Trying to See a Familiar City With Fresh Eyes

Through the course of writing about design, public art, placemaking and environmental graphics, I’ve come to an awkward realization. Namely, that there is a great deal that I don’t actually know about my hometown. I was born at Goshen General Hospital and spent my formative years here, attending a mix of public and private schools from kindergarten all the way up through college. And yet, aside from the people and places that have more or less remained the same, the city has changed; I have been humbled by the knowledge that I must learn to look at this familiar place with newer—and perhaps more acute--eyes.

The intellectual in me would like to think that I’ve already done so. After all, many of the changes that have taken place, at least in terms of infrastructure and local businesses, are difficult to ignore. But still. I have done a fair amount of research about Goshen as of late and have been both frustrated and motivated by the fact that I don’t know quite as much as I thought I did.

There are subtle, more nuanced—or perhaps just less pronounced?—shifts that I have been somewhat oblivious to, that have taken place over time. Taken together, these overt and understated transformations have subsequently altered the general ethos and demographic makeup of the city.

I have plenty of opinions about the role of art/design in helping to define a sense of place for Goshen. In looking back over previous posts, however, I have struggled when confronted with questions about how sense of place could or should manifest itself more visually. And there’s a temptation to rely too heavily on my own perspectives and assumptions about the Goshen that I grew up with rather than the Goshen that exists.

I am only one person, so am inevitably limited when it comes to understanding the extent to which local residents feel a sense of pride or the degree to which people living in our area make conscious efforts to support local farms and businesses. I’m not necessarily aware of the neighborhood relationships that are growing into distinct, identifiable communities within a larger community or the ways in which changes in infrastructure will affect these neighborhoods. Or, if I see changes happening, I may only be able to appreciate them from a certain amount of detached distance.

In a recent Goshen Commons post, Adam Scharf stated the following:

“The 'North Connector Route' will leave this railroad corridor almost unrecognizable from what it is today. And with other crossings of the tracks – those cultural and those constructed – further closed and cut off by columns and concrete, Cottage Avenue will become a central collector and a carrier across a divide. Might those whom it hosts for a crossing still feel … at ease, welcome and at home.”

This excerpt struck me for a number of reasons, in part because it draws a connection between the structural foundation of the city and the part of the city that lives and breathes -- that is, the people, within that structure. Development can have an enormous impact on how we function in communal spaces, influencing how well we can or cannot maintain relationships and a sense of belonging. It also reflects the reality of change.

Art and design can provide us with a means for helping to preserve the aforementioned idea of “home,” and creative expression can be a thread that keeps us linked in the midst of transitions. Lastly, though we should not ignore the past, we must appreciate what is actually in front of us, learning to know who we are now in order to imagine who we will be in the future.