All posts tagged: public spaces

Where we lay the dead.

Happy Halloween! I love the deep quiet that cemeteries have, even if there are leaves crunching and birds squabbling.  I get the feeling feeling that I’m able to barely brush against something eternal.  As a child I would often be taken on walks at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.  I suspect this gave me the idea that cemeteries are places for peace and rest, whether you are living or dead. Here are some cemetery photos I’ve taken in the past year – you may have seen them on Instagram already.  The oldest of the grave markers are from the Eliot Burying Grounds in Roxbury.  It’s usually locked behind a large wrought iron fence.  For two years I used to stand under the horse chestnut tree outside its gates to wait for the bus, and wonder what it would be like to walk inside.  Happily, on a recent walking tour in the neighborhood I got the chance.  I was told that the adjacent building was recently renovated, and when they tore …

Neighborhood Explorers

For the past month or two I’ve been working on curating a shelf for the Uni Project‘s launch in Boston.  The Uni is a mobile reading   room – think of it as a learning institution for public space – that was started by Leslie and Sam Davol in New York in 2012.  The way Leslie explained it to me when they first began was that she hoped to bring the Uni to places where there was a story already unfolding; that bringing books and learning to public spaces would help communities to see their neighborhoods — and themselves — in a new way.  So the Uni popped up in Corona Plaza with the Queens Museum of Art, which has community engagement at the heart of its mission.  The Uni went to Play Streets all over the city, where community groups had invited them to bring books and learning to street level.  In Brooklyn, the Uni partnered with the public library to bring lending books outside the library walls, so that kids and families could make …

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 …

2011 taught us to learn in public.

When I wrote this post back in October about living in public, I had no idea how apt it would be!  In the following weeks, the #Occupy movement made living in public a national issue and a powerful strategy for protest.  Urbanists like the folks at #whOWNSpace made the public space itself an issue, shedding light on the politics of ownership and use.  Saskia Sassen’s summer op-ed on open-source urbanism turned out to be prophetic, using the metaphor of technological open-source practices, where users and creators share, collaborate, and experiment in creating knowledge, to describe how our cities of the future will work.  Occupy looked like a complete manifestation of this practice. And pop-up democracy even started to enter the broader vocabulary, as Occupy gave thinkers the platform to start talking more broadly about the importance of citizen-generated political action and civic discourse in public space.  And with all this civic action, people started teaching and learning in public, too, in all kinds of exciting ways. First, we saw the rise of Occupy libraries, giving …

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 …

entropy + institutions = pop-up democracy

I’ve been really excited and pleased by how much attention and conversation my post on the entropic city  has generated.  Since then I’ve found a lot of interesting thinking that folks have been doing, primarily in Europe, about this issue.  There’s this group of papers from a conference in Paris in 2008, this traveling exhibition from Spain, from around the same time, and this series of studies in Germany.  Of course, in America people are thinking about temporality too.  The Festival of Ideas for the New City last weekend in New York, which I regretfully could not attend, included a panel on The Heterogeneous City, for example, and included all kinds of exhibitions, interventions, and celebrations of the unexpected, the in-between, the temporary and the engaging.  The AIA in New York is also showing this exhibition on “Jugaad Urbanism” — resourceful, dynamic, innovative — in India. This is urbanism, but maybe it’s not planning.  There’s something profoundly anti-planning about all of this, in fact: an admission that economies, communities, and narratives cannot be predicted in …