Friday, January 18, 2013

A Foggy Conception



A Foggy Conception of Portsmouth, 2013



It’s a really good thing I don’t have to draw anything more than conclusions in my line of work. Still, I envy my illustrator friends and my architect friends who are so skilled at drawing buildings and the built-up environment. As the example above shows, they have nothing to worry about from me.

But that’s not why we’re here today.

While I was waiting for the fog to clear along the Norfolk waterfront last Saturday morning, it occurred to me what an unusual phenomenon fog is.

I grew up near the ocean, so fog is hardly a foreign notion to me. The sound of salt spray sizzling on power lines is a sounds that can take me back to another time and place faster than many other aural touchstones.

Fog figures big in literature and movies, too. What would Macbeth or The Third Man be without fog? Or Fellini’s Amorcord, in which the people of a small Italian village row out into a foggy bay in the middle of the night to witness the passing of a mighty ocean liner?

As I stood on the Norfolk waterfront Saturday morning watching the buildings on the opposite shore slowly emerge it occurred me that one of the attributes of fog that we don’t always think of is the way it enables us to revisualize space.

Right across the Elizabeth River from downtown Norfolk is downtown Portsmouth, Virginia. Portsmouth gets a bad rap because it’s an old city that hasn’t fared as well as its neighbors over the past fifty years. But it has a lot going for it, including some interesting and valuable architecture and commercial space that probably would have been demolished if downtown Portsmouth had been considered valuable enough to redevelop. Instead, downtown Portsmouth is home to a growing creative class retail, business and arts community. There are three good and varied museums within a block or so of each other. At the edge of downtown is a world-class collection of Colonial, Revolutionary War-era and Victorian homes, also standing because no one valued their close-to-water level neighborhood enough to knock them down and replace them with something modern.

The gist of this is that Portsmouth has a lot going for it. You just don’t hear many people talking about it. But standing on the opposite shore and not being able to see much more than fog on the Portsmouth side gives you space to wonder what Portsmouth’s waterfront might look like if given some imaginative thinking.

But you’re going to have to use your own imagination because my drawing isn’t likely to inspire anything but giggles of pity. 

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