Post Occupancy Evaluation


Post Occupancy Evaluation

The Fircrest Healing Garden

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This paper will explore therapeutic garden design and the implications of this methodology in landscape architecture.  It also conducts a post occupancy evaluation (POE) for an existing therapeutic garden at the Fircrest School for the developmentally disabled, located just north of Seattle, in the city of Shoreline.  The Fircrest Healing Garden, or Fircrest Wheelchair Garden, was established in the spring of 2003 in conjunction with the design-build capstone for the University of Washington department of landscape architecture and the UW public art program.

The project aimed to create a healing environment for patients, staff, and visitors to the campus.  Also, it is important to note that a subsequent healing garden was built in 2008 but that these gardens are located in different parts of the campus and serve two different primary populations.  For this project, a POE was conducted to determine 1) perceptions and utilization of the garden, 2) how the garden has been changed or adapted from its original design intentions, and 3) if there are any constraints to the use of the garden.

Initial results from visual analysis, behavioral observations, and interviews indicated that there are a number of benefits from the garden. It is perceived as an enjoyable way of getting to and from the lower to upper campus, however there was a lack of knowledge of the history behind the design and the healing benefits of the garden and some areas of the garden are not utilized as often or as effectively as they were intended.  Interviews revealed possible recommendations for alterations and expansion of the garden, more furniture, and more maintenance.

Based on these findings, recommendations for improvement have been made and this analysis can be used to inform future garden designs at Fircrest, or other hospital institutions that cater to patients with developmental disabilities.  Moreover, this post occupancy evaluation adds to a body of research that may assist all who are involved in the design of therapeutic gardens such as clients, users, and landscape architects.

Due to the constraints of having only one quarter to understand the complex interactions of people and the landscape over time, a wide range of approaches was used to college the most amount of data.  This strategy included visual analysis of the site, behavioral observation, and most importantly annotated interviews. This POE is limited to the perceptions of users associated with the Fircrest School but also includes instructors and students who were involved in the garden’s construction.

Site Visits
I conducted my initial site visit on May 3rd, 2011 and met with the Jeff Flesner, assistant superintendent of the Fircrest School.  We walked through the Healing Garden and took a brief tour of the Fircrest campus where I met with Brad Scott, head gardener.   I made a total of 8 site visits during the month of May in which I conducted site analysis, observations, and informal interviews. The weather conditions were unfortunately not optimal for outdoor activities as we had a particularly wet and cool spring.  It was generally overcast with some light rain, but tolerable with temperatures ranging from balmy 50’s to the high 60’s.  I collected the majority of my data on Mondays and Fridays and would sit in the garden for an hour at a time, staying until 3 at the latest.

Visual Analysis
The visual analysis of the site incorporated mapping: design features, circulation, views, opportunities for social interaction, opportunities for privacy, and additional spatial elements. The base map was drafted off of a planting plan done by Jan Saitherthwaite in 2004.

Behavioral Observation
The behavioral observation focused on who uses the space and why they use it. The data collected in this category revealed patterns of use analyzed to understand: pedestrian flow, activities, and user type.

Through interviews I gathered information on: what people liked about the space, what features had therapeutic qualities, obstacles to use of the garden, and recommended improvements to the garden.

Site Selection
The site for this evaluation is the Fircrest Healing Garden, a 500-foot long promenade that is tucked away amongst mature coniferous trees and a grassy meadow.  The garden is situated on the upper part of the campus but is only a small installation on the sprawling 90-acre campus, which contrast drastically with the hustle of cars from the main street access on 15th Ave. NE.  I selected this site because of its immense depth of history and unique relationship with the University of Washington and other state institutions. 

The Fircrest School is the only state run Residential Habilitation Center located in the Puget Sound and provides housing and medical services for two hundred of the most severely disabled residents of Washington State. At its peak, the facility was home to over 600 patients, but over the years the state has been moving more patients to group homes or private care facilities.  Fircrest served primarily adult and aging residents until a 2007 mandate to enroll twenty-four youth. The younger residents have a range of conditions from poor to no mobility, frequent seizures, lack of physical coordination and nervous disorders.

The mental disabilities include inability to focus, low IQ, difficulties with social engagement, compulsive and/or violent behaviors.  Of the total patient population, about half are considered severely disabled, “as disabled as you can be and still be alive”, as described by former Fircrest Occupational Therapist Jeanne Sheapard.  These patients are housed in the “Y-buildings” and require 24-hour care.  In turn, there are roughly 1,000 employees at Fircrest who cover three different daily shifts, seven days a week.

The Fircrest School has a long and diverse history. The campus receives its namesake from its origins as a douglas fir forest that was first developed in to a Navy Hospital in 1942.  The facility was even visited by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1945.  In 1949 the hospital transitioned to be a tuberculosis ward and until ten years later the Fircrest School for the developmentally disabled was founded.  In 1972 the campus was completely renovated, but since then no major additions have been built.

More recently, there was a major renovation of the interior space in 2002 and in 2003 the Fircrest Healing Garden was built. The construction of the garden was part of the Continuous Quality Improvement process mandated by Governor Locke, which required Fircrest to create a strategic planning process for creating a more positive and healing image.  This project was given the name the “Facility Image Enhancement Group” and was focused on both indoor and outdoor spaces. During this time, Fircrest was also working closely with the non-profit organization Friends of Fircrest, comprised of family members and supporters of the Fircrest School.

In 2000, The Friends of Fircrest received $50,000 from a private donor who wanted to commemorate a client who had passed away.  Since that time, there was interest in creating a permanent memorial on the campus that could also function as a wheelchair accessible green space.  The idea became very popular and additional donations were received to commemorate retirements, wedding anniversaries, and memories of the Fircrest School.   Betty Cantrell of the Friends of Fircrest wrote, “The garden idea captured people’s imagination, and funds for the project just continued to grow”.  In sum, $62,000 was collected for the construction of the garden, none of which came from public funding.

Jeanne Shepard, occupational therapist and External Standards Committee member, first approached the University of Washington department of landscape architecture with these ideas in the winter of 2000 to do the conceptual plans for the garden.  The project was taken on that summer by a class led by Professor Roxanne Hamilton and the plans were displayed to generate interest and receive feedback from staff. Eventually the project expanded and was selected as the undergraduate capstone design/build project for the class of 2003.

Since Fircrest is a public institution, there can be a lengthy legislative process to make any changes to the grounds.  Fortunately the plans for a wheelchair garden were approved in 2000, but only under the conditions that the garden stayed outside the limits of future development. At the time, adjacent to the location of the future garden was the large and somewhat decrepit Madrona Building, often referred to as the barn.  Originally, there were plans to demolish the building and construct a new one in its place, but these plans fell through. Additionally, the construction of the garden came at a very political time when the future of the Fircrest School was very uncertain.  Furthermore, the garden served as a platform for the Fircrest School that demonstrated the continual support of the institution.  “The planting of the garden, at this time, is a public statement. It affirms our intention to be here for many years to come. The media has been told. Now, we need support, please come to the healing garden groundbreaking!”

Design Development
The University of Washington operates under a ten week quarter system in which the complete design and build of the garden was completed.  Though this process can be daunting, it was important for the class to receive as much feedback from the staff as possible.  The outcome of the design presentation are as followed:

Best Liked Features
Least Liked Features
Desired Features Not Included in Initial Plans
General Concerns

-It doesn’t seem like pools and fountains would be safe considering that many clients are prone to seizures and could drown in the water. Also, geese may be attracted to water, which has been a problem in the past, and neglected ponds become easily unattractive

-General maintenance, who is going to keep this up?

-Is there an issue with the name “healing” garden? Developmentally disabled people do not need to be healed, they should be accepted as they are; it is ok to be disabled

-Will wood rot in our damp environment?

-Do we have the money to be building this garden in the first place while our jobs are at stake? Is there the time and energy to actually use the garden?

-One person thought that the project should be axed and did not like anything about it, but there was no specific reason as to why

Desired Features From the Recreation and Therapy Staff

-Make sure to include lots of sensory features

-Raised, wheelchair accessible planting beds
-Wheelchair accessible picnic tables
-Wheelchair accessible potting area
-Birdhouse, bird feeders, bird baths
-Paths wide enough for clients to be able to work on wheelchair ambulation
-An audible water feature, elevated is possible, for tactile water and mud play
-A fishpond
-A vegetable garden
-A cut flower garden
-Accommodation for small group activities

Ultimately, the design of student Dakota Keene Riparian Flow was selected as the front runner and incorporated the idea of a gradient and sweeping paths that brought users from one end of the garden and back again in an infinite loop of sensory experiences. The intended population that the garden is meant to serve the whole campus including staff, friends and family of clients, the surrounding community, and most importantly the clients, which includes the slightly more independent south campus residents and the more severely disabled residents of the Y-buildings.

Experiential Findings

The ambiance of the Fircrest Healing Garden is quiet, peaceful, and feels protected from the urban-suburban context of the surrounding community.  Located on the upper campus there is a sense of prospect over the surrounding buildings.  There is a diversity of open and covered areas with the eastern edge of the garden lined with mature coniferous trees and the western edge open to a grassy area with young conifer and deciduous plantings. The plantings help buffer noise from an adjacent street, but there tends to be a low amount of traffic throughout the day anyways.  There are not many opportunities for moveable seating options, but there are built-in seat walls at either end of the garden.

Artful details and mosaics are a colorful touch to your standing concrete blocks and pavers, and engraved bricks add another dimension of texture to the hardscape. There are some finer details that can easily be missed like the subtle change in color of the concrete from one end to the other, as well as pebbles and inlayed leaf patterns in the path.  The planting design includes texture and color through foliage and flowers, and there are edibles distributed throughout the garden. In some places the plantings feel more established that others, and plants range from looking like they were just recently put in, to looking like they could use a trim.  Generally, trees that were put it during the initial garden construction were pretty small for having been in the ground for so long.

