There are a few challenges a person faces when moving to a new city. The first is not to incessantly talk about the fact that you just moved. The second is to shed certain habits that are acceptable in your culture, but are not exactly welcome at your new address (like talking all the time…about your move). And the third one is to avoid constant comparisons.

Yet, here I am, taking the opportunity to indulge in some guilty pleasures and compare my new home with my previous address.

All photos: Tamar Cotler

Landscape design and structural regulations can tell us a lot about the culture of a place. I was very surprised to discover United States codes and regulations – at least those that shaped the landscape in the past – are/were more permissive than requirements I was used to dealing with in Israel.

It was back in 2013 while visiting Dolores Park in San Francisco when I first saw the slide above. It blew my mind: a real slide built into a slope anyone can actually climb up and ride down.  When I got back home, I couldn’t stop talking about the slide. I showed colleagues photos from this park, recognizing current Israeli regulations prevent anyone from building a playground onto a slope. In fact, designers aren’t permitted to design anything higher than 2 feet without a fence.

A kindergarten yard in Albany, CA without guard or hand rails. Every stair is a different shape and size, stones are not connected to the ground and ground cover isn’t flattened.

A few days after visiting Dolores Park, I found myself at the Burning Man festival in Nevada where I ended up watching some of my closest friends climb onto one of the many temporary structures built for the desert festival. The worry they were only a slip away from falling to their death grew with each minute. I was suffering from a novel feeling: recognizing the inherent and clear dangers of a design.

I was amazed by the fact that such a creative construction could even exist – the impossibility of its existence in my home country clearly a contrast between “here” and “there”. It was at that moment I figured out I had missed a crucial concept about American culture and its related economy: the ideal of self-responsibility. I was also very confused. On one hand, they say the United States is the “Land of the Free”, while on the other hand, the threat of being sued is a genuine possibility.

A bridge crossing a water and a turtle pond located at the Caltech campus, neither area with guard rails or a fence. Visitors are responsible for keeping themselves from falling.

I’m really not an expert of American history or politics, but as a recent transplant I can identify how the value of self-responsibility could adversely affect safety of public spaces, especially in comparison to social democracies. But as the giant slide in San Francisco and the imaginative Burning Man structures both illustrate, there is definitely a bright side of a “use it at your own risk” society – imaginative pleasures  that could never exist in Israel today.

 

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