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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
January 11, 1999


These past weeks I have been considering my position regarding open space. Kind of like Clinton and his considerations of the many meanings of the word "is." I know some people think a golf course is open space, and some have even said parking lots technically are as well. I now see they are right.

It seems that open space, as I have been distinguishing it in this column, is a misnomer. Looking at the environment with human eyes, I have seen open space as something needing protection. I have now discovered that I no longer want to use the word "open," because like the sign in the store window, this only invites people in to do their shopping.

The natural environment is neither open or closed, and only humans perceive it as such. Open could also mean that nothing is preventing you from entering, legally or not, and taking what you want. It has only been since 1872 and the establishment of Yellowstone National Park that certain areas have been barred to development, and that protection is tenuous at best.

Instead of considering undeveloped natural areas as open, we should begin to see them as complete habitats, full of life. A parking lot is open, a stream bed, as it runs towards the ocean, is not. Golf courses and soccer fields are open, yet they mostly support human recreational needs. It is important that we learn to distinguish the difference between open and natural spaces.

Here in Southern California open space is being used to mean "that which is not developable" by both developers and environmentalists. Those in the development industry cede their "rights"only to regulations or unprofitability. This is wrong. Right now, we as a culture have things completely turned around.

As things stand we work under the belief that everything is eligible for the bulldozer treatment, and that any exceptions are "special". This can been seen in Yellowstone National Park this winter, as buffalo are shot leaving the park in search of food. As a species we are all to happy to draw lines in the sand, "This is nature, and this is not."

For the civilization to survive, with any semblance of biodiversity or clean air and water, we must reverse the paradigm. Imagine what San Diego County would be like if stripmalls were the exception rather than the rule. Imagine if freeways, and the automobiles they serve, were seen as the last resort instead a necessary evil. My bet is that our world would be a very different place.

The second half of open space is also troubling. The word space denotes infinite room and resources, it also brings to mind the Robinson family and the annoying Doctor Smith. You have to admit that open space as in the space station, Mars, and the Milky Way, is quite different than 40 acres next to the San Elijo Ecological Reserve or Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve.

For clarity I decided to look up space in Webster's: 1.a) distance extending in all directions; the continuous expanse extending in all directions or in three dimensions, within which all things exist.

Using this definition, it is clear to me that there is no space left in San Diego's north county. So when individuals tell me there is plenty of open space I am going tell them they need to buy a dictionary. For all our sake.

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