Demise of the greenfield

nature preserve, courtesy Alex Larrabee

My family moved to the suburban heart of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the early 90s, when farmland still surrounded many of the neighborhoods for miles. Over the first decade, development pressures on the open land became transparent as suburban neighborhoods transplanted one farmer after. Our house, however, sat immediately adjacent to about 35 acres of wildlife preserve, a rectangular swath of grasses and shrubs spreading over several hills that dipped down to a creek cutting through them. This vegetative void in the suburban fabric continued to provide my family and I, along with many of our neighbors, with a reprieve from the sprawl around us as other fields and woodlands fell to further development.

The school district owns that particular preserve, and during my high school career they developed the paths along the edges and hilltops, replacing dirt and cracking pavement with fresh, smooth asphalt and a lining of high shrubs. The rest of the preserve, however, lay untouched, providing a home for migrating wildlife and the occasional snow-melt flood. One winter, I even saw the tracks of a heron along the creek-side snow.

Several years passed, and the school decided they wanted more practice fields for the soccer and football teams despite already having five or six in addition to the stadium. Their decision flattened one hilltop and raised the slopes of the other, following the removal of whole strips of trees along various edges. Feeling like a continuation of the suburban backyards around it rather than the preserve it used to be, the fields at least still provided us all with a good measure of open space to use for our enjoyment.

(Provided we acted responsibly and all cleaned up after our dogs, that is. Most people seem not to.)

Over a year ago, the school decided they needed a new building for the 5th and 6th grades. The high and middle schools lay across a plane of grass from one another, the latter home to the 6th grade until construction completes on its new home, and beyond the adjacent stadium lays the elementary building, home to 1st through 5th grades. This entire complex sits beyond the former nature preserve, close to major roads and to one another.

The site of the new building, though? Directly in the middle of the fields.

When the school went public with its decision, nobody had a chance to stop them. Despite concerns over open space, inserting three or four stories into an expansive field, decreasing adjacent property values, and a placement far removed from current vehicular infrastructure, the district moved forward with its decision, opting to destroy fully half of one of the last bits of undeveloped land it owned.

As populations increase, as sprawl continues, as many of our past solutions prove to have been unsustainable, we continue the patterns of that past and rob ourselves of the few landscapes left to our more developed areas. How do we stop this destruction of our diminishing greenfield sites?

I used to walk my black lab around that field at night, some of the most meditative moments of my life. I would pass by others doing the same. I look at the masonry mesa of this near complete building and realize this particular space is gone forever.

the finishing product

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