Image titleImage title

Western Skies Diner, Wheatland Wyoming


Urbanversusrural is an ongoing conversation — in words and images — between Jack Williams and Jon Kalev. Williams is Emeritus Professor of Landscape Architecture and former Chair, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture , Auburn University, and author of East 40 degrees: An Interpretive Atlas and Easy On Easy Off.
Kalev is the town and county planner for Platte County Wyoming and former student of Williams.

In Jack’s word’s:

So my question is - are the two poles, rural community vers high density urban, mutually exclusive - or is that a cultural construct that is embedded in American society since Thomas Jefferson. Can the two co-exist in this country or are the fault lines too deep. Ask around your table in the local watering hole, what do the citizens of WY think of New York. Tell them you know this old guy that wants to understand their world view - can community be found outside of small rural places.

In Jon’s word’s:

I looked up Wyoming’s constitution while drinking coffee in Western Skies.” A gathering place where ranchers meet to discuss among other things sealing the border (the state border). If there is a difference in rural community v. high density urban” it will be found here.

Interestingly Jack Wyomin” is a description of landscape, traced back to the Delaware word Maugh-wav-wa-mu”; which means large plains and mountains with valleys alternating in waves. Wyomingnites (or if one uses Justice Scalia’s novel term Wyomans) derive their identity, in name, from the experience of a landscape, not a inherited place name, nor is it a new” anything. Presumably where you are in New“ York, to get to see the original York” you must go elsewhere.

Image titleImage title

The landscape of Platte County Wyoming

I suspect Wyoming was formed with a different attitude than that of the founding fathers. Perhaps this was the beginning of the fault line” you describe. A rural identity tied to land and how it affects them. There is evidence of this in it’s government and laws. A rancher and miner, stand beneath a beautiful woman elevated above them in the state seal. As New” York and other former colonies - some recaptured by force in the south, continue to struggle with civil rights, Wyoming - known as the equality state,” explicitly granted women the right to vote and hold office in 1869 and strictly enforced equal rights among races and religion. Note the territory of Wyoming had the following in it’s Constitution as early as 1869.

Image titleImage title

State Seal of Wyoming

Equality of all. In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal. Equal political rights. Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil rights is only made sure through political equality, the laws of this state affecting the political rights and privileges of its citizens shall be without distinction of race, color, sex, or any circumstance or condition whatsoever other than individual incompetency, or unworthiness duly ascertained by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Why is my question were they so far ahead of the rest of the nation?

Maybe your right about a cultural fault line. If Jefferson had a different cultural construct in mind maybe it was not about low versus high density, perhaps it was the strength of the land they were settling and the role that played in their ideas about government. Consider in opposition to the idea of how the land was settled being the cause - could it not be the influence of the land itself upon those settling? Is it possible that freedom and equality in men’s minds are tied to the experience of a majestic landscape and a huge western sky than we can imagine?

Read Jefferson’s letter to Madison in December of 1787 where he raises a interesting question.

And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government, or information to the people. This last is the most certain, and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is in their interest to preserve space and order, and they will preserve them….They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty.

I think we value information as a rural population differently and how it informs how we think about goverment. People describe the least populated state in the nation - Wyoming as self-reliant but I beg to differ. I would say they are a very reliant people. Ranchers are reliant on their neighbors, they are people that depend on one another as much as themselves in harsh winters and long droughts with no hay. The men at the coffee table and feed store are not just idling gossip and harrasing the waitress. If one listens closely, it is an ongoing workshop and charrette about community and beef production. Regardless of their differences they get along and need each other. The vast landscape of Wyoming connects them. This phenomena produces a unique relationship at a community level markedly different than a high density urban experience.

Yesterday a local lawyer explained why they were here. The wind in winter blows the snow off the ground and allows grazing - Indian’s horses and the buffalo. Thats an interesting connection to the land. Few places are anchored by such certain meterological foreplay with geography.

Image title

Example of meterological foreplay

I will keep asking about what they think of New York. So far I have not found anyone that has even been there. The only reply has been where the hell is the old york” and what did they do to the old York.

Au fait, personne ne parle français ici !

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Dec. 20, 1787, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. XII, p 478.

Previous:Image title