Wednesday, September 23, 2009

As I was thinking about the open city and its explorative qualities, I originally thought of Wyman Park, a place that I became well acquainted with over the summer. I accepted a job offer that involved me living in Hampden for a month, which was quite an experience in itself, and walking this woman's dog every day in the park. The house was on 34th, just a couple of blocks away from the Avenue, and sharing the same block as the popular restaurant Rocket to Venus which was frequented by what seemed like alternative youth. In many ways the block felt like what Jacobs's was encouraging in "Sidewalks: Safety." The shops and attractions close by were open late, people were always out on the streets, and my temporary neighbors habitually occupied their stoops.  Actually, it seemed like they never left it at any time during the day. The sidewalks were both watched and well trafficked. I think that being practically the stranger that I was deterred me from enjoying Hampden as an open city. There is also a "commonness," which Young mentions, of the area, not agreeable with city life even though its "borders are open," because it identifies with the ideal of community. Even the attractions of the town were specific, directed at a target audience. For most days of the week, I'd encounter locals, and not visitors. The park, however, had an equal share of both. After awhile, I felt like I had come to see the park as some of the permanent inhabitants of the area would, through my common use of it. But when I looked up "Wyman Park," I came to the community website and it said: 

"Urban living in a park-like setting."

It was interesting seeing this after reading the Lefebvre's article, in which he argues against the "right to nature," and here is an urban neighborhood promoting just that. "Nature enters into exchange value and commodities to be bought and sold. This 'naturality' is destroyed by institutionally organized leisure pursuits." The website goes on to list:

"What makes the Wyman Park neighborhood unique?

The Park - Our neighborhood is bordered along one side by the open spaces of Wyman Park, a great place to walk or play with your kids or dogs.

The Trees - There are numerous, large trees throughout the neighborhood.

The Location - Walking distance to the Rotunda shopping center; restaurants and shops that line "The Avenue" in nearby Hampden; and Johns Hopkins Homewood campus.

The Houses - Attractive, well-built mostly brick rowhouses from the turn of the century through the early 1940s.

The People - Family-friendly with neighbors of all ages of varied professions and interests. "

Now it is directly appealing to community, but it is in the city. I realized that I hadn't given much thought to the neighborhood that identifies itself with the park, and only the park itself. The place described on the website resembles a private, gated community. For instance, the houses are described uniformly, and the location delineates the neighborhood from the rest of the city. In reality, it inherently comes in contact with all different parts of the city. My personal experiences in the park have informed me that it has varied uses, is easily accessible from many streets, and it's indiscriminatingly public. Though the Wyman Park neighborhood may be exclusive, their reign stops when it comes to the open access park. During morning dog walks, I'd see people taking the shortcut to work (in sneakers and business suits), joggers, sports teams, and of course the regular dog lovers convening on the field. People would normally come up and talk to me when I had the dog with me. There was this nice spot at the foot of a small waterfall, where the water was deeper. It was off the path, and strewn with garbage, empty forties and plastic bags. There's a rope swing tied to a tree, and the bordering cement walls, because it was by a street, are covered in graffiti. At night, though, the atmosphere changes. I remember going there one night with a friend and sitting by the one lamp post that had burnt out, seeing the homeless guys on the benches, a wanderer here and there. After awhile some kids came and sat on the bench across from ours. We called them over and ended up talking for awhile. This reminded me of Benjamin's description of Naples when the city goes to sleep, and entertainment can be found anywhere. Wyman park has aspects that fulfill Young's proposition of the normative city life, as a significant public space. There, "persons and groups interact within a space they all experience themselves as belonging to, but without those interactions dissolving into unity of commonness." I especially like the part of the park that runs into the Charles Village area on University Boulevard, which contrasts with the Hampden community space on the other side. Interaction occurs in the park because of the "multiuse differentiation of social space" that everyone has access to. I remember another instance, while I was taking my regular route through the park. It was the day after a storm, and the paths were a little rough. I noticed a large, spraypainted "X" on the ground which for some reason convinced me to look up. A large branch from an adjacent tree had been knocked awry and was hanging by a thread directly above. 

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