In the July 23, 1966 issue of The East Hampton Summer Sun, Dan pondered the “Freedom of Vision,” a perceived right that some Hamptonites have used as a means to request things they deem eyesores be taken down, such as the stunning (and justly erected) Shinnecock Monument and Larry Rivers’ artsy “Legs” statue. Since writing this piece nearly 60 years ago, Dan has come to realize that no matter how horrified his fellow locals get when some new structure or “un-Hamptons” signage is proposed, the outrage always fades.
Would it seem strange to you if East Hampton annually counted its trees? Montreal does. There are 288,089 this year in Montreal. Would it seem strange to you if you had to ask the township’s permission to paint your house a different color? Residents of many European towns are required to do so.
The tree counting, the painting laws—these activities take place in many countries to protect a very special freedom that we in America are only now beginning to acknowledge. The Freedom of Vision. The freedom to look at something pleasing and beautiful instead of something ugly.
Until recently our government has taken the attitude that individuals should be permitted to erect on their own private property whatever they felt like. If one wanted to build a 70-foot concrete rhinoceros with flashing blue and yellow lights, okay. It was his property, and, after all, what was America if it couldn’t allow private property owners complete freedom?
Well, around the turn of the century, the government finally had to admit this wouldn’t work out. Whereas one nut could build a 70-foot concrete rhinoceros with flashing blue and yellow lights, everybody else had to LOOK at the thing, like it or not. And thus, the government created ZONING, or “No, you can’t build that here, you’ll have to build it over there or else not at all.”
Zoning, however, is inadequate. There are ways around the zoning laws, loopholes, variances and the like. Much of the MESS we have in this country, such as Coney Island or along the Jericho Turnpike back up the island, can be avoided by acting NOW, before the thundering hordes urbanize East Hampton in their own mindless way. (If you think THIS summer is crowded, you ain’t seen nothing.) Sure, there are some good rules on the books now. There are rules against billboards, rules against giant signs and against neon. But let’s go farther.
Montreal counts her trees and requires their preservation. Perhaps we should do the same. Let us completely reevaluate our position regarding Freedom of Vision. Just exactly what do we want our children to see?