Newton's Notes

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    Erin Sharp Newton
    Feb 7, '18 5:09 PM EST

    A Land-of-the-Lost in NJ

    My husband was telling me about his human discovery yesterday...

    While enduring freezing cold on railroad tracks, where he was surveying for a client of his that owns the railway, the words “Kean Sees All” stopped him on those tracks. This part of the railroad is nearby a local family fun tour, where kids get to ride Tommy, with his big eyes leading the way on a Tommy-the-Train Excursion.

    Delaware River Excursions

    Delaware River Excursions
    Framed by concrete walls, colorized by graffiti and artwork..

    Newton Land Surveyor

    Newton Land Surveyor

    Freezing cold, so much it hurts, is the life of a land mapping, boots-on-the-ground Land Surveyor.  This unique immersion into the land, leads to all sorts of discoveries from rare birds, to beautiful landscapes, babbling brooks, to dead animals, snakes, bear, ancient artifacts, and ruins. The business of collecting field information sometimes results in sightings off the beaten trail… 

    Newton Land Surveyor

    Newton Land Surveyor

    They call this Reconnaissance.

    Newton Land Surveyor

    Newton Land Surveyor

    This week it was the discovery of a Lost City… hidden under the trees, protected from drones and planes, is an area of homeless people, where they have set up tent, even in this cold, to survive.



    It brought back flash backs of living in Milan, and the odd appreciation for the Italian way, which was to think about people, families in particular, the old, especially...  and the homeless, to allow a certain amount of area, albeit “outside’ of the city, for people to make a home, if they could not afford it.

    ANSAit Cronaca

    ANSAit Cronaca

    This idea that everyone needs to have a home, as in a place to rest their head, isn't a given anymore... it is something earned.  Earning a place to rest your head without a rested head seems a bit of an oxi-moron, though let's avoid trouble.  For now...

    Internazionale Italia

    Internazionale Italia

    Another place of a very similar type is Slab City, in the Sonoran Desert, within the California Badlands, California:

    Camp Dunlap Water Treatment Plant

    On an abandoned military base, former Camp Dunlap, outside of Palm Springs, California lives a population of people, who have very intentionally left the cities, and dedicated their lives to detaching from society.  Spending time there to do my graduate school thesis, this city was populated by 3 types of inhabitants. 

    Slab City

    1. The Anti-establishment group, with dedicated ideas on conspiracy theories, anti- government concepts, this group made their homes on the very foundations that were once military buildings.

    Slab City

    2. The second group, peaceful, simple people, who wanted to be away from the noise and madness, to be alone, this group was full of Loners, not complicated or problematic people.

    Desert USA

    3. The 3rd group – ok this group were  the ones running, the Runners, running from laws broken, or whatever other things they were looking to escape…

    Slab City

    Camp Dunlap

    And in the desert they found it.

    This may seem anti-establishment... it may seem cruel even, or snotty, to imagine this is a reasonable way to exist...  though the people, when asked about how they liked living there, responded with answers unexpected:  There was a sense of freedom, of lightness, of un-indebtedness, something uncanny about the lack-of-lack where it would by all accounts seems full-of-lack. Truth-be-told, I thought: if they cannot afford to live in a home, and have found a place no one else wants to live, why not let them be where they can?

    Ok, OK - We know this is a bit cumbersome, and complex. It’s not their land. They are not paying taxes. They can’t be living well, etc, etc, and it is our duty as citizens to help make them like us… ok claro.

    Skid Row
    Skid Row

    The bottom line is, right-wrong-indifferent:
    These are the places of the edges,
    maybe the places of the unwanted... 
    maybe the unwanted places,
    inhabited by people who do not want be part of the mainstream place…

    They are inhabited by people… and if place-making is our thing, then what of the place-less?

    And what of the places that are a kind-of-not place…

    They are poetic…  If painfully so…

    Looking at the places people go, what they do with them, how they survive, and yes, asking why…  Even if that very question opens a can of worms inviting even more questions.

    Back to the beginning…

    So all things considered, maybe it is a bit of a relief to know that NJ has a place for the homeless that is off the beaten trail, where at least they are not being beaten with clubs to go to another nowhere....  Of course this is probably some naive idealist speaking… from the last vestiges of raw human survival DNA, where no one should have to answer to a bad someone, and where freedom is supposed to be a human right, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone…  

    Our job, as placemakers, is at least to acknowledge that homelessness  exists, and if at all possible, try to make a difference. Making a difference might only be in supporting those attempting to  make changes in this ever complex societal web we live in.  It may be not judging so quickly, simply that. 

    Placemakers can't save the world.  This article is not about saving the world, helping the homeless, it is about what my husband, the surveyor found in his journey.  Perhaps another day, it will be something else...


    • janlemert

      well stated...thought provoking...

      Feb 9, 18 8:10 am  · 

      What a story. 

      You, as a Placemaker, have yourself identified, catalogued not just a place but an historical event. With clarity. With empathy. 

      The pictures add so much to making the story come alive. The photos of the railroad line made me feel the freezing cold the Land Surveyor felt as he surveyed, made his reconnaissance. 

      Nice work, thank you,

      Bill Moffett 

      Feb 14, 18 11:22 pm  · 

      This is a great post!  Please continue to write more.

      Feb 16, 18 12:04 pm  · 

      Thank you all for the comments!

      Mar 17, 18 7:50 pm  · 

      Good post!  To the part about the Homeless, "Tent City, USA" is a really good doc that you may want to check out.  It was on Netflix at one time but may have to look on Amazon.  Its about  "100 homeless individuals that have formed Nashville's Tent City, which is located under a bridge close to the city's center." 

      Mar 22, 18 4:00 pm  · 

      Thank you for the recommendation/reference.  In looking up Tent City I found these 2 articles below  interesting (one on the decriminalization of homelessness, and another on architects solutions...)


      "There are some activities so fundamental to human existence that it defies common sense that they might be treated as crimes. Falling asleep, standing still, and sitting down, are all necessary actions for any human being’s survival. While these activities are unquestionably legal when performed indoors, more and more communities across the country are treating these life-sustaining behaviors as criminal acts when performed in public places by people with nowhere else to go."


      "In an example of truly thinking in three dimensions, architects around the globe are beginning to envision housing in a different way. Dubbed “vertical land,” developers are essentially utilizing scaffolding and three-dimensional printing to build homeless shelters on the windowless sides of existing buildings. It’s a controversial and drastic step towards attacking the homeless crises gripping some of the world’s most populated cities."

      Jul 1, 18 9:31 am  · 

      I'm glad this popped back up, I hadn't read it the first time through. Lovely.

      Jul 13, 18 9:03 am  · 
      1  · 

      Thank you Donna!

      Mar 21, 22 10:49 am  · 

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