Year: 2012

Love that Dirty Old Boston

A new Facebook page has been blowing up my Newsfeed lately…Dirty Old Boston.  This community page, which features pictures and images of “Boston before the gentrification of the 1980s,” started just weeks ago on September 22 and has almost 4,000 likes and 8,000 comments.  Last week was its most popular week, with photos of the 1970s stripper Princess Cheyenne (who became a bit of a recurring theme for a moment there), the original Boston Garden, a hit list from WRKO, lots of arson and other historic urban fires…you get the idea.  Many of the images aren’t “dirty,” so much as they are retro: women in vintage swim suits, old nightclubs in Cambridge, dudes in bellbottoms, etc.  These images draw a sense of the city’s bohemian roots. Its rise in interest on Facebook has been rapid, and has been primarily among folks between 35 and 44.  Which means, probably not people who remember a lot of the things in the photos, except as kids and teens. Posted 10/18/12: “There was an arson ring that was burning …

Seeking the Salt of the Earth

Why, hello there.  It’s been awhile!  This summer I took a break from writing in order to build the first season of programming for my new events practice, terroir studio.  I learned a lot about how to (and how not to) put on dinner parties, and I also experienced some changing thinking about the nature of community building and public space — but that’s a topic for another post.  Today, I want to introduce a series of posts I’ll be producing throughout the rest of the fall, which I’m calling “Seeking the Salt of the Earth.” If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m fascinated by the telling of collective origin stories.  Exhibitions, consumption patterns, historic preservation strategies, rituals and practices, and design aesthetics that deal with questions like: Who are we?  What parts of our pasts do we celebrate? How do we deal with the physical reminders, in our environment, of things we’d rather forget? What kind of past do we need in order to become the …

learning from beginners

Yesterday I had the fun privilege of being one of the guest reviewers for the first studio presentation by Urban Planning students in the GSD’s summer Career Discovery program.  It was really inspiring, watching students new to the discipline — and coming from diverse educational and personal backgrounds — discovering and struggling through some of the fundamental questions of planning.  Who decides?  What is a good place?  Who are places for?  Do cars bring activity or deaden it?  How do places change and improve, and can you plan for organic transformation?  Does a neighborhood need a uniform brand, an identifiable character? But there were some other themes and questions that developed over the day that were new to me, or were expressed in new ways.  They were very interested in pace — the pace at which we move through the city, and what it takes to interrupt our frantic pace to introduce lingering, stopping. They also engaged time through questions of temporality and permanence, of incremental steps versus big gestures. And perhaps most interestingly, many …

civic culture begins at dinnertime.

I want to tell you today about my favorite holiday. It’s Passover, and while I’m no longer a practicing Jew (in fact I consider myself a Humanist) I’ve found that having a Seder is still extremely important to me. As an adult living away from my family, and just beginning to build my own, I’ve found that the Seder is a ritual that invites me to think, and rethink, my commitments to friends, to tradition, to food and to meaning.  Every year, it means something different. This year, it’s meant thinking about what it takes to produce meaningful conversations about identity and history.  In part, that’s because I’m working on some non-Passover projects about this myself: I’m finally launching Terroir Studio, a kind of roving collaborative initiative for exploring how we can use food and meals to help us create a sense of community and learn about the places we call home. Another reason why Passover has resonated so much with me this year is that  Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander have released their …

scenes from haymarket.

this is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave at the Harvard GSD last week as part of a seminar with Richard Sennett, on the subject of the Architecture of Cooperation.  This is Haymarket, Boston’s historic wholesale produce market.  It dates to the early 19th century as part of a market district that comprised Quincy Market and the fishing docks in the North End. The market has existed in its current location since 1952, when the state relocated the market from Haymarket Square (nearby) in order to erect perhaps the most important — and impermeable — border in Boston’s history, the Central Artery.  The market’s current condition continues to be bound up in the story of the Artery. Today, the Central Artery has been undergrounded through the Big Dig, and the boundary has been reimagined as a “seam”, the Rose Kennedy Greenway park.  The development of the Greenway has followed Downtown Boston’s overall redevelopment, which began with the Harbor cleanup and the development of the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market festival marketplace in the 1970s.  …

what turkeys can tell us (about social capital)

I’ve been wanting to write for a long time about the turkeys in my neighborhood. Turkeys? In Cambridge, you say? Yes. Here they are, in the front yard of a neighboring apartment building, the first morning I saw them.  In the late morning, on my way to a meeting, about a week before Thanksgiving. Yes, a week before Thanksgiving. Temporal coincidences aside, the first time I noticed them, I snapped this photo, sent it to my husband (who was at work) via iPhone, and continued along my way, chuckling.  I noticed some hours later that the Cambridge Chronicle had shared a tweet with its followers about a resident who had also seen turkeys.  I wasn’t crazy, I now knew, wasn’t fostering some kind of weird pre-holiday illusion about festive charismatic fauna in my neighborhood. I tweeted back. So the next morning, when I saw a couple of people gathered around the front yard of a different neighbor’s house, I knew it had to be the turkeys.  They were talking animatedly to each other, curious about …