- See more at: http://www.bloggerhow.com/2012/07/implement-twitter-cards-blogger-blogspot.html/#sthash.DO2JBejM.dpuf

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Whalen Park - Activating the Subway's Leftovers

Hard-working neighborhood volunteers hosted the 2nd Annual Halloween Festival in Whalen Park in The Bronx on Saturday. Again this year, a small park that often seems to be little more than a lonely paved area with benches and some under-appreciated landscaped edges was transformed into a vibrant center of community life.







Seeing the park living up to its potential (see more photos at bottom), if only briefly, brought to mind how the quiet neighborhood corner at Perry Avenue and East 205th Street became a public park in the first place. Leftover property from the construction of the Concourse IND subway line sat vacant for many years. Ultimately, Robert Moses put it into use as a park, as he did with numerous similar locations throughout New York City.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spiky Spaces

Uses considered undesirable often take hold in residual spaces. Eschewed from places with stronger controlling uses, marginal activities settle into residual spaces. Where older buildings have deep window ledges, for example, the space left over on the ledge becomes a residual space. The space may lend itself to seating, yet the owners, managers, or tenants of these buildings often do not want people sitting in front of their windows (for various reasons). To address the situation, they attempt to make such residual spaces inhospitable. In the case of window ledges, this typically takes the form of spiky strips that make it too uncomfortable to sit (without creating the liabilities of actual physical injury).



It is always worthwhile to look at these reactions to reexamine the nature and potential uses of the residual space. Are the concerns justified? Can the attributes be reframed as an asset, or if they cannot, can the defensible posture become more embracing of the public?

In the case of the windows:

  • What are the specific concerns about seating (potential to break the window, obscuring displays, people sitting there who may bother potential customers)?
  • Is there a way the business could use the seating to become an actual amenity to customers and a way to help attract more people inside?
  • If seating cannot be used as an asset, and it becomes necessary to assume a defensive approach, are there less hostile ways to occupy the space? Could sculptural forms be used to add some public art? Perhaps an art installation could even be tied into the marketing brand of the establishment.

The marginal activities attracted to residual spaces may often fall into hostile forms of mitigation, but taking the time to understand them can often lead to rewarding new ways to engage the public and improve the quality of the overall place.


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10/17/14
Observation of the day - a planter can be a productive way to occupy recessed window spaces:


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Looking at Landscapes of Work

Twenty years ago, A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time by J. B. Jackson was published. I didn't read the book for the first time until a few years later, but it has become a text that I always enjoy returning to reread. It still feels relevant in a way few books do after a couple decades have passed.

The year Jackson's book came out, I was living in France. I was raised as the son of a Steelworker in a small, industrial city in Oregon; spending a year of high school as a foreign exchange student was a rare opportunity for exposure to European culture and urban life. Like so many other Americans who have stayed in Europe, I felt the allure of dense urban neighborhoods. Like many others, most of my experience was also focused on historic city cores, middle-class neighborhoods, and scenic countrysides. I had such down-to-earth experiences as shopping at Carrefour, and I had some working-class friends at the school I attended. But I was not living in an HLM and I saw relatively little of the cit├ęs industrielles. Certainly what impressed itself most heavily on me was the contrast between the walkable, transit-rich, middle-class places I encountered and the sprawling, largely industrial, working-class landscape where I had grown up.


The idea of emulating European urban neighborhoods certainly merged with the American ideal of social mobility. My parents worked hard to provide me with opportunities; I was supposed to work hard to achieve a higher standard of living than they had. So as a planner, that naturally seemed to translate into improving neighborhoods along the lines of the desirable European middle-class models I had seen. Of course, aspiring to remake American cities more like European precedents has been a prevalent trend in urban planning since long before I was inspired to become a planner. It remains a strong strain to this day, particularly when it comes to the growing push for better streets, with Copenhagen serving as such a strong model for bicycle infrastructure that "Copenhagenize" has become a term. 


Jackson provides a different perspective. Rather than looking to Europe for a model of what American cities could become, he looks at our domestic landscape to understand how it actually works. He concerns himself with the places where workers earn their livings. It is a poignant reminder of the diverse needs of complex economies and the inherent dignity of work.

For most planners, myself included, Jackson can be a challenging read when he begins an essay by saying:
I am very pro-automobile, pro-car and pro-truck, and I can't imagine what existence would be without them. But I have learned to be discreet in my enthusiasm: disapproval from environmentalists and other right-thinking elements in the population is something I could not possibly survive. (p. 167, "Looking into Automobiles")