All posts filed under: musings.

2013 in review

It’s Twelfth Night: the ending of the Yuletide season, the last day before we return to work as usual after a season of celebration. I’m ready to go back.  You’ll be hearing more from me.  Some of the themes I’ll be following in 2014 emerged, it turns out, from what I found last year.  Here’s a collection of the paths I followed, the portals I discovered, and the familar friends who joined me on my journey.  Click on the portal below. Advertisements

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 …

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 …

ode to retail: holiday shopping

Hi Friends.  I’ve been away.  What have I been doing? Shopping!  Seriously.  Well, kindof.  It was the holidays, after all.  And while I was in New York strolling very quickly along Fifth Avenue trying desperately to get out of the ungodly cold, I got to thinking about retail and how important it is for our experience of the urban environment.  Many people, after all, only really go to a major urban center in order to shop, or perhaps to take in a cultural experience like a Broadway show.  Storefronts are essential for your experience of place, too.  Built form aside, compare the experience of Fifth Avenue to a great spot in Brooklyn that I visited the next day: Brooklyn Fifth Avenue You get the idea.  Anyway, it seems to me that the experience of retail, of shopping, is something that urbanists aren’t talking about much these days.  Sure, we’ve decided that we hate the car-favoring, public-excluding, indoor mass-market shopping mall, and we think that ground floor retail is the solution to all of our street …

when there’s nothing left to preserve.

Historic preservation is about two things: saving and protecting historic buildings (or structures, or spaces), and saving or protecting (or redefining/inventing) historic memories. But our ideas about memory change over time, and sometimes when a community wants to preserve a memory they find that the structures associated with that memory no longer exist.  This is especially true when memories relate to memories of conflict or pre-conflict society, since conflict is often characterized by physical destruction. So what do you do if there’s no neighborhood to preserve, no site to protect?  Or, more abstractly, if you want to recognize a particular event in collective memory independent of the physical built environment?  I’d like to propose that we can understand this as the difference between preservation and commemoration.  While preservation specifically refers to maintaining the appearance and structure of the existing built environment, commemoration is more abstract I think, having to do with the incorporation of social or collective memory into our experience of the physical world. How can you do commemoration effectively, with or without an …