Let the Healing Begin
By Diane Dorney
"When I heard about the [attack on the] Pentagon,
I immediately drove home. I just felt I wanted to be home in Kentlands
at this time." Richard Nakles.
It didn't take long for Americans to seek comfort after the September
11th attack on America. For some, the search took them no further than
just beyond their own back yards. Throughout the history of our country,
parks, greens and plazas have been used as places for people to gather
in times of crisis. During the week of September 11th, these places saw
their share of candlelight vigils, prayer meetings and informal gatherings
of people brought together by a national tragedy.
Victor Dover of Miami, Fla., was visiting a neighborhood his firm, Dover
Kohl & Partners, helped redevelop in Davie, Fla. He said he felt fortunate
to witness a candle ceremony held by the townsfolk to honor the fallen
rescue workers and to pray for the United States. Dover said people walked,
biked, skateboarded or drove to the small public space in front of the
community's town hall. "Although the ceremony could have been held
in a field or parking lot," he said, "it seemed to have far
more dignity because it was held in a space made years ago for such gatherings."
"It's nice to have a space to go and gather with your neighbors during
a time of crisis," said Eileen Dougherty, a resident in Kentlands
located in Gaithersburg, Md. Dougherty organized a candlelight vigil on
their neighborhood green in a matter of hours by sending out an e-mail
message to a list of her community friends, who then passed the word on
to others, and so on. That night several hundred people gathered on the
green to light candles and sing patriotic songs. One of her neighbors
led everyone in a moment of reflection. "I think we all felt a little
better being together," she said.
At the seven-year-old community of Fairview Village, Ore., a News 'N'
Brewz meeting had been publicized for the night of September 13. Sarah
Holt, vice president of marketing for this traditional neighborhood development,
had second thoughts about holding the meeting after the day's events.
However, after some deliberation, she decided to go ahead with the event.
"I think people were relieved to be able to get away from the horrific
images on the television screen and come share a cold beer with their
neighbors," she said. The meeting was held in one of the village's
brickyard live/work rowhouses, which, like the library, are located on
the main street of Fairview.
Just a few streets away in Kentlands' sister community, Lakelands, Dan
Blitz was hurriedly putting together a vigil at one of their own recently
completed public spaces. Blitz, one of the neighborhood's first board
members, invited the city's mayor and Council and a reverend from the
local clergy council, who led an ecumenical service for those who attended
the vigil at Four Corners Park. Blitz said, "This will not be a mourning
event but rather a show of spirit and patriotism."
Town Paper writer Karen O'Keefe attended the Lakelands vigil. "Since
I do not live in Lakelands, I was struck by the strength of my online
community and the support it offered me and my family by letting us know
there was a place we could go last Friday night to gather with others,"
Approximately 200 people in Carboro, N.C., (17,000 pop.) banded together
for a charrette to reinvent their downtown. These people included the
entire leadership of the town. Dan Burden from Walkable Communities, who
was involved with the charrette, said that when word of the attack hit
there was discussion of canceling the event. Many on the charrette team
could not get in. However, the event was held, along with an opening memorial,
and people spoke from their heart for their future. He said, "It
was one of the best public gatherings that I have had a chance to lead."
Public spaces have hosted many of our country's celebratory and joyful
events -- it is how we most often think of their role. It is comforting
to know our public spaces will be there for us in times of sorrow as well.