I wonder if you can create communities faster by thinking long — several centuries long. This comes up because there are some grass-roots Virginians engaged in a massive program with a 200-year time horizon. It involves visually transforming 180 miles of heavily-traveled landscape through the Civil War’s most “Hallowed Ground,” as it is locally called, with 620,000 trees – the same number as that of the Civil War soldier dead. They’ve got impressive money, big ambitions, and the serious attention of the local governments, planners, developers and highway departments. (I’ve long thought the best definition of a “futurist” is someone who plants oaks.)
The “Old Carolina Road” from Gettysburg, Pa., to Jefferson’s Monticello outside Charlottesville, Va., — now mostly designated Route 15 — links the largest collection of Civil War sites in the country. Much of it is still fairly rural, but other parts engage absolutely all of the challenges of modern development:
This of course could be no more exciting than Arbor Day. The part that interests me is that they are specifically not talking about the sort of fast-growing trees developers like, like those insipid Bradford pears. They’re talking long-horizon climax-forest canopy trees like oak, hickory, maple, and sycamore (called “ghost trees” locally because of the way their white bark looms out of a gray winter forest). These organizers know they probably won’t live to see this project to fruition. Thus they are creating an inherently multi-generational movement. (The modern version of the old story about Oxford’s 500-year oaks.)
I’m impressed with the way they are thinking about *everything* that could happen to this road and these trees in the next 200 years. What happens when the road needs to be widened? What happens when the land is developed? What happens when government funds dry up? What happens when people want to have a specific tree memorialized to a specific Civil War ancestor?
And they are thinking big – 620,000 trees are enough to put a tree three feet on center for the entire stretch. This is obviously undesirable. So in some areas they are talking about planting glades with attractive native understory that does not need to be mowed. The object of the game is to transform the entire stretch – some of which is more than eight lanes wide – into something that is a hallmark vision. And they are determinedly working with *all* of the stakeholders to make it so.
Knowing what it takes to manage 88 acres of forest, this impresses me. It also occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, this is a good way to rapidly attract newcomers and fold them into an ancient community.