Because every snow day in Virginia carries a bit of a snowpocalypse vibe, the suddenness of snow removal is revealing of some overall maintenance concepts. From this point on, Northerners are welcome to roll their eyes and scoff at these recently inspired insights.
First, as clear to everyone chasing food and power yesterday, landscape maintenance is not only restricted to tidying unruly plants, even though we can still shake our collective fist at the trees for tearing down all our power lines in retaliation for the callous pollarding they’ve received. Maintenance is a component of and a constant negotiation with the ephemeral, and snow removal is just one of the many infrastructural services which create a mediated equilibrium which we rely on as permanent.
As an infrastructural service, snow removal can be divided into three planes: the institutional, the regulatory and the desired (as visible in the above photo). The institutional is representative of the political landscape, and operations exist on an immense scale that largely becomes invisible when functioning effectively. In advance of the storm, VDOT deployed 4,000 salt trucks in Northern Virginia alone, with 2,424 plows and sanders and 7,144 contractors to clear roads yesterday. Conversely, we can look no farther than the great Bloomberg Snow Snafu of 2010 to recognize the importance of this realm, if not only through the disasters of its absence.
The regulatory is concretized through the individual mandate of sidewalk clearing, and is emblematic of the role of the American front yard in maintaining a standard of public space. This is germane to understanding why we call that front space the yard and not the garden, it is not for us, but determined by ingrained cultural aesthetics and political requirements. Attempting to traverse the city during a snow day is to experience a collage of individual maintenance regimes, from the diligent homeowner to the delinquent student renter.
Lastly is the maintenance of desire, as recorded by the emergent and sporadic activity that occurs across the landscape. Desire lines are included in this category of course, but also fractured tree branches, snow men, and yellow snow. These activities maintain space and structure as part of the urban metabolism, and are a personal research interest of mine. Just as utilities are exploring the synergy between deer populations and easement mowing, and ecologists are harnessing the potential of beaver in riparian restoration, designers would be wise to consider alternative alliances in the maintenance of an evolving landscape.