. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, a town blessed with many green spaces of many sizes and uses, some of which were designed by Olmstead! The best part about Louisville is the ambient attitude of the town as a group entity that parks and green spaces are valuable and desirable. Businesses and neighborhoods will turn bits of random space into public green spaces. I think it's two of the things that make Louisville such an attractive place to stay in or relocate to: the parks and the dedication to parks.


  5. Alex: you are so right!

    Will: I wonder where they think the food will come from after the fields are paved over?

    Sylvia: I know what you mean! Nature does a pretty good job on her own.

    Marian: Hm, gonna have to visit there someday. :)


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