The Family Plan
I chatted a couple weeks back with a designer acquaintance who wanted my advice on the best U.S. city to visit if her goal was seeing a bunch of great watershapes. She was starting to plan a summer trip for her family, she said, and wanted to spend a day or two taking in some great fountains and waterfeatures while her spouse ran around amusement parks and other active attractions with their two young sons. It was a tougher question than I figured it would be - a process that led me to compose this unusual Travelogue on my advice to her. Once I'd covered the obvious choices of Kansas City or St. Louis and my hometown of Los Angeles, my mind flooded with other possibilities coast to coast, from Boston, New York and Philadelphia in the northeast to Seattle and Portland in the northwest. Then I thought of San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Chicago and other contenders, including Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. Of course, I never factored in nearby amusement parks - she was on her own there. But it occurred to me that she could select any of these cities and have more than enough to do while the rest of the family was off exhausting itself at some theme park or waterpark. Once we hung up, I jotted down the city list for ready reference and expanded it a bit to include Atlanta, Denver, San Diego, Orlando, Pittsburgh and New Orleans. Within a few minutes after hanging up, I started having odd misgivings and called her back: I felt awkward about participating in splitting up her family during its vacation trip, I said, and wanted to make the earnest suggestion that she should spend a day or two with her husband and kids visiting fine waterfeatures as a family. True, the FDR Memorial in Washington is not as stimulating as a roller coaster, but it includes wonderful water treatments by Lawrence Halprin - and there's also plenty of additional aquatic spirit to be found on and around the Capitol Mall. I further suggested that spectacles such as the water show in the Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia or the eruption of the jets at the Bellagio in Las Vegas have more going for them than do typical theme-park rides. She took all of this under advisement and I know I'll hear how it works out (or doesn't) after the fact. But I have to say that, when we spoke the second time, I was motivated by my own sense of pride and by what I saw as a valuable opportunity: From the waterfeatures at the Getty Center in Los Angeles to the 9/11 Memorial in New York, there's inspiration to be found in fountains and waterfeatures from coast to coast. As a watershaper, there's also a cool sense of professional association in play. In every case, I said, watershapes in these places remind me of why I love what I do - and of the pride I feel after 20 years of wandering the fringes of projects that take my breath away. In wrapping up the second exchange with my designer friend, I couldn't help talking about the inspiration I knew she'd find on her family's road trip, then left her with this closing thought: What she sees while alone might fuel her creative fires once she returns home, but think about the impression seeing water at its dynamic best will make on the kids and even her husband - and how proud they'll be that she is somehow a part of it. More than that, think about looking at watershapes through a child's eyes - and of how cool it will be to let them in on how things work and how those who designed and built a given watershape used fascinating technologies to achieve these stirring effects. Heck, it might be enough to incline a kid or two to follow in your footsteps - and what could be nicer than that?