The focal points of the garden are the large scaled metal chimes, and the bouncing bridge is an unexpected surprise.  The landscape design is unimposing in the sense that it gives the visitor many options for which path they want to take.  The linear aspect of the garden pulls you through it, but there are also round paved areas that anchor the extent of the garden.  The large trees that are preserved on the site scale down the size of the buildings and provide a sense of being in nature.  When I visited the garden in the fall, the mountain ash trees were showing off their feathery leaves in warm reds and oranges.  There are also quirky personal installations such as rocks stacked upon one another or on the walls, and the staff spoke of a pink flamingo that would have outfits to match the holidays.  Other seasonal events include jack-o-lanterns for Halloween and the annual FunFest celebration in the summer.  The garden at first glance is aesthetically pleasing, but also does a good job of incorporating opportunities for interaction with such amenities as the puzzle table and the wheelchair accessible planting beds.

Garden Use

From my observations it became clear that this garden is mostly used as path from one end of the lawn to the other, and is not used by many as a place to hang out alone or with a group.  One thing to note though is that the weather has been considerably gloomy this year and people in Seattle don’t tend to spend time outside unless it is a rare sunny day.  Regardless of how many people actually use the garden as a contemplative or restorative space, I was surprised by how much foot traffic there seemed to be.  The campus is so vast that it always feels somewhat deserted, but there was consistently someone walking back or forth through the garden at least every 5 minutes in the hour that I conducted my observations.

Concerning walking patterns, it was interesting to note that given a choice between the more open and straightforward path lined with the ADA planters or the curving path under the tree canopy with the bouncing bridge, the vast majority of people chose the latter.  Perhaps even when just passing through the garden, walking a little further under the tree canopy provides just a tad more time to enjoy being out in nature and observe the ferns and flowers along the way. The branches overhead won’t keep you completely dry, but they do create more of a sheltered covering if it is raining out. Also, if there were two people walking in opposite directions, they would almost always choose the path that the other person was not walking along to avoid bumping in to one another.

In terms of actually spending time in the garden, people did not stop to sit on the seat walls, but on the one sunnier day that I was making observations I did see two people sitting on the bench in the sun near the north entrance have a conversation for about 10 minutes. Also, I was surprised to observe that the interactive features did not warrant as much use as I had intended.  For example, I only observed a child once timidly playing with the metal chimes with their parent, as they both seemed hesitant to maybe cause a lot of noise in the garden.  I attribute this lack of interest to the fact that this garden is now 8 years old.  If someone has walked past the same design features routinely for many years, it becomes less likely that they will take the time to bounce up and down on the bridge or wave their hands along the chimes.

I also inferred that the garden path had become part of some of the clients walking ritual. Observing one woman in particular, she would walk through the entire garden and then make a figure eight around the table, following the loop back to where she had begun.  She did this two times before exiting through the south entrance that she had originally used to access the space.

The users that I was most interested in though, were the clients who live in the Y-buildings across the street.  These clients are the most severely disabled and were the primary population that the garden was designed for.  I was personally most interested in finding out how they are able to interact with the therapeutic space. At first I was disappointed by the lack of direct interaction with the designed interactive elements, but after observing just how limited this group is, it changed my frame for understanding how actively the garden is being used.  By far the most consistently used area of the garden for this population was just the paved entrance area.  I would watch as a therapist helped roll the client out of the building and across the street, where they would either be turned facing the building or looking out towards the grass.  Most patients were also wrapped in blankets and didn’t seem to move their arms or legs very much.  To me, they looked content just looking around or basking in the sun. In the sum of my observations I did not see a patient confined to a wheel chair get pushed though the entire extent of the garden, or aided in the use of one of the planter boxes but it was nice to see that even if these features are not being used regularly, that they were being maintained.


Nin Truong – Assisting Instructor, UW Landscape Architecture
Jan Saitherthwaite – Design-Build Participant, MLA Student
Jeff Flesner – Assistant Superintendent, Fircrest School
Jeanne Shepard – Occupational Therapist, Fircrest School
Marci Leong – Auditory Therapist, Fircrest School
Brad Scott – Head Gardener, Fircrest School
Betty Cantrell – Friends of Fircrest, Client Relative

Nin TruongAssisting Instructor, UW Landscape Architecture

-What were some of the constraints of working on this project?

At the time the design-build program was still a joint effort between landscape architecture and public art; sometimes it can be difficult to have students from different backgrounds collaborate.  I would say that the final design would have been influenced 70% by landscape students and 30% art students. Also, in terms of the project itself, we were limited to the L shaped piece of land and were required to stay within those parameters.  At the time, [Fircrest] was about 80% sure that a new building was going to be constructed in that lawn area and that this garden would serve as the entrance into that building.

-What were some of the design intentions or design features for this project?

The garden was meant to be an experience along a pathway that was full of stimulation and movement. Again, it was unclear how much of the garden would be retained if there were to be construction, so the design had to function even if only the path remained.  Some of the design features were the elbow of the L grass area that could be an amphitheater; the art students designed a game table, the circular brick area was supposed to connect with the church, we wanted to have some horticultural therapy, thought about the blind experience through the garden, engage the senses, ADA paths, and think about how to make the garden slightly challenging for the users.

-What are some of the successful features of the garden?

I haven’t been back for quite some time now, but I think that the garden really feels dynamic and I hope that as the garden grows Fircrest has been able to grow with it.  We had a really good client relationship so as a designer you can only hope that when you leave the client sees value in the project and that the maintain it.  The campus itself is amazing with a really natural feel, but there is something different between just a natural landscape and a designed garden that I think is clear once you see the space.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you think were unsuccessful?

I don’t know how well some of the art features have been maintained.  I heard that they were having some problems with the interactive table, but that thing didn’t really move easily even when it was new.  I feel like the garden would have benefitted from being simplified.  It always felt really large and like there were way too many things going on.

-What would you have designed if you had known that the building was not a constraint?

That’s a hard one. Of course the garden would have been completely different, but in terms of creating interactions between the interior and exterior spaces, I think the garden does a pretty good job.  To me, it feels like the garden is still kind of floating, maybe it could be better integrated into its surroundings.

-Did the finished garden meet your expectations?

Yes, I’m pretty satisfied with how everything turned out.

Jan Saitherthwaite – Design-Build Participant, MLA Student

-What were some of the constraints of working on this project?

I felt like the whole experience happened really quickly, but after working in the profession, I think that the quarter long design-build has a lot of benefits to it.  You get less caught up in things and just go with the flow, that being said, everything was a learning experience and it was difficult to find all the plants that I wanted to use for the planting design.

--What were some of the design intentions or design features for this project?

The garden was meant to be a memorial space.  The mosaics were all adapted from drawings that some of the patients had made.  I wanted the planting design to be multi-sensory and tactile and all of the plants had to be researched to make sure that they weren’t going to be toxic. We tried to use some native plants along the edges and in the mound.  It was really a balance between positive and negative space.

-What are some of the successful features of the garden?

I think that people had an idea in their head of what the garden was supposed to be, and I think that the garden surpassed a lot of those expectations.  I’m happy with the way that the plants have grown in.  It gets used quite a lot and is a place where families can go spend time in a pleasant environment like a garden vs. being inside all the time.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you think were unsuccessful?

I don’t know how much that table gets used, but I know some plants died and the gardeners can choose whatever they want to after that.  I think that was a watering issue more than anything though. I’m also kind of disappointed in how some of the trees grew in; they should be bigger than now.

-What would you have designed if you had known that the building was not a constraint?

Well from the beginning we knew that there was the possibility that the plants and things were going to be taken out due to construction, so in a way it was already designed to be changed, but what I think is really important for the success of the garden is that they take ownership of it and continue to let the garden grow.

Did the finished garden meet your expectations?

Yes, I think that the garden really had a sense of intention.

Jeff FlesnerAssistant Superintendent , Fircrest School

-How did patients access the outdoors before the garden was built?

I actually got this job a year after the garden was built so I’m not sure.

-What are some of the successful features of the garden?

The mosaics really add a lot of color to the walls.  I think that the most successful part of the garden is how it really brings this part of the campus together from one end to another.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you think were unsuccessful?

We have had some problems maintaining this table, as you can see it doesn’t really work anymore.  Also, it doesn’t seem like there’s enough going on in this garden that isn’t happening in the other garden.  Maybe if there were some more communal spaces then other patients would feel more inclined to use this space.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you would change?

I would try to get this grassy area next to the garden to be better utilized but with how political things can be around here, and with all the uncertainty it’s great that we can afford to keep this garden going.  Hopefully things will get better with the economy.

-Did the finished garden meet your expectations?

I can only speak of what I know about the garden now, but I think it is in line with our mission in providing a holistic healthy environment for these patients that probably wouldn’t make it at any other institution.

Jeanne ShepardOccupational Therapist, Fircrest School

-How did patients access the outdoors before the garden was built?

There was no access to the outdoors before the garden.  You could go out on the street but that’s about it.

-What are some of the successful features of the garden?

It has really become the preferred way of getting from one place to another, I used to try and take at least one client per day out into the garden. The garden doesn’t work for everyone, but if a patient shows a positive response, then of course we’ll try and take him or her out. The garden was quite well used by the staff for their breaks or for their lunches. I run into the gardener from time to time and I know that he really takes ownership of the garden.  It has been interesting to see the garden grow with time and I know that it has a positive effect for many of the patients.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you think were unsuccessful?

