Year: 2011

the nostalgia machine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately.  Here I’ve written a lot about history, about memory, about temporal multiplicy in the urban fabric and the importance of historical context for civic engagement and cultural identity.  But what happens when we think that in order to remember, we must freeze something in time?  Or, to reconstruct it to how we imagine that it may have been, a la Carcassone?  Even further: when we commodify and articulate that history-myth for economic gain or political power? I’ve raised these issues before.  But what I haven’t seen is a broader discussion of this problematic outside of the realm of historic preservation.  But consider: what are food trucks for?  What is a bike path, or a greenway, or a pedestrianized plaza?  Are they so different from what urbanists have done before, in pursuit of a competitive, attractive city? Consider, for example, Ebenezer Howard’s scheme for the Garden City of To-Morrow (1898). Today we recognize in this plan for a world of “slumless, smokeless cities” a master plan that eventually …

living in public.

Today I want to talk about something that I’ve been thinking about since I was in Rome last spring. It’s about the idea of “living in public.”  This is an important concept, one’s that distinct from “using public spaces” and “attending public events.”  Living in public implies that the quotidian happenings and activities of your life happen not within the home, but outside the home.  Like Indian communities where laundry is washed and dried communally, or Italian neighborhoods where much of the socializing occurs in the public sphere, or Latin American communities where Sunday socializing after church occurs at lakes and riverbanks, instead of the family dining table.  What does it mean for a culture when the public square, or riverfront, is as important a site of communal identity as the hearth, or the kitchen?  What conditions make this possible, and why do I value it? This idea crystallized for me this summer, as I walked past the Charles River everyday and saw dozens of people sunbathing, reading, working, and socializing.  This is living in …

citysumption and the search for urban cool.

As I’ve already told you, I recently got back from a trip to Europe.  As always, the return to Boston was a bit of a shock, as I lamented, “Boston just isn’t cool.”  Barcelona, where I had just been, just had this effortless excitement to it, a laid back sense of style and innovation, sporting incredibly innovative architecture from Gaudi to contemporary, from tapas on the street to dancing in the squares. What does Boston have?  A food-truck inferiority complex and a half-working waterfront park?  Where’s the beach and the outdoor bars til 5am?  And why, oh, why don’t we turn our incredible seafood into conservas for me to nibble while drinking cava in the sun, or in a packed bar of people drinking vermouth and nibbling on salty, briny snacks? So, in order to try to snap myself out of this malaise, I proceeded to do the “cool” things in Boston.  Most notably, I head to the SoWA open market, “Boston’s original art and indie design market.”  If you know where this is going, …

a real renaissance: the arts in western MA.

Earlier this summer, I attended the Creative Communities Exchange in North Adams, MA, home to Mass MoCA.  North Adams has become something of a poster child for the creative economy, as the museum is housed in a former textile mill and the arts community has been a bright spot in the relatively dim economic outlook of the town and the region as a whole. A bit of context: North Adams is located in the Berkshires, home to countless nationally recognized arts organizations, such as Tanglewood and the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival, the Clark Museum and Shakespeare & Co.  There are already lots of arts supporters in the area.  There are already lots of artists in the area.  Essential to this story is the fact that the MoCA’s success is not replicable everywhere, and instead represents a well thought out, place-based strategy for post-industrial redevelopment.  The Berkshires now boasts an incredible creative economy advocacy organization, Berkshire Creative, one of the hosts of the conference.  They recognize that cultural production in their region can be a major …

on austerity, violence, and what it takes to be a citizen.

Today I want to try to bring together a couple of narrative threads that I’ve been picking up and mulling over lately.  I don’t always talk about current events here, but it just seems too important to ignore at this moment.  *NB* this is an edited version, after some comments and suggestions I’ve received.  Thanks for contributing, always, and making me think twice!  That’s my favorite thing about blogs. First of all, I can’t not mention the recent Congressional showdown over the budget ceiling, its lamentable end result, and the subsequent downgrading of the US credit rating and continuing stock market collapse.  You know the details already, and are probably sick of the play-by-play.  But if not, I like this article by Krugman from this morning’s Times, and this analysis by the paper’s Editorial board.  But I think there’s an urban, spatial aspect to this issue that isn’t sufficiently discussed in the analysis.  Okay, maybe it’s just how I always look at things.  But you can’t deny that something more is going on here than …