Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lower the drawbridge

Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, BC

The last blog got me thinking about cemeteries. With a little imagination, they can be a fascinating community asset.

Back in the 1990s I was asked to join a team of talented design colleagues to do a preliminary concept plan for the historic Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, British Columbia. Thinking about my gardens-in-a-cemetery story last blog, Ross Bay brought all sorts of interesting innovations to mind – innovations that yield cause for optimism in spite of warnings from the fearful who auger catastrophe.

Ross Bay is one of Canada's most famous historic, and beautiful, cemeteries. Overlooking the glistening waves of the Georgia Straight and the snow capped Coastal Mountains of British Columbia, Ross Bay had persistent problems with gravestone vandalism.

The damage to Ross Bay Cemetery suggested to some we should control access to the property. We easily could have. 1st Generation CPTED tacticians often push people away with target hardening, fencing, and access controls.

Yet a cemetery is not a warehouse; it is a place for remembrance and reflection. So we developed a concept plan for the cemetery perimeter incorporating new memorial spaces into the design solution. We programmed a bike path and walking trail through vulnerable areas of the cemetery along with seating areas. We capitalized on the magnificence of large sprawling trees and proposed an elaborate pedestrian stairway linking walkers to the nearby beachfront.

Our view was not to shut people out. It was to attract people in – people to walk, bike, tour, and visit the cemetery to celebrate the lives of its inhabitants and the history it represents. Unfortunately the project wasn't built for various economic reasons. I'm told it is now underway. No matter. What matters is that this project, and the Indianapolis garden-cemetery, reinforces how innovation can make places interesting and safe.

With assets like cemeteries we should not raise the drawbridge. We should lower it.

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