The table had to be removed for repairs because it was too high and the pieces didn’t move correctly.  Also sometimes wheelchairs would get stuck so we added some different paving stones.  The memorial brick idea didn’t really work out as we have planned, they were too labor intensive to remove and when we had some more bricks made the quality was so bad we really couldn’t use them.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you would change?

I would have tried to make the garden a little easier to use with a wheel chair, more ramps.

-Did the finished garden meet your expectations?

Yea, it really did. It was just the kind of statement that we wanted to make.

Marci LeongAuditory Therapist, Fircrest School

-How did patients access the outdoors before the garden was built?

We used to take them for walks in the wheel chairs along the roads but that never felt safe. Sometimes we would try to push them across the grass, but there were sprinklers and sometimes they would get stuck.

-What are some of the successful features of the garden?

I was really excited for when the garden opened.  When it first opened I saw a lot of staff out there on their breaks, but I personally didn’t use the garden very much. I would only go out there with select clients maybe once a week max.  I think the gardeners have done a really good job with the upkeep of the garden though.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you think were unsuccessful?

The therapists that are working with patients don’t really have the time to get out there. Most of our work is 1 on 1 and the accessibility of the paths really wasn’t that great.  This is a very unique population that you’re dealing with here, half of the patients in the Y-buildings can’t even leave their bed, so it’s hard to imagine many of those patients being able to interact with all of the things in the garden.  Also, a lot of these guys are really big and it becomes almost impossible to maneuver them along those paths.  Especially if you are trying to turn around, which I think is the biggest deterrent from using the garden. If you’re out in the garden by yourself and someone has an issue you need to be able to get help quickly and you need a way to get out of that situation.  For example where the chimes are placed, if someone has a crisis you can get around and help them, it almost becomes a hazard.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you would you change?

I think that the garden is a good thing and that is had good intentions, but I think students underestimated just how disabled these patients are. This population is as disabled as you can be and still be alive, so I think the idea is great, but if the garden were simpler, and easier to maneuver through, then maybe it would feel safer to use with patients.  The garden would definitely get more use if it were closer to some of the more able-bodied patients.

Brad ScottHead Gardener, Fircrest School
-How did patients access the outdoors before the garden was built?

People love cut green grass.

-What are some of the successful features of the garden?

I see the table being used all the time, not for the little game, that broke probably when we put it in, but they should really have more furniture out there. I see people coming and going through there all the time.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you think were unsuccessful?

The garden is really only a piece of a whole, and I can’t really be spending more time on it than I do with any other part.  The mounded area dies out really quickly and it doesn’t really get hit well by the sprinklers. You know not too long after the garden open someone came and poured tar all over it, I spent three days cleaning it up and got most of the stains out.  I’ve pressure washed the path 3 times since it went in, but every time I use the pressure it removes a little of the inlay design. We have a real problem with vandalism here; people steal plants all the time. The worst thing that happened though was that the bridge gets really slippery if you don’t keep it clean.  We had a patient fall and get hurt one time.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you would change?

I’ve added some more trees to kind of create more of a grove feel, but they’re starting to get mad because we technically don’t own the land, so if they wanted to come put a building here we’d have to pay to remove them.  Not too long after the garden went in we have this huge white pine die all of a sudden. I did some research and it turns out that the red currants that were planted had some white pine blister rust that spreads rather quickly and could kill these big trees in no time.  That one tree that died cost $1300 to get removed so it was a serious problem. I replanted the currants with blueberries instead.

-Did the finished garden meet your expectations?

I think that the garden looked really good when it was put in, I think everyone was glad to have it here.

Betty CantrellFriends of Fircrest, Client Relative

-How did patients access the outdoors before the garden was built?

There wasn’t much you could do with someone outdoors. Each of the rooms in the Y-building has a little patio.

-What are some of the successful features of the garden?

I think the path is really nice; it is much better than having to walk on the street. The plants are really lovely except for some problems with the currants. It’s a really attractive space that creates a good linkage there.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you think were unsuccessful?

I wish the bridge were a little more bouncy, and we had some issues with the table. The memorial aspect didn’t quite work out how we wanted it to.

-Are there any aspects of the garden that you would change?

We are making a lot of additions to the therapeutic garden down below, but there’s not much that we can do up there because we don’t own the land.  Everything has to be moveable but then you have to deal with theft.

-Did the finished garden meet your expectations?

Yes, really, they did a nice job. I think there is a lot of pride in that garden.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There are many different ways to interpret the success of the Fircrest Healing Garden.  Firstly, the state of the garden, several years after its completion is impressively well maintained.  If one of the design intentions was to give Fircrest ownership of the garden and to allow for growth over time, then you can count one success as the garden has matured nicely over the years. As expected, the garden has inevitably had some initial growing pains. The biggest maintenance issue seems to be the interactive table.  Shortly after installation it had to be removed so the legs could be shorted to work better with wheel chairs, and the moving parts repaired to move easier.  Currently, the moving parts of the table are either stuck or completely rusted out, since it never really functioned as it was intended in the first place, a simpler table with less moving parts may have weathered better over the years.  Also, since there is a general lack of furniture in the garden, perhaps multiple table options throughout the garden would have invited more groups to spend time in the garden on their lunch breaks.

In terms of plants, many of the perennials have successfully established and a number of original plantings are still identifiable.  I don’t think that any of the original trees have died, but most of the trees that were planted in 2003 have not yet meet their intended mature sizes, or they are showing signs of stress.  At this point in the garden’s life, trees could be replanted if healthier specimens are desired.  One major issue that did arise out of the planting design seems to have stemmed from fungi-infected red currant shrubs.  The spread of White Pine Blister Rust resulted in the loss of a number of mature white pines, which were costly to have removed.  The suspected currants were taken out and replaced with blueberries.  I would also note that the shrubs that edge the council ring, or lower paved area are a bit high and block sight lines in either direction.  They should be trimmed a few feet so that you can see over them when you are standing and still provide privacy when sitting.

One of the focal points of the garden, the large wind chimes have weather nicely and have a beautiful antiqued patina to them. The metal work ties into the rail of the bridge and gives the garden a consistent language. Unfortunately, they are beyond the capabilities of the majority of the immediate patients and are too large to be activated by the wind on their own.

Another concern about the garden was maintenance. The maintenance crew has adopted the garden and does their best to keep things in working order; they appreciate the variety it adds to their routine, which was previously occupied by mowing the 90 acres of land. Unfortunately there were a few major issues with the garden concerning the accessibility and safety of paths.  Though the paths would be considered graded to ADA standards, the difficulty in being about to quickly intervene with a patient, or the ability to quickly get help deters some therapist from taking patients through the garden.  They especially express difficulty in maneuvering the wheelchairs around the turns. During my observations, patients in wheelchairs were only taken to the wide-open entrance area that is closest to the building and easiest point to enter or exist the garden.  Moreover, a client slipped and fell on the bridge because it was slippery.  It is unclear whether this incident was an issue of maintenance or design, but perhaps additional handrails or a different paving surface would reduce the chances of another fall. Also, when the garden first opened there was not enough money left over to create a ramp to the south entrance of the garden, and there were some difficulties with wheelchairs getting stuck in the paving.

My understanding of the garden was not based on observation alone, the majority of my knowledge was taken from personal account, which may or may not be problematic depending on personal views and biases. I think that it would be beneficial to have some information about the origins of the mosaics or perhaps a sign recognizing the memorial bricks.  The assistant superintendent for example, didn’t know that the mosaics were interpretations of patient artwork, and it is a very meaningful part of the design that should be advertised.  The signage that does exist, the boulder and engraved plaque, explaining the history of the garden have lost their luster over the years and it very hard to make out.

Ultimately, the one biggest factor that has influenced growth of the garden is further development of other green space on the campus. With a subsequent design/build project on the lower half of campus in 2008, there has been less interest in further expanding the Healing Garden of 2003.  The lower garden, similarly named the Fircrest Therapeutic Garden is adjacent to the slightly more independent patients on the campus and thusly incorporates more advanced programming.  In the coming year they will be installing more tables, benches, swings, trash cans, and umbrellas on the campus, but when I inquired as to where these were being installed, none were being placed in the Fircrest Healing Garden.  It was ultimately a decision made by the current occupational therapist that felt that these items would get more use in the Therapeutic Garden, and concern over whether or not it would worth the effort to get permission from the State to make even small additions on the property.

Even though there are no plans for major additions to the Healing Garden, the feeling of the staff, residents, and families at Fircrest is of a consistent and of a positive tone.  If you look at the campus as a whole, the Healing Garden has becomes integrated into the routines and daily lives for hundreds of people.  Especially for the residents and their families, the garden serves as a place of remembrance and solidity.  Due to budget cuts the school has had to cut funding for their pool, recreational center, and café.  A garden though is rooted in the earth and in nature.  During a time when Fircrest is still facing uncertainty the Healing Garden has helped to create a more positive attitude towards the school, and cultivated the spirits of the lives that have touched Fircrest for all these years.


Undergraduate Thesis

Undergraduate Thesis

Contested Landscapes in Postwar Bosnia & Herzegovina


In the summer of 2009, I spent five weeks in the remarkable country of Bosnia and Herzegovina with four other students and Professor Daniel Winterbottom, constructed the first two therapeutic gardens in the country for disabled children and families affected by war.  Throughout this process we worked closely with the American Friends Service Committee of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a NGO based in Sarajevo and surprisingly funded by the Quakers, but an amazing organization that uses community gardening as a mechanism for therapy and reconciliation with the land.  We spent the majority of our time in two towns, Tuzla and Bugojno, which are both located within the Bosniak-Croat Federation region of the country.  Throughout our travels, we were accompanied by our translators Mersiha and Vesna.

