On Forgetting and the Built Environment

Earlier this week, I saw the construction site in the picture below while driving to work.

Recent demolition at 880 North and University Ave.

I’ve driven, walked, and biked by this location countless times over the course of nearly a decade. But when I saw that the old buildings were gone, I suddenly realized I was already forgetting significant details about the recently demolished buildings. It was like that orange excavator scooped out my memories right along with the old homes themselves.

Maybe I’m an extreme case, or simply extremely bad at remembering old houses. But I think that over time I’m not the only person who experiences this phenomenon. It is, I suppose, a kind of taking the built environment for granted. Structures seem so immutable that when they do change or disappear, their absence is more surreal than striking. And in my experience eventually that absence simply seems natural.

I’ve experienced a similar phenomena in downtown: I arrived in Provo well before the Zion’s bank building was erected, but I have only the foggiest memories of what previously occupied that space.

This, it seems, is the way we end up with sites like the original tabernacle ruins. At some point after the building was gone people finally forgot most of the details. Relative newcomers like myself never even knew it existed, and even the experts had to use high tech tools to locate the old foundation. In the grand scheme of things, that building wasn’t all that old, but the process of forgetting had erased even the most basic information about it.

This blog aims to tackle urbanism in Provo — things like infrastructure, how to enliven streets, grow the economy, and improve well-being. But as I’ve wandered around Provo with my point-and-shoot camera, I also realized that it can document development. It can provide a fragment of the past to remember.

By the time you read this post, this house will be gone.

Most people who move into these condos will never know what used to occupy this site. If they're like me, it may be years before they even consider that something could have formerly occupied the site.

The built environment is always changing, even though I have a tendency to think of it as eternal.

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4 Comments

Filed under construction, Development, Provo Tabernacle

4 responses to “On Forgetting and the Built Environment

  1. Pingback: The Ghosts of Provo and March Gallery Stroll | (pro(vo)cation)

  2. Pingback: Provo Shows: Our Collective Memory | (pro(vo)cation)

  3. Pingback: Student Housing and the Slums of Tomorrow | (pro(vo)cation)

  4. Pingback: On Remembering and the Built Environment | (pro(vo)cation)

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