Our first reading for this project was a short story by John Cheever that highlights the importance of cartography and imaginative mapping.
The protagonist, Neddy Merrill, indulges on a journey as an “explorer” and “pilgrim” when he decides to swim through the river Lucinda, named for his wife. We realize that Neddy’s sensibility and realities were blurred by the drinks and privileges of suburban life as he decides to swim the river, because in fact, the “river” is simply a series of his neighbors’ pools that will eventually get him to his final destination.
Neddy begins his exciting journey by swimming through the river, but is interrupted by the reality of the landscape every time he has to climb out of a pool and trespass into another backyard. He eventually becomes fatigued, feeble and confronted by the facts of his tragic life that he has been denying for so long.
Though Cheever intended to use the river as a metaphor for the process of denial that Neddy was going through with his life, family and career, we used this story as a precedent to envision our project.
Neddy’s false reality and delusions allowed him to cross boundaries of private property. To him, the spaces sandwiched behind homes is a single, connected landscape that is to be used as an open resource to the public. In our own project, this means that the backyard is both a tool for connectivity and a place for personal exploration, where, like Neddy, you can unveil the truths of your own life and those of your friends and neighbors. If this private amenity is used as a public space, it could function as a place that gives the individual context and meaning as well a space that contributes to community culture and mechanics.
As we take a look at the opportunities that a boundless, fenceless, and connected open-space backyard can have for a community, we can use Neddy’s voyaging spirit and cartographic lens to map, plan and imagine what our project can become.