These two young women worked for AFSC, hated cevapi (Bosnian sausages), and frankly smoked too much, but they became fierce friends and sources of wisdom into a war that occurred when I was just a toddler.  In Bugojno we were accompanied by Mia, the daughter of the director of the school that we were working with there, who rode around town on a red scooter and claimed that she had learned all of her English from watching South Park.  To stand on the bridge where Franz Ferdinand was shot, to climb a hospital bombed during the war and count the minarets as they lit up across the city, to eat fresh cucumbers cultivated from land that was once a minefield -I cherish these memories and am thankful for the generosity shared with me during those few weeks.

This thesis incorporates my own narratives (italicized text) to introduce the major topics of this paper.  I title my work Contested Landscapes because I am interested in exploring how people’s relationship with place is dynamic and engaged with memory of life before and during war.  For this I rely on interview-based research of Craig Pollack and my own, and use phenomenology as a guide in my work, “Perceptual meanings of place and landscape are constituted as gestalts, themes against horizons, to which the human body and the external world both contribute, a lived structure of experience formed through engagement and interaction in which the body-subject flow into each other and form part of each other” (Tilley 29).  In simpler terms, “Phenomenology is the interpretive study of human experience. The aim is to examine and clarify human situations, events, meanings, and experiences and they spontaneously occur in the course of daily life. The goal is a rigorous description of human life as it is lived and reflected upon in all of its first-person concreteness, urgency, and ambiguity” (Seamon 157).

By my own definition, I call this empathy, and I consider this one of the greatest lessons that I have learned in perusing this degree in Comparative History of Ideas.  Moreover, I am thankful for the willingness of Mersiha, Vesna, and Mia in sharing their stories.  I have struggled tremendously in articulating my thoughts because it seems impossible to do them justice.  More than for my own desire, I wrote this paper so that maybe you could come to know their stories too.


Staring out the window and through the fog I am surprised to see how lush the landscape appears. Situated in an expansive valley, the city seems to be encompassed by green hills in every direction.  I have flown alone and there were no directions other than to arrive. As I exit the terminal I am collected and placed in a van by Mersiha, a young woman with curly hair in her 20’s, she smiles and tells me that we will be to the hotel shortly. Our driver is an older man named Dragan who does not speak any English, but as we are stopped at a red light he points out the window to some children walking in between cars on the highway and mutters, “gypsies”.  We drive over a bridge scathed with rusting bullet holes and there are cemeteries on either side of the road. We pass countless houses, abandoned and with mortared facades.  Mersiha and Dragan drop me off at the hotel; I am the first to arrive and sleep deprived so I go to sleep wondering where am I, and what exactly have I gotten myself in to.

Place, often taken for granted, is where action happens, where time passes, and where life is lived. War, as it occurs in a particular location, can break one’s sense of attachment to place, leaving ramifications for people’s health and well-being (Pollack 2002, 794).  In Bosnia and Herzegovina, from 1991 to 1995, a bloody war fought between nationalist armies, militias, and political parties displaced over two million people (roughly half of the country’s population) from their homes, and claimed over 250 thousand lives (Black 124).  Additionally, it is believed that 750 thousand to one million landmines remain undisturbed and undocumented in BiH (abbreviation for Bosnia-Herzegovina) and have contributed to an additional 300 deaths between 1996-99 alone (Mitchell 2108). This thesis will explore the ways in which conflict affects people’s attachments to place and the role of place in their reconciliation with their homelands.  By examining the events following the Bosnian War, this paper attempts to understand how people in relation to the landscape cope with the aftermath of war.

Recent Political History

Prior to the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was a constituent republic of the Socialist Federation Republic of Yugoslavia.  The multi-ethnic population was comprised of 44% Muslim Bosniaks, 31% Orthodox Serbs, and 17% Catholic Croats.  Ethnic identities in BiH have always strongly been tied to religious beliefs, more so than physical traits, and under the Communist political system, the three religions coexisted peacefully without incident.  The population was especially intermingled in urban centers, and BiH maintained the highest rates of inter-ethnic marriage in Yugoslavia (Jones 1353).  Though shortly following the death of Tito and the subsequent collapse of Yugoslavia, this peace was disrupted. The causes of the conflict were complex, but in summary it involved “organized political violence based around the country’s ethnic and religious identities” (Black 124).  After 45 years of communism, nationalist leaders desired a redistribution of the ethnically mixed population of BiH in to a territory controlled by only one of the three nationalist groups. In this sense, the purpose of the war is often referred to as ‘ethnic cleansing’.

After numerous failures, efforts of international mediation abandoned the prospects of upholding the multi-ethnic status of the country. The Dayton Peace Accord sponsored by the United States in 1995 maintained Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single country, but formalized the division of Yugoslavia in to two political entities, the Bosniak-Croat ‘Federation’ and the Serb Republic, ‘Republika Srpska’.  The new country was established as a Democratic republic with a weak central government and tripartite Presidency, with each holding their own parliaments and autonomy (Jones 1354). Despite extensive political distribution and reform, the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole was maintained, though internal borders are not so easily discerned. The Federation is divided into 10 cantons, while the Republic was separated in to 63 municipalities (Jones 1354).

We arrived in Tuzla in the morning, and as our car pulled up to a concrete building covered in graffiti it was not obvious that this would be our home for the next three weeks.  This was actually the school that we would be moving into and where we would be building a therapeutic garden for the disabled children that lived in the town. Mersiha had arranged for us to meet with a local college student later that afternoon to have a tour, and as we walked towards the city center, we stopped to pick up some freshly baked pretzels and it was there that I encountered my first call to prayer. My friend Nelli was commenting on how beautiful the weeping willow growing in the yard of the mosque across the street was when a man appeared from the minaret and began to chant. Not knowing the meaning of his words I was simply transfixed, but we continued on our path until a smiling woman in a bright pink turtleneck approached us. Lejla was studying sociology at the local university and had grown up in Tuzla.  We stopped in front of an unassuming wall, but with the telling collection of names that signifies a memorial.  On May 25, 1995 a bomb exploded outside of a café.  The victims were buried together in a park and the site of the explosion was marked with this inscription, “You don’t live here to live, you don’t die here to die, you die here to live.”

Post War Challenges

Following the war, “reparation represented an opportunity to replace ethic division with reconciliation and the reintegration of shattered communities” (Black 126).  According to Annex 7 of the country’s General Framework Agreement for Peace, “All refugees and displaced persons have the right to freely return to their homes of origins” (Pollack 2003, 189). From the international community, returning refugees to their places of origin was seen as necessary to right the wrong of ethnic cleansing. Although in the Bosnian context there arises a major complication in returning displaced people back to their ‘homes’ because, “it was precisely attempts to create first a Serb, then Croat, and also Bosniak homeland that underlay the initial displacement” (Black 126). The meaning of ‘home’ is ambiguous and linked to concepts of identity and memory, territory and place.  In Bosnia and Herzegovina centuries of cohabitation with different ethic groups had filled certain places with strong historical meanings for particular communities, “for it is place that grounds identification, activates culture, and gives substantive meaning to lives… without a home, people are left with no grounding and may just disintegrate in to numbness (Black 127).

Reconciliation at Potocari

The issue of return is particularly fragile in the region of Srebrenica, located in eastern Bosnia, the town swelled with over 40,000 Muslim refugees in the heat of the war.  When it seemed as though the Serb military would attempt to attack the town, the United Nations declared it as a designated ‘Safe Area’.   International ground troops from Canada and Holland were deployed to protect the town from attack, but despite the reinforcements, the Serbs attacked the town in a surge of over 20,000 troops.  Women and children sought refuge in the Dutch base, but the men were less fortunate and were either taken or attempted to flee through the woods.  In sum, over 7,000 men disappeared during the attack, never to be seen alive again (Pollack 2002, 794).

In 2000, five years after the massacre, survivors were left with a decision.  The bodies of 4,000 of the disappeared had been recovered and more were still being collected from mass graves in the forest and the fields. The vast majority of the bodies remained nameless and a collective location needed to be chosen.  In a poll of 10,000 survivors conducted by a family advocacy association, an overwhelming 83% wanted Potocari, the site of the Dutch base for the burial site, but this resolution created a number of complications (Pollack 2003, 189).  The largest obstacle being that Potocari is located in the present day Orthodox Republic Srpska; this presented a situation that would make it very difficult for the Muslim survivors to visit the grave. Serbs feel unfairly labeled as instigators of the war, and UN peace keeping soldiers are deployed throughout the country in the event of a new uprising. Even with these challenges, survivors were adamant that Potocari was the most appropriate place to bury their loved ones (Pollack 2002, 794, 795).

Through a series of interviews, Professor Craig Pollack asked 37 survivors and 30 representatives from NGO’s working in the region the simple questions of, “Where do you want to have the burial and why?”  The typical location of choice was Potocari, and when asked why, the brief response was unassumingly, “because of everything that happened there”. Pollack, through his questioning, unpacks ‘everything’ to include “the desire to be buried in one’s homeland and the memories of trauma that occurred on that location” (Pollack 2002, 794, 795).  For many, both aspects, the place of killing and the place of home were at the root of this choice of location.  “While the homeland and the site of trauma are different, at Potocari they merged. It was the place that everything happened” (Pollack 2002, 796).

While the memory of Srebrenica already represents years of terrible living conditions, it was Potocari that resonated for many as the place of ‘ultimate horror’.  At this specific location it was more than just the memory of everyday hardships, but this was the actual site that had now become embedded with the trauma of violence and memory of families being disrupted forever.  “I remember everything. My son was with me [at the base]. My son was hungry and asked if I had anything to eat. The Serbs at that moment said that they were going to take him away and I never saw him again” (Pollack 2002, 796).  Not only associated as a place of initial trauma, for many respondents it was important to recognize the lingering emotions, “having a memorial and burial at Potocari, according to the survivors, would continue to mark the site of trauma” (Pollack, 2002, 796).

