Celebrating the landscape of us.
A funny thing happens when you talk to Cheryl Barton. You travel. At least your mind does, anyway. One minute you’re in San Francisco discussing the merits of the new SFMOMA, and the next you’re in East Berlin observing the city’s thoughtful curation of its urban spaces; one minute you’re part of the timeless human opera that is daily life in a Roman piazza, and the next you’re in Reno, Nevada musing on landscape identities and Cheryl’s ardent mission to connect people to where they are.
Yes, Cheryl is clearly a woman who can take you places. And when you consider her resume, it’s easy to see why: Celebrated landscape architect, renowned sustainability educator, iconoclastic founder and creative director of the San Francisco-based Office of Cheryl Barton (O|CB), one of the most visionary and in-demand landscape architecture, green urbanism, and site-planning firms currently doing business on this great spinning orb we call Earth. It’s also easy to see why she’s been enlisted to create the public spaces that will distinguish the West 2nd District.
“Very often, I end up being master of the obvious: water flows downhill, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, pretty basic stuff, really. But it’s so easy for people, in the midst of their busy lives, to lose touch with these basics. At O|CB, we see our work as taking people on a journey that, through design, reconnects them to their surroundings, giving them an awareness and appreciation of all the natural systems in play, the value and the beauty of where they are.”
“Reno is ideally positioned… to be an example of what the adaptive city of the future can be.”
This mindful engagement of people and landscape is a constant in O|CB’s work, a practice summed up best in what Barton calls her Theory of Here: “It’s about taking the long view, looking back in order to look forward, and being adaptive,” she says. “It’s about the water, the soil, the people, the sky, the history, the climate, the wildlife, the plants and the trees. How they integrate and activate one another, how they reveal what’s authentic and sincere about a place. It’s about discovering that unique character of a landscape and designing public experiences that artfully reflect and respect that character over time.”
But the chance to work hands-on with our region’s natural assets isn’t the only reason Cheryl and her staff are excited to be part of the West 2nd team. It’s the chance to make some history. “Reno is ideally positioned to be a leader, to be an example of what the adaptive city of the future can look like,” says Barton. “This is how cities will need to evolve… in blocks, in districts, in self-sustaining zones. It’s adaptive, personalized, and a very resilient way for a city to build.”
Barton is also keen on the fact that the West 2nd District and its developer, the Don J Clark Group, represent a big-hearted departure from the standard philosophies and practices of the development industry. “This group is a real community team,” she says, “they’re deeply invested and they’re giving the people who actually live, know, and care about here the opportunity to restart their city. It’s catalytic: just these few blocks will make such a difference and demonstrate what’s possible. It’s intelligent and thrilling.”
In the end, though, it all comes back to that journey of revelation, for Cheryl. The act of introducing people to places and fostering robust relationships between them. “Sure, we’re here to create active, highly connected spaces,” Barton says, “but we have the opportunity to do something more. Take water, for example. This project is an extraordinary chance to think about, and design for, water. The symbolic nature of water. The intelligent use of water. Reminding people of the lifeline water represents in a region such as this. West 2nd provides us with an incredible platform for starting these kinds of conversations.”
When you talk to Cheryl Barton, you become aware of things, little things, big things, feelings, wonders, truths. Like the fact that the Sierra and the Great Basin are more than just names given to the horizons that surround us. They are us. We are them. Our histories are intertwined, as are our identities and, yes, our futures. If we’re ready to celebrate this landscape of us, well, she’s is just the one to help us do it.