Sunday, March 28, 2010


A former student of ours posted this ridiculous video on Facebook today. If you don't have time to watch it, it pitches a "sidewalk management plan," which proposes a 6' - 8' "pedestrian use zone" in which pedestrians "must move immediately to accommodate the multiple users of the sidewalk." Importantly, the zone measures out from the property line, ruling out leaning on (or sleeping on) buildings.

As this former student points out, this is a really pathetic, barely disguised attempt to rid Portland of homeless people.

But also: a sidewalk management plan in downtown Portland? Such a plan isn't needed on the sidewalks of midtown Manhattan; what, beyond the "homeless problem," would justify one in relatively serene downtown Portland? According to the resolution the problem is that "people and bicycle racks, signal controller boxes, drinking fountains, fire hydrants, parking meters, transit shelters, light poles, mail boxes, telephones, retail and commercial doorways, garbage cans, newspaper boxes, benches, permitted carts and cafés, “A” board signs and public art among other items must share sidewalks that can range from five to fifteen feet wide."

The problem, that is, is that downtown Portland fulfills the function of a good city street: it is a dense urban space, where lots of different programs are forced to negotiate with each-other. Isn't Portland supposed to be progressive? The great William Whyte is rolling in his grave.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


On my walk from office to home today, I felt compelled to document what we might call "spill." Different programs obviously differ on the inside, but they also "spill" differently: firehouses, parking garages, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, physic shops, and Italian ice purveyors all create unique social spaces when their private, interior programs spill out and intersect with the public life of the street. Bar spill, for example, usually takes the form of a designated smoking zone, where different people might come together who otherwise might not. Firehouses, as evidenced by the photographs below, create a friendly space of encounter for parents, their curious children, and the firefighters.

For the most part, spill is a good example of how a space can be made without architecture (since the space is really the product of the intersection of two programs). However, architectural accoutrements can sometimes exaggerate this intersection of private and public. As an example, consider the apartment canopy. In Celluloid Skyline, James Sanders analyzes a scene from the film Butterfield 8, in which a woman (Emily Liggett), exits a cab and journeys "from curbstone to doorway." Sanders writes that "this piece of sidewalk is already home. . . For a moment, two paths have crossed at right angles: the stream of public life running the length of the sidewalk and the short domestic path set perpendicular to it, from curbstone to doorway." As Sanders points out, it is the canopy alone that makes this crossing possible, "this place where a single plot of ground has two completely distinct meanings as different as home and city."

Spill is not a tool per se, and thus fits somewhat awkwardly in this lexicon of things that open and close the city. In any case, spill was especially evident today, a sunny Spring day that drew the entire neighborhood outdoors. Here are a few snapshots of the "spill" outside a few businesses I passed by this afternoon on Union Street between 5th and 7th Avenues, and then again on 7th Avenue between Union and Garfield.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Who doesn't like pie? Like baseball and jury duty, pie is one of those things that has the capacity to assemble people who might not otherwise assemble. Presumably, that is the thinking behind Pielab, a "welcoming community space on Greensboro’s Main Street that provides delicious pie and coffee, as well as retail and hospitality job training for local youth." PieLab also operates as a community design center "focusing on community development projects and small business incubation in Greensboro and the surrounding five counties."

There are of course many ways in which food serves to open the city. For the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, Meridith Tenhoor looked at the "multi-ethnic gastronomic paradise" that can be found in the aging shopping plazas of New Jersey’s secondary suburban commercial corridors, and that serve to open the region. Pielab takes a cue from this phenomenon, but purposely uses the food as bait, producing a quite clever outcome.

For this, "pie" gets a place in our Arsenal of Inclusion.


How did "School District" escape our original list of 101 things that close the city? Especially here in Park Slope, and extra especially here in the shadow of PS 321, the segregating effect of school districts is something I can witness each and every time I leave my apartment on Seventh Avenue and Carroll Street. Thanks in part to the stellar reputation on PS 321, it seems sometimes that mine is one of the only non-family households in the neighborhood. That vision of baby stroller armageddon that even tourists can conjure by now is by no means inaccurate, but let's remember why the neighborhood is so full of baby strollers (and, by the way teenagers, which were few and far between in Fort Greene, Williamsburg, and any number of other neighborhoods I have spent time in): yes, Prospect Park is nice to play in, and yes, the retail mix is just right for a young family, but it is the school district that is coveted most. As is to be expected, the money mom and dad save not having to send Ella and Emma to private school is tacked on to the cost of housing. The result? Many people who don't have kids might find that it is not worth their while to live there, when they could live outside of the 321 district where their rent would be cheaper, and where they might find better retail amenities (indeed, if I ever go out in Park Slope, it is almost always on the south side, outside the 321 district, where there are better restaurants and where bars actually exist). The result? A certain kind of segregation that separates family households from non-family households. In this way, PS 321 is what Lior Jacob Strahilevitz calls an "Exclusionary Amenity." Like golf courses, churches, prayer speakers, and Shabbat elevators, PS 321 is an amenity that creates a demand that only certain people are willing to pay for.

No wonder Park Slope sometimes feels so much like the suburbs.