Even though the massacre happened in a moment in time, Potocari continues to be a site of provocation. While home normally conjures feelings of comfort and belonging, the memories of trauma invest the site with new meanings.  Thousands of survivors returned to the site for the five-year anniversary of the massacre, but many felt threatened and unsafe, “Serbs were swearing and provoking us… kids were throwing stones and apples and anything they could get their hands on” (Pollack 2002, 796).  Exacerbating the fear was the lack of men to protect them, “Without a father or a husband there is nobody to protect me” (Pollack 2003, 195). The disjunction itself of the survivors from their homeland combined with the continued trauma at Potocari added new layers of fear and suffering to the land that influenced how survivors understood the site as a place for burial (Pollack 2002, 796).

In addition to describing trauma, many people expressed to Pollack their ties to the site in terms of their homes. Burial and the homeland are intricately linked, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina where there is a tradition of burying families together in their birthplace, “There’s a saying here that, ‘even if we don’t have anybody, we know where our grandfather’s grave is’ ” (Pollack 2002, 797).  Visiting the grave is seen as important because it creates a multi-generational tie to the land; it allows the family to visit, and more symbolically, take care of their loved ones. “We desire to go back in time, to where we come from –to go back to our houses, to go back to our places of work, to live how we’re supposed to live” (Pollack 2003, 193). Environmental psychologists have defined place identity as one of the basic components of self-identity, “the aspects of identity defined in relation to the physical environment and the conceptual understanding that enables the individual to interact in a particular setting” (Broto et al. 953).  Physical burial of the bones that have been recovered, and symbolic burial for the bodies that may never be recovered serves as a way to claim space, and mark the space as home for all of the victims. Flowers are planted, the grass is cut back, nurturing the landscape becomes a way to remember and show respect for the dead.

In declaring this piece of land a memorial, the survivors were attempting to reclaim power over the space, “We want to put the memorial there so they know that genocide happened there, if we don’t the Serbs will accept Srebrenica as their town” (Pollack 2002, 797).  In another interview, a woman concurred, “This used to be a Muslim place, send the bones to Potocari so that we can also go back” (Pollack 2002, 797).  From these interviews it becomes evident that both ‘trauma’ genocide happened there and ‘home’ used to be a Muslim place, are important factors in marking the space.  These notions also reject the Serb control over the site and not allowing burial at Srebrenica “would be a continuation of ethnic cleansing” (Pollack 2002, 797).  Both the living and the dead would be expelled from the land, and the burial was an essential part of how survivors conceptualized return and reconciliation.

The memorialization of Potocari can be seen as an investigation in to the aftermath of trauma and the progress of recovery.  Home, trauma, and power highlight the importance of place in both the physical sense of the word, and secondly the human interactions that occur within the site.  Due to these two aspects, “places become invested with meaning” and “home becomes the site of great attachment, a place of security where people live and the point to which people set their personal compass” (Pollack 2002, 798).  The emergence of negative emotions about a place may lead to the rupture of the emotional bonds between identity and place (Broto et al. 955). When trauma dislodges attachment, people feel directionless and are unable to make sense of the world.

As evidenced by the desire for burial at Potocari, place is vital in the process of recovery. After the war nature returns; sometimes the restoration is rapid with a single season’s growth obscuring the marks of people on the land.  For some people wartime events are forgotten or repressed, never to emerge consciously, for others, the thoughts of distress never leave them, and they remain traumatized for a lifetime (Helphand 201).  Recovery in the context of war is never a complete healing or reconciliation, rather, it is better stated as coming to a better understanding of the events and their role in a survivor’s life (Pollack 2002, 798). Burial at the site of tragedy is a way to invest a site with new meanings and re-establish attachments.  It creates a physical place where tragedy is recognized as happened and where the story can safely be retold. With burial marking the land as home, and the communal grave signifying a massacre, “the two memories are joined” (Pollack 2002, 798).

Burial promotes a community of mourners who all share a relationship with the dead. In the case of Srebrenica where there are 4,000 bodies being buried at one site, the community of mourners happens at multiple scales.  It unites local, national, and ethnic groups as having all lived through the same war and experiences (Pollack 2002, 800).  Through uniting the group, the burial becomes a way to re-claim the land as home and thus becomes a part of the recovery process.  While perpetuating the notion of homeland, burial stirs nostalgia and the desire to preserve something that was there or imagined to exist in the past. At the same time, the burial is a clear reflection of the devastation that occurred during the war, and the persistence of harassment may add new layers of trauma. Continuing to advocate for this piece of land, and active participation in choosing the location of the burial allows survivors the opportunity to take control of their physical and political environment.  In this sense, they create a new homeland based on the new realities of the current situation of their lives.  Where trauma has broken the sense of attachment to place, the memorialization of the landscape at Potocari demonstrates how restoring the physical and social environment may promote reparation and return.

Bugojno immediately feels more rural than Tuzla and Sarajevo.  A woman down the street has a fruit stand; James bought a bag of elder berries and made them into a crumble for breakfast this morning.  I sketched a view of the mountains from my window and watched dogs chase sheep around the fields.  Nelli and I petted some sheep on our walk to the school this morning and then fed a goat an apple through a hole in the fence.  An old man walked by and Nelli told him that he was ‘liep’ one of the few Bosnian words that we know; it means beautiful.  Later that day we went downstairs to investigate why our hot water seemed to be so sporadic. We found the landlord shoveling sawdust in to the furnace; I had no idea that he had been doing this every morning for us for the past week.  We asked him about who used to live in this house before we arrived; he told us that his previous tenant had unexpectedly stepped on a landmine about a month ago.

The Landmine Situation

“I know that the full spectrum of human emotions happened right here: unthinkable horror, acts of unimaginable courage, the loss of all faith, and flashes of awareness of a divine presence” (Helphand 206).  Although Bosnia’s war ended over a decade ago, an estimated one million landmines remain undetonated and undocumented in the landscapes across the country.  These ghost marks are in a sense ghost makers as well because they still contain the power of a war ended long ago to maim and kill. (Helphand 202).  The persistence of violence from mine accidents not only prevents the physical use of acres of land, but also may permeate in to the consciousness of the population.  “Environmental degradation may constitute a stigma threatening local residents’ life: that is, the informal culturally influenced background environment in which a person carries out his or her daily life and relates his or her experiences and understandings” (Broto et al. 962).

To understand the situation of landmines in Bosnia and Herzegovina you have to investigate the source.  The widespread use of landmines during the war in Bosnia is directly attributable to the fact that BiH had long been one of the world’s centers of munitions manufacturing. There were several landmine production facilities spread across the country, and the deployment of landmines was a common skill among the general population, with most of them having learned the skill as a part of the school curriculum (Mitchell 2108). When war broke out, since the mines were easily accessible, military units on all sides of the conflict would deploy mines, usually prior to retreat as a way of slowing or stopping the progress of the enemy. Landmines contaminated roadways, railway lines, bridges, electrical substations, fields, and even private homes within a few kilometers of the former lines of conflict. Other homes further away from the front line were not always excluded as civilians also used mines as a way of “booby trapping” their homes if they were forced to flee (Mitchell 2108).

There were two types of mines most commonly deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The device most commonly found in BiH is an anti-personnel mine about the size and shape of a hockey puck. Made almost entirely of plastic and green in color, this mine is difficult to spot in vegetation, and is detonated when an adult, a child, or an animal treads upon its edge. This device typically kills a child but will usually only result in the loss of one or more legs in a surviving adult. It is also significant that these mines are mostly plastic because metal detectors cannot detect them.  Additionally, they are easily carried down hillsides during heavy rains and have the ability to float in rivers or streams and thereby have the potential to contaminate previously un-mined areas (Mitchell 2108).  The second type of widely deployed mines was an anti-tank mine, which was usually dug into the soft edges of roadways. These require about 220 pounds of pressure to be detonated, but once activated they will easily destroy a vehicle and all of its occupants. About 15% of the mines in BiH are believed to be anti-tank mines (Mitchell 2109).

Usually maps were made of the locations of minefields, and these maps have been of some assistance in demining efforts. On the other hand though, the locations of minefields on maps are sometimes off by as much as a kilometer, making them useless or worse than useless because they create a false sense of security. As the war ended and people returned to their abandoned homes, the renewed activity resulted in a shocking 38 mine-related deaths per month in 1996 alone (Mitchell 2108).  Each wave of returns of refugees causes a wave of accidents for two main reasons: homes and other areas previously left undisturbed now see more human activity and secondly, the returnees are often not informed about the location of minefields and are unlikely to recognize improvised warning signs (Mitchell 2109).

Since the initial return, landmine accidents have fallen dramatically with an average of three per month in 1999.  This is mostly attributed with mines having been detonated or cleared in highly populated areas, and the rest remaining in rural parts of the country.  There is also seasonality to the annual pattern of accidents over time, with more accidents in the spring and fall due to more rainfall bringing mines to the surface, and a general increase in human activity planting in the fields and activity in the woods (Mitchell 2109). The cost of landmines is obvious –the extreme loss of life, the scarring disabilities associated with mine injuries, and the societal loss of mined land or land even just suspected of being mined.  With contamination so persistent that it continues to disrupt peace for more than a decade following the end of the war, I seek to understand how have people adapted to, or changed their relationships with the landscape in the presence of landmines.

