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2006 08 20
For Whom The Bell Tolls: Reprised
The Richview Memorial Cemetery, consecrated in 1853, now lies strapped in by the ramping arabesques of the busiest intersection in Canada. From the air, the junction of highways 401 and 427 has a sinuous and graphic beauty, though from the ground the stark sense of desolation becomes more apparent.

The location does not correspond to the cemetery idyll of natural beauty and calm usually attributed to final resting places in North America. There is no access to the site except by car. It is exposed with no shelter from trees or other wind breaks. The abrupt change in scale between grave stone and highway is brutal and the noise, proximity and speed of traffic is aggressive.

Presumably the inhabitants do not mind. And yet, the ensnarement of this particular plot of land is the result of a chain of decisions which imply certain things about our societal priorities and beg questions of our cultural motives.

Who do we build cemeteries for? The gods of our periodic table would have us convinced that our dears, once departed, leave behind nothing more crass than a residue of elements and minerals. So, by now if not always, we must be building cemeteries for ourselves to reinforce some idea of who we are or how we might endure. At what point does the individual tribute cease to matter to us as a society? Over the course of time for a family to forgets its loss? A few years? At the time a new highway to becomes desirable?

Perhaps the urban cemetery as we know it has become obsolete. It takes up valuable land in city centers that could be handled in other ways to both show respect to those who have died while also generating thoughtful spaces that give back to the life of the city and its inhabitants.

Imagine a monument to remembrance where names of the deceased were engraved and remains stored highly efficiently set within a commemorative park with trees, pavilions, ponds, sports fields, and play equipment. Funeral fees and donations could be used to fund and dedicate park infrastructure, landscaping, jungle gyms and even the ubiquitous park bench.

What better way to acknowledge death than by underlining it with a celebration of life? With that attitude, our cemeteries might be less likely to be entombed by off-ramps. [Grant Hutchinson / superkul ]
[email this story] Posted by superkul inc., a r c h i t e c t on 08/20 at 04:14 PM

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