Sunday, June 29, 2008

Track Town USA

Bird's eye perspective of Hayward Field and the Eugene 08 Festival

Eugene is proudly hosting the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials at historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus, and our city is once again the mecca for track and field enthusiasts. There is no doubt that Eugene derives much of its self-image from its reputation as Track Town, USA – from the legendary athletes who excelled at Hayward Field, the legacy of Bill Bowerman, its history as the birthplace of the jogging craze, and world-class events like the Olympic Trials and the Prefontaine Classic. Eugene’s identification with running in particular has few parallels. Perhaps only Louisville (the Kentucky Derby) and Indianapolis (the Indianapolis 500) are as culturally dominant and as synonymous to the sports with which they are associated as Eugene is with track and field.

Although we have Hayward Field, Pre’s Rock, and our miles and miles of running trails, there isn’t much else about our physical context that nurtures the real sense of place evoked by the moniker of Track Town, USA. So, what are the implications for architects if the sense of place is not so much reliant upon our efforts to shape the landscape and the genius loci as it is a matter of cultural features? Maybe genius loci should be characterized as being specifically adapted to the physical context in which it is located, whereas a sense of place may be more readily defined by social phenomena that occur within that place. A subtle distinction, but one that might explain why sympathetic architecture and urban design have not been essential to Eugene’s strong association with its track and field heritage.

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