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Slicing Apart the Barriers Argument

A friend and alumnus from the Class of 2005, Dan Jost, has written an article in Landscape Architecture Magazine that is perhaps the most in-depth treatment of this past year's bridge barriers discussion. He begins his article chillingly enough:

I saw Karl for the last time on Sunday, April 6, 2003, at our weekly supervisor meeting. We had worked together at Cornell University’s North Star Dining Hall. On the job, Karl was relaxed and witty. When the managers came up with an annoying rule that the salt and pepper shakers had to face south, he joked that it was part of their sustainability strategy, to encourage solar gain. When a friend attended a Ben Folds concert, he asked how she could stand listening to his music: “Doesn’t it just make you want to kill yourself?” That comment would ring in my head for years afterward.

Karl had many friends at Cornell. In fact, my housemates were planning a party the following week, and he had said he would come. But he never made it. Four days after that work meeting, at about 5:15 on a Thursday evening, several drivers stuck in rush-hour traffic saw Karl climb onto the railing of the Stewart Avenue Bridge and jump into the Cascadilla Gorge.

For those who wish to read the rest of the article, they can gain access to the full text here. It's a pretty exhaustive piece that does a good job of pulling out some of the conflict that exists in Ithaca over the fences, particularly in terms of the built environment. (As a landscape architect, he skirts other measures to mitigate suicides, like mental health counseling and the like.) Dan's basic argument is two-fold: 1) you can't definitively prove the counter-factual that bridge barriers result in less total suicides, which 2) means it's not worth the cost of sacrificing the beauty of the surrounding scenery.

Readers know that I've disagreed with these arguments in the past, as there may be both ethical and legal justifications for the barriers. And the aesthetics of a covered bridge might not be all that bad.

But the issue sure does cultivate some tensions between Carl Becker's 'Freedom and Responsibility', doesn't it?

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on January 15, 2011 (#)

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