Certain expressive components of identities are “performed” with relation to places. Both identities and place are reflected in the interactions occurring in those places. For each interaction, a particular conception of self and of the place is called into being helping to explain the actions taken. Examining identities as “actions” addresses the experimental nature of the social process by which identity and place are produced and reenacted (Broto et al. 954).  During my trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009 I worked closely with three individuals who had all experienced the war as children.  Yearning to understand more about how the war has shaped their relationships with the landscape I contacted them via email with three basic questions: Do you have any memories of nature before the war started? What was your relationship with nature during the war? & How have landmines changed your current relationship with the landscape?  Their responses are intended to provide a narrative in to how individuals have reconciled the memories of nature during wartime and how they have adapted to life in the presence of landmines.



27 years old, lived in Hadzici during the conflict, currently lives in Sarajevo

When I was a kid I lived in suburbs outside of Sarajevo in a family house with my parents. My grandparents lived very close to us. As my parents were both working I was spending a lot of time with my grandfather who used to take me with him when going for a walk. He enjoyed nature a lot and he knew a lot about different plants, trees and animals, insects. He always had a different story for me, so I learned to appreciate nature with him.

When the war started I used to play in the woods near my house with my friends. We would play hide and seek and similar games. In the area where I lived, there were not mines in the woods and we could freely go anywhere but my parents would warn me not to wander when we were away from home. There was also a field where we would play in the winter. As you know, in Bosnia we get a lot of snow during the winter, so a group of us would make labyrinths or small igloos and we would play there.

Then if you remember one time I became very ill during the war. There were no doctors in my town so the only option was to go through the tunnel to Sarajevo to find one. I do not remember much except that my father carried me on his back through the tunnel and it was dark and miserable.  Sarajevo at that time was very dangerous it was hell really, but my parents risked me going there because they thought at least there is a chance to find some help or else I might have died.

So, I spent a lot of time in the nature when I was a kid. I do not know if it is safe to go places in all of Bosnia because of the mines so if I am looking for a vacation I would rather go to Croatia. The only place where I really feel safe in the woods is when I go to visit my grandparents, I like to take a walk with my grandfather. We usually go to that same forest. That smell always takes me back to the times when I was 4-5 years old and I forget about so many problems that we have here in Sarajevo.


28 years old, lived in Travnik during the conflict, currently lives in Sarajevo

When you’ve mentioned nature I immediately remembered my childhood and my grandfather who was a hunter. I loved spending time at my grandparents’ as they lived in Turbe, small town near Travnik, in a house with a front yard and a garden behind the house, where I kept my own small kitchen garden. I especially enjoyed my granddad telling me stories from his hunting adventures. I was so impressed. Many of them were invented stories about the forest inhabitants and my granddad’s strength and ability to talk to the animals. I wanted so badly to become a hunter that my grandfather organized a formal reception for me in to the Association of Hunters party with his fellow hunters. So yes, I became a hunter.

He often took me to the forest, on the long walks through the white woods, once we saw a roe deer, and I remember picking different wild berries and elder flowers during the summer afternoons hidden from the hot sun in the shade of the forest. Once I saw a fox and we regularly encountered rabbits. These were the fun times for sure. And when I think about it now, from this distance, I must say these were also the times when I learned immensely from these direct encounters with nature. These were educational walks and activities. My grandfather perhaps unintentionally passed his knowledge related to nature to me and taught me everything I know today about the value of nature and the way to protect the natural environment that we depend on. These are my earliest encounters with and experiences of nature: in my grandparents’ garden where I was taught to grow onions, lettuce, parsley and carrots, on my own plot, and in the forests around Turbe, where my grandfather often took me and taught me about plants, animals, water, and soil.

During the 1992 – 1995 war in BiH, contact with nature was limited to house plants. And then house plants were soon replaced by space saving vegetables that my parents grew on our small balcony and in the apartment. For some time, that was the only source of fresh food for my family. In fact, the whole neighborhood was turned into hanging gardens as all the balconies were planted and green throughout the season. I don’t know when and where the mines were put, but children were taught and told by parents, teachers, and in short everyone, that it is not allowed stepping from the concrete paths. Everyone was repeating: danger, danger, danger! Eventually, we learned to live with the fact that most of the nature is forbidden now because of the war.

After the war, house plants moved back and not too many people grow vegetables at home; my mom only grows flowers on the balcony today. No one believes that forests are safe. If they do they are foolish. Even today, 15 years after the war, locals are reluctant towards going into the mountains and forests, turning off from the main tracks and freely exploring nature. Today, people know where they are allowed and where it is absolutely unacceptable to go; however, this distrust will remain for a long time. During summer, I often go hiking and walking through nature, but wherever we go, there is always a small part of my brain engaged with the thought of the possibility that each careless act of enjoyment in nature might end up tragically. We do as I call it ‘controlled hiking’ where no one will put us at risk by turning off from the trail for whatever reason. That is kind of an internal agreement with the group where you can at least count that those around you behave responsibly. Mines are one of the biggest issues in the country, and the mine clearing should be given more attention both locally and internationally, as generations grow, deprived from the healthy and free encounters and contact with nature.

That’s why each day I feel more grateful to my grandfather who gave me the opportunity to learn and enjoy nature without limits and fears. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that one day I will be able to do that and pass my knowledge and experience to my kids.


25 years old, lived in Bugojno during the conflict, currently lives in Sarajevo

I was quite little when the war began and I don't really remember everything. I have very few experiences with nature in the war and during that time you were nowhere near forest because, in the beginning of the fighting we weren't even available to leave our home. We were hiding in basements because it was bombing time and you were lucky to even have some minutes outside the house at all. Then 2-3 years passed and it was ok, we have to continue our lives and it was time for me to go to school. I was 6 years old, and that experience was really weird, imagine, kids going to school and you never know when are they going to throw the bomb, but in the class, it was the same thing as home. We had lessons and when we hear the bomb, we all shut up to hear where is it going to fall. If it's far away, we would just continue to study.

But one day my brother and I were playing on the floor in the house and in a flash the people took us. They took my mom and put her prison in my primary school and my dad they put him in the sports stadium. I was alone with those people but I did not see my mom for 4 days and my dad was put there for 7 months. They broke him and they broke 2 ribs and he could not hear well out of that one ear.  My mom and I we went to the stadium to give him food and I don’t recall it well but time passed away and it is what it is. The big market is at the stadium now and maybe it’s a little painful for my dad sure, but after all you can’t improve if you are only going to hate. We are not those kind of people.  The primary school they destroyed it and rebuilt a new one so we don’t have to connect those two things.

About forest, now when I think about it, I remembered one experience when my friends, their father, my father and I went to forest to pick some mushrooms. I loved it because it was my first experience in forest, and I wasn't thinking about landmines at all because my father knew where there are.  My father was fighting a lot during the war so he knows what parts they were put in the forest. Today, most of the places are cleared, and if not, there are warnings. My friends and I liked to go rock climbing but where we go climbing it's not dangerous. I know though that Koprivnica, the area between Bugojno and Kupres is still full of landmines, and no one really know all areas so you are always left thinking maybe this part is not safe. 

Throughout the country I have seen mine warning signs and at the end I even got used to them: ‘Pazi mina’, be careful, mines.  In the city or in crowded places there are no risks, but when you get off the road, there might be a chance of entering a minefield. Although a lot of people in the country seemed a bit reluctant to acknowledge the presence of landmines, most of the people that I met always pinpointed the dangers and told me to be aware and stay on the roads. I spent part of my time in the countryside, but I went with friends that knew the area and I went off the paths as little as possible. One time in a canyon I saw a landmine that was partly freed from the ground. It was only a couple of meters away from me and suddenly I realized the threat even more, the seriousness.


War told through the narrative of a human voice is a powerful reminder that wars are lived and experienced, and that they have long lasting implications that shape one’s understanding of the world around them. In conducting these interviews I began to recognize the contested relationships of nature that exist within the memory of these individuals.  There is a tension of opposites that exist within the landscape. In one sense, nature conjures nostalgia for time spent with family and cherished freedom from the confines of basements and concrete walls.  In another regard, nature represents a persistent threat from landmines buried beneath the ground, and the recognition of danger in the back of people’s minds.

For Mersiha and Vesna, who were old enough to remember what the countryside was like before the war started, they both had strong associations with nature as a landscape of learning and adventure.  “He enjoyed nature a lot and he knew a lot about different plants, trees and animals, insects” and “I especially enjoyed my granddad telling me stories from his hunting adventures. I was so impressed. Many of them were invented stories about the forest inhabitants and my granddad’s strength and ability to talk to the animals”.  It is interesting to denote that when asked about their memories of nature before the war, the image of nature was not solitary, but intimately connected to human relationships.  Both girls express the wealth of knowledge that their grandfather’s possessed of the woods, and the joy that they received from learning about plants and animals.  The stories demonstrate the importance of multi-generational learning, and show how the value of nature is something that is passed on through a sharing of wisdom. “My grandfather perhaps unintentionally passed his knowledge related to nature to me and taught me everything I know today about the value of nature and the way to protect the natural environment that we depend on.” This could be problematic because those born after the war will only know the contamination of the landscape and this may lead to the development of a personal stigma away from nature. The memory of grandfathers also provides important insight in to the older generation’s connection with nature as being positive.  The idea of storytelling and mysterious creatures also supports a fantastical representation of nature that transcends age and brings joy to those old and young. These memories are full of images of life. The positive experience in nature as children, and the values placed on nature by their elders, solidifies a strong attachment to outdoors for Mersiha and Vesna.

