Monday, September 14, 2009


This semester and last, I gave my students an assignment I call “Open City Spaces.” The point of the assignment is to get students out and about, qualitatively evaluating public space in a way they might not be used to. Like most good assignments, it's interesting to students and professor alike: they walk away with a better understanding of the Open City, and I walk away with a larger inventory of interesting spaces.

One of the spaces that is routinely nominated is Downtown Baltimore's gritty (in a good way) Lexington Market. Lexington Market is the largest running market in the world. It has occupied its current site—at the intersection of Paca and Lexington Streets—since 1782.

That it is so often nominated is a testament to how smart my students are, since it is the same space that I would nominate. In any case, this semester, we decided to take a class field trip to the Lexington Market. What's open about it? There's the market itself, but then there is what's on its perimeter: a variety of shops, bus stops, homeless shelters, street vendors, drug dealers, offices, parking garages serving the inner harbor, Camden Yards, and the CBD: the diversity of programs is incredible. The market's food and programs (concerts, mostly) make the market a destination in itself, but the market is also a crossroads, generating an overlap of publics that rivals even New York’s Union Square for sheer diversity. A true Jacobsian / Whyte-ian dream of urbanity if ever there was one.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


There is a fairly heartbreaking story in today's New York Times about walking to school, and how few students do it. The Times cites a National Household Travel Survey that reveals that in 2001, only 13 percent of children either walked or biked to school, down from 41 percent in 1969. During the same period, children either being driven or driving themselves to school rose to 55 percent from 20 percent. Of course, this reflects suburbanization and the ensuing de-densification that makes walking infeasible, but it also reflects a fear of the public realm. As one woman put it: "I wouldn’t trust my kid with the street” (the woman who said this asked that her full identity be withheld "to protect her children").

The "transferring children from the private world of family to the public world of school" has become an increasingly worrisome affair. Motivated by national headline-grabbing stories of abduction, parents have resorted to some extreme tactics, including driving their child to a school that is only a lock away, installing surveillance cameras, or insisting that their child wait for the bus with them in a car parked at the end of the driveway.

I don't have a kid, but it seems obvious that this violates healthy rapprochement. Can instilling such an intense fear in a child of the public realm possibly be healthy? No, it can't, and that's why "driving to school" merits a place on our Arsenal of Exclusion

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Kees Christiaanse, being the curator of the 2009 International Architecture Biennale, is the person who got us thinking about the Open City in the first place, so it's no surprise that he has much to contribute to this Arsenal of Exclusion / Inclusion. Rereading [limited access] or the open city for my Open City seminar, I was reminded of the clairty of the Chinatown example. Christiaanse writes: ". . . although a Chinatown in an occidental city is a concentrated, closed community, at the same time she open her doors for others through commerce and gastronomy in her active street fronts. She has no fixed borders but overlaps and interacts with other communities that settle in the open system."

The emphasis in the passage is really on how the condition of the Open City is achieved through a balance between open and closed, but here I want to appropriate it, and use it as evidence that "store front" deserves a place on our Arsenal of Inclusion.