We received a forward in our email box containing "new words for 2006" and although most of them were quite silly one of them actually caught our eye. "Generica — Features of an American landscape that are exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls and subdivisions." This got us thinking. Unfortunately, the unique and individual character of America's cities, towns and countryside — which is a product of history, culture and geography — is being eroded. Our society has been slow to recognize the benefits of a visually appealing built environment. After doing some research we came across an organization called The Dunn Foundation. They believe that excessive signage, cell phone towers, billboards, utility poles and elimination of trees and sidewalks for street widening has homogenized our once unique places into a visual nightmare. Because of this insensitive development of natural and rural areas, The Dunn Foundation is committed reversing this trend through educational initiatives, community-based research and philanthropy. Their niche is developing awareness of how we, as inhabitants in our communities, have affected the character and scenic areas in a damaging way through visual pollution. And The Dunn Foundation's biggest concern is that young people, soon to be voters, do not see how their communities are affected.The Dunn Foundation has developed a program called ViewFinders Too: Exploring Community Appearance. This program is a middle school curriculum that examines the dynamic relationship between the built and natural environments. Students are challenged to look at their communities critically and creatively and develop their own vision of the future. It was published in Rhode Island by the Foundation in late 2002 and in the three years since publication it is being used in 24 states across the nation. ViewFinders Too provides students with the skills and tools to:
- Explore and analyze the visual environment within their community.
- Compare and contrast their community's visual environment with the visual environments found in communities in other locations.
- Bring about change or sustain the visual environment and community character.
ViewFinders Too incorporates:
Understanding Visual Pollution. Through a student reading and a collection of photographs or slides students will develop a definition of visual pollution and the undesirable visual elements within a community that undermine community character (such as above ground utility lines, poor signage, bill boards, etc).
Investigating Community Appearance. Students will see a video describing the choices we have on saving the good qualities and enhancing the appearance of our communities. They will learn how enhancements can lead to a community's sense of pride and economic well-being.
Exploring Preferences. Students will view a slide show during which students are guided through the process of learning to identify community character and visual preferences collectively and individually. This is being developed with assistance from A. Nelessen Associates, a leading community design and planning firm that has pioneered work with community visual preference surveys.
Community Application. A culminating activity will be an examination of the design, regulatory and community based tools that are used to plan and develop communities today. Students will be introduced to aspects of law, economics, architecture, conservation, historic preservation and community action relevant to the visual environment. In doing so, students will be encouraged to compare their community in its current visual condition and what it could be, with or without intervention. A final work product could be a student vision statement or design code, for example, that students advocate to their local legislative officials.
The Dunn Foundation's story is quite inspiring to us and we hope that more schools and teachers across the country start to incorporate their program into their curriculum. Check out their website for more information about their initiatives in education, research, grantmaking and collaboration. ::The Dunn Foundation