For Mia, though, only a few years younger than the other two women, her relationship with the outdoors is entirely different and only developed following the war, “I have very few experiences with nature in the war and during that time you were nowhere near forest because, in the beginning of the fighting we weren't even available to leave our home. We were hiding in basements because it was bombing time and you were lucky to even have some minutes outside the house at all.”  Not only was access to nature denied, much of the fighting and guerrilla warfare took place in the woods, and the woods themselves were seen a source of danger.  At the same time, confined indoors for extended periods, people had a desire to leave their homes and still valued the outdoors.  For example, in Vesna’s situation, the outdoors were brought in, “ During the 1992 – 1995 war in BiH, contact with nature was limited to house plants. And then house plants were soon replaced by space saving vegetables that my parents grew on our small balcony and in the apartment.”  Plants, first grown for their aesthetic value, were brought indoors during wartime to bring nature in to the home.  This effort demonstrates the desire for nature during war, and that if access to the outdoors is limited, growing plants indoors is a way to sustain contact with nature.  Plants also served a more functional purpose during war, “For some time, that was the only source of fresh food for my family. In fact, the whole neighborhood was turned into hanging gardens as all the balconies were planted and green throughout the season.”  In Vesna’s community, necessity grew gardens, and in turn these gardens serve a productive and beautiful example of urban agriculture. During conflict, people are often forced to spend extended periods of time indoors.  The woods may cease to be places of wonder and instead turned in to battlegrounds, but the desire for nature still exists.  Short trips outdoors are cherished, and plants are brought indoors as sources of beauty and sustenance.

“When the grenades were falling down I looked forward to the day when they would stop. I said, ‘When the war ends we will plough deep, weed our land, plant flowers, it will be beautiful’ ” (Broto et al. 959).  Following the war, it would seem that people would be able to leave their homes and be able to reconnect with nature. Unfortunately this would not be the case, as told by Vesna, “I don’t know when and where the mines were put, but children were taught and told by parents, teachers, and in short everyone, that it is not allowed stepping from the concrete paths. Everyone was repeating: danger, danger, danger!”  And by Mia, “I know though that Koprivnica, the area between Bugojno and Kupres is still full of landmines, and no one really know all areas so you are always left thinking maybe this part is not safe” or Mersiha, “I do not know if it is safe to go places in all of Bosnia because of the mines so if I am looking for a vacation I would rather go to Croatia.”  Following the war, the landmine situation was so dispersed and uncertain that it seemed that even just “stepping from the concrete” might result in tragedy.  When faced with a situation that could cause great harm or even death, cautiousness is understandable, but the vocalization of the land as danger to children could potentially severe the relationship of children with nature, or leave a subconscious fear of the land, even as the mines are removed over time. This separation from the land is also a continuation of the trauma of war. The ground holds on to that moment in time and is a daily reminder of the past conflict.  Another point that comes across is the ambiguity with which people talk about the mining.  “I don’t know” or “no one knows” is a common statement about the extent of the contamination and because the problem cannot be isolated, people’s relationship with the landscape as a whole is compromised.

“Throughout the country I have seen mine warning signs and at the end I even got used to them.”  Over time, people have come to terms with the landmine situation and ultimately find ways to cope with their situation.  “Although a lot of people in the country seemed a bit reluctant to acknowledge the presence of landmines, most of the people that I met always pinpointed the dangers and told me to be aware and stay on the roads.” The simplest way to avoid an accident is to avoid contact with the ground.  Hardscapes are safescapes, and staying to the path is an easy adaptation for people to implement in their daily routines.  Though, for active individuals like Vesna, the desire for hiking and recreation needs to be satiated, but in turn, when she goes out into the woods, she is actively putting herself at a higher risk for injury, “During summer, I often go hiking and walking through nature, but wherever we go, there is always a small part of my brain engaged with the thought of the possibility that each careless act of enjoyment in nature might end up tragically.” In this scenario, “We do as I call it ‘controlled hiking’ where no one will put us at risk by turning off from the trail for whatever reason. That is kind of an internal agreement with the group where you can at least count that those around you behave responsibly.”  This notion of controlled hiking is a compromise; there is the recognition of danger, but by taking precautions, contact with nature is achieved.  There is the question of whether or not this experience with nature is fundamentally different from the way that people interacted with nature before the war.  Ultimately, the danger is present where it was not before, “One time in a canyon I saw a landmine that was partly freed from the ground. It was only a couple of meters away from me and suddenly I realized the threat even more, the seriousness.”

For these individuals, they are part of the last generation that may have childhood memories of what Bosnia and Herzegovina was like prior to the war.  As adults, they recognize this position and Vesna eloquently states that, “Mines are one of the biggest issues in the country, and the mine clearing should be given more attention both locally and internationally, as generations grow, deprived from the healthy and free encounters and contact with nature.”  Where most people have come to accept mines as part of the vernacular of post-war Bosnia, Vesna is appreciative of her pre-war interactions with nature, “I feel more grateful to my grandfather who gave me the opportunity to learn and enjoy nature without limits and fears. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that one day I will be able to do that and pass my knowledge and experience to my kids.”  For Mersiha, “The only place where I really feel safe in the woods is when I go to visit my grandparents, I like to take a walk with my grandfather. We usually go to that same forest. That smell always takes me back to the times when I was 4-5 years old and I forget about so many problems that we have here in Sarajevo.”  When reflecting upon their initial experiences with nature, there is a quality in the way that they express themselves that feels nostalgic –a time without limits or fears, and that smell that takes me away from my problems.  These childhood experiences with nature are restorative, and serve as a form of escapism from the harshness of the present situation.

“The land remembers, but the return of nature after war blurs and eventually obliterates the death and destruction that dwelled on the land. Is the reappearance of vegetation an obscuring, a forgetting?” (Helphand 202).  These narratives demonstrate that nature in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been valued both before and during the war.  As children, nature had served as a classroom for exploring the world freely, and places outdoors are embedded with memories spent with family.  During the war, nature was restorative, and in some cases, plants were even a means of survival.  The urban landscape was transformed by the necessity for food production and turned into ‘hanging gardens’.  Following the war, the introduction of mines was ambiguous, but has undoubtedly interfered with one’s attachment to nature.  The lack of documentation has left the whole country with the perception that all of the land has been potentially tarnished, and the rhetoric that the land was dangerous was widespread. As the landscape exists now, when taking a hike off of the paved path, one is haunted by the possibility of, or may actually encounter an unexpected mine. For others, safety is not willingly compromised and the homeland is rejected for vacationing in foreign places.  Whereas most people have come to accept that mines will continue to persist in the landscape for generations to come, the memory of how nature existed before contamination sustains hope for a future where children will be able to know the land liberated from war.

Belma welcomes us into the living room where we huddle around the table and drink cranberry tea. This house is the headquarters of the American Friends Service Committee; the walls are covered with maps along with the construction documents for the garden that we are working on in Tuzla.  We are just a few blocks away from the Sarajevo Tunnel, which was a secret link that allowed aid in and people out during the war.  “When you look outside now you see a garden, but in fact, this used to be the front line. After the war ended we had dreams of turning the land into a community garden, but the process was not so simple.  We hired a specialist to come sweep the land for mines; at first they found and detonated three by the edge of the stream. Then we told them to search again, and then found two more.”

Gardens of Peace

In 2000, AFSC established the Community Gardening Association in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Their mission is multifaceted, but most importantly aims at resocialization and reconciliation for families affected by the war.  In a practical sense, the work itself is seen as both educational and therapeutic, and the gardens also provide food for low-income families (I was told that Bosnia has a remarkably high unemployment rate around 40%). Here, I met one woman in her sixties who said she suffered from depression before she found the garden, but she has been taking the bus for an hour everyday to come here and work on her plot.  She even planted flowers around the edge of her vegetables because she thinks of this place as her second home.  The organization is also able to sell surplus at farmer’s markets in an effort to become more self-sustaining and depend less on international aid.

The gardens also symbolically function in terms of conflict resolution by maintaining multiethnic pre-war demographics.  Whereas before coming to the community garden, the participants saw each other as Serb, Croat, or Bosniak, at the garden they are all simply gardeners.  Two elderly men sat in the shade laughing and smoking cigarettes, one was a Serb and the other was a Croat.  It was hard to imagine that at one time they were enemies, but I was told that they did not speak a word to each other for a whole year.  The gardens help people to reconcile with these battlegrounds. Once cleared of the mines and the marks of war, the gardens attempt to go back in time and recreate a prewar peace amongst the city’s diverse and disheartened inhabitants. In another sense, they attempt to move society forward through the use of nature by recognizing ethnicity, but urging people to put aside their differences and come together as caretakers of the future.


Works Cited

Black, Richard. "Conceptions of 'home' and the political geography of refugee repatriation: between assumption and contested reality in Bosnia-Heregovina." Applied Geography 22 (2002): 123-138. Print.

Broto, Vanesa, Kate Burningham, Claudia Carter, and Lucia Elghali. "Stigma and Attachment: Performance of Identity in an Environmentally Degraded Place."Society and Natural Resources 23.10 (2010): 952-968. Print.

Helphand, Kenneth I.. Defiant gardens: making gardens in wartime. San Antonio, Tex.: Trinity University Press, 2006. Print.

Jones, Lynne. "Adolescent understandings of political violence and psychological well-being: a qualitative study from Bosnia Herzegovina." Social Science and Medicine 55 (2002): 1351-1371. Print.

Mitchell, Shannon. "Death, Disability, Displaced Persons and Development: The Case of Landmines in Bosnia and Herzegovina." World Development32.12 (2004): 2105-2120. Print.

Pollack, Craig. "Burial at Srebrenica: linking place and trauma." Social Science and Medicine 56 (2002): 793-801. Print.

Pollack, Craig. "Returning to a Safe Area? The Importance of Burial for Return to Srebrenica." Refugee Studies 16.2 (2003): 186-200. Print.

Seamon, David. "A Way of Seeing People and Place." Theoretical Perspectives in Environment-Behavior Research 1 (2000): 157. Print.

Tilley, Christopher. “Some Fundamental Phenomenological Principles.” The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology: 1. Oxford:Berg, 2004. Print.







On Thursday July 14th, along with my peers Kait and Natalee, we conducted ethnographic observations from 8-10pm at a westernized club in the main square of the popular tourists destination of Cusco, Peru.  We were interested in researching the dynamic relationship of tourists and locals, intersections of cultures and histories, and the general theme of having a mystical experience abroad.  From this encounter, I was able to gather information and make inferences about how physical space influences social interactions in an international expatriate context.


It was one of those mid-summer days when everyone sits around lazily and says, “We should go out drinking tonight”.  While the girls changed in to their skirts, I put on my dress shirt, and soon we were in the back of a cab heading to The Plaza de Armas in search of an appropriately touristy bar to conduct our ethnographic research.  After deciding on the intriguingly named Mama Africa, we trekked up the stairs only to meet disappoint -they did not open for another three hours. Conveniently, another club with an equally enchanting name resides in the same building. The bartender waved us in as we indifferently made our entrance to Mushrooms Lounge & Bar.  We entered to the sound of “Locomotion” by Grand Funk Railroad and found ourselves in a large, dimly lit room that smelled like French fries and cigarettes.

Once we sat down, a young Latina woman promptly waited upon us and without hesitation, in perfect English, pointed out the Happy Hour two-for-one drink deal.  She pointed out which drinks were distinctly Peruvian such as the “Andean mojito,” which substituted rum with pisco.  At first glance the menus were no different than that of any bar in the United States, and of the twelve food options, only the chicken chicharones seemed vaguely Peruvian.

After we ordered our food and drinks we continued to observe our surroundings. We immediately noticed that Fox news was playing on a television in a communal area that was littered with beanbag chairs, and once we took a walk around the restaurant, we noted that the people sitting within this area were cigarette-smoking, English-speaking tourists. On the opposite side of the room, there was a bored-looking DJ who stood in front of another television that was playing a Latin American channel. This television however, was not being paid any attention.

Middle-aged men with beers in hand occupied the only pool table located in the restaurant. This part of Mushrooms seemed out of sync with the rest of the restaurant.  Stark fluorescent lighting illuminated large photographs of over-sexualized women with English titles below the images.

Sitting in the booth adjacent to ours, a young couple touched hands and made fun of each other’s passport photos over drinks.  The restaurant was still empty, but the heavy bass emanating from the stereo made it difficult to have any intimate conversation. They paid little attention to the view, but looking past them through the windows I could see children in the Plaza de Armas approaching tourists with their pallets of candy.

Two Latino men sat at a mushroom table to the left of us.  With their heads nodded they looked solemn, but in actuality they were just very engrossed with their cell phones.  They seemed bored and unattended to, after about ten minutes they left without the waitress ever bringing them a menu.

When our food and drinks arrived, our waitress speaking in English, instructed me how to properly drink my tri-layered Machu Picchu drink (if you mix the layers you end up with a concoction resembling dishwater). The group consensus was that the food was overly salted and cooked, and although we were hungry, we did not enjoy this meal whatsoever.

Around 9:30, there was a sudden influx of large groups of Caucasians that entered the bar. We noted that the television that was playing the local channel changed to TNT and started playing Knocked Up. Instead of finding a seat or place to congregate in private, these groups decided to loiter near the entrance, blocking people from entering and passing. They gave off a sense of entitlement and seemingly felt empowered to stand regardless of their interference.

As we took one last look around Mushrooms, we noted the many ways the bar was commodifying a certain brand of Western-ness. Even the name of the restaurant evokes a certain illicit behavior or practice -that of psychedelic drug use. This marketing tactic proved to be effective, as we observed that the demographic of most of the tourists projected a Bohemian aesthetic, counter to the dress of a typical club-going youth.

Overall, Mushrooms was a Westernzied, tourist-friendly bar that promoted a sense of nostalgia for the Estadounidense. Every aspect of this bar -the food, the music, and the décor- made it clear that this nostalgia was a marketing tactic. Despite our critique of this place, the marketing tactic successfully reeled us in. It was clear that it worked on others as well, as Mushrooms became increasingly more crowded as we left.

Interpretation and Findings:

Upon further reflection of this night out, I was struck by the ways that physical and cultural space influenced my overall experience at Mushrooms.  The next morning over breakfast I asked my host mom (who has spent her whole life in Cusco) about her memory and experiences with the discotecas.

Of course when I was younger my friends and I would go to the discos.  All of these places are for tourists, the whole plaza is for tourists but it has been like this since I was born so it does not bother me.  We know which places have more drugs or more problems and we avoid them.  I still like to go out from time to time, but even in the day, I will not go to the plaza unless I am wearing something nice.

I asked her if she knew about who owns these places, and the history of the physical space of the plaza itself.

All of those places are owned by people not from here. They soldiers and officers march around the plaza on Sundays and they raise the Peruvian flag, but the whole area is really owned by outsiders. I think back in history, most of the buildings were mansions for the really rich people. Today the prices of the restaurants and stores are too expensive for anyone from Cusco to shop there.

The contrast of the interior and exteriors of buildings always strike me; from the outside the only marker that Mushrooms resides in this space is the letterhead on the wall.  The facade is represented as history, an authentic representation of grandeur and history.  Upon entering the club, from the floor tiles to the paint on the walls, everything feels new and pristine.  There is a sense of placelessness, and that you could find this kind of scene anywhere where there are young people looking to invest in a good time.

Looking over the menus, it was clear that a westerner had designed the choices to appeal to a Western audience.  If menu space can be considered a venue of power, then the menu at Mushrooms strongly disadvantages the presence of local flavors.  Interestingly though, there was an emphasis on all things Andean, probably with the assumption that if a hamburger came with Andean cheese on it, then it would be perceived as unique or special by a naïve customer.

The content of the televisions is another interesting point to touch on.  The last place that I would expect to see conservatively based Fox news playing is a hippie-themed bar in Peru.  I wondered what was behind that channel selection, did an employee merely flip to the first English news channel, or did someone request that the TV be turned to that channel.  This choice was also made later in the night when the club became crowded and the television playing the Peruvian show was switched to Knocked Up.  Even though the televisions in this context are mostly contributing to a kind of ambiance, I was still perturbed by the reach of Western dominance in a kind of digital space.

Moreover, I would like to reflect upon the layout and physical space that Mushrooms occupies.  The most dominant feature in the lounge is a large glowing mushroom in the middle of the bar.  A twisting metal structure that also serves as a bottle holder for copious amounts of alcohol emanates in to a frilled mushroom cap with gills suspended from the ceiling.  Around the giant mushroom is an amoebic bar with multi-colored mushroom stools and mushroom tables. This provides a flexible social space, where customers have the freedom to move their stool closer to their friends, or like a group of older men, near the entrance so they could have a better viewing position of the ladies coming and going.  Most individuals who frequent bars alone also know the bar as a place where they can mingle with the bartender or where free drinks and pick up lines are well received.

The pool table area seemed like the man-cave, or the kind of boy’s club where men can burp without judgment and establish their masculinity.  I wondered how this same idea manifests itself within the local community of men, but in this context I could see why this sort of arena would exist as something familiar or appealing to a group of tourists.  At the same time, it did not seem like a very efficient use of space.  The table itself takes up a large area, and then the game can only accommodate a handful of guests at a time.  While the girls walked around the club in their skirts, the pool playing men’s eyes would follow.  There was a feeling of dominance and protection over the coveted space, and the same group of men played here for the two hours that we did our observations.

Another social space was the beanbag chair area that evoked the memory of the living room of the 60’s.  Perhaps older people could reminisce about their beloved beanbag, but on this night young people smoked cigarettes and talked amongst themselves. For tourists the bag furniture is mostly appealing because it is different.  This part of the club was consistently occupied and gender neutral.  From this location you could what else was going on in the rest of the club without having to be engaged.  This area felt comfortable and slower than the maneuvering of bodies around stools, but at the same time there still existed social pressure; you would probably be shunned if you sat down on a solitary bag and did not engage the presence of others.

The last closely observed space was the individual booths that lined the windowed edge of the restaurant.  This was where we chose to make our observations because the booth seemed like a semi-private sphere where we could discuss and still be within the whole of the place.  The couples that I observed were obviously just interested in interacting with each other; they did not come to make friends, so I wondered why they chose this place.  Perhaps some people feel more comfortable in the presence of outsiders.  Even if they did not come to actually talk with other people, Mushrooms can still serve as a community of outsiders.  For some couples it seemed like a place to be seen; for example the young lovers who were making out in their booth caught our attention, and though the window they exerted their passion for each other to any passer-byers in the plaza that night.

Moreover, there were the people who did not belong to a place at all, but instead they just claimed the whole lounge to themselves. Their sense of entitlement was annoying, and the source of entitlement is a much more complicated question, but I believe that the simple reason why these tourists claimed the space is because they were allowed to.  Even though the waitress and staff were clearly annoyed, there was no push back because the value of asserting their own power came secondary to their obligation to serve these outsiders.  Whereas the other spaces in the club could be claimed for that moment -the group of friends who have the beanbag chair for the next few hours in time- Mushrooms itself is a territory to be claimed.


From my observations it was clear that there is the recognition that tourists, “know their job within this arrangement is consumption”.  Mushrooms can only exist because tourists continue to indulge in its offerings. At the same time, this existence is complicated because the experience is that of a “reconstructed ethnicity”, which is the “preservation of ethnic forms for the persuasion or entertainment”.  In this case the reconstructed culture is more of an idea than a reality; the bohemian spirit of the 60’s does not really exist in the United States anymore.  The result of Mushrooms is a constructed space where we do not see things as they are, but we see them as we are. It is the ability for tourists to collectively believe in the memory of beanbag chairs and glowing mushrooms that for that night allowed me to believe in beanbag chairs too.