Thursday, September 24, 2009

Something the Scale of the Universe

The arsenal of exclusion has become more effective in Baltimore and is practiced more widely throughout the city than the arsenal of inclusion. Many of the areas in which inclusive tactics are implemented only apply to a small and very specific group of people, so that the arsenal of inclusion often falls into the vocabulary of exclusion. Examples of this are found in all of the tourist districts that line the edges of Baltimore’s Downtown waterfront, specifically East Inner Harbor between Fells Point and the Inner Harbor. This area has plenty of stores, plenty of attractions and inclusive amenities, Whole Foods, a Movie Theater, Verizon Wireless, CVS, Little Italy, which is just next door, several bars and restaurants. All of these stores and locations have different purposes and will attract a wide variety of customers, however Baltimore’s limited public transportation doesn’t offer enough access to these stores. As a result these streets are often found empty and the stores even emptier. This is a pathetic sight, and acknowledges Baltimore’s total disjunction and failure to create a steady flow of movement throughout the city. There are a few buses that go by East Inner Harbor, but a rising neighborhood with a movie theater, a Haagen-Dazs Ice cream store, several clothing stores and several top rated restaurants should be properly equipped to provide access to its neighboring communities if for no better reason but to boost sales. All of these stores can be found within a similar proximity to each other in New York City where they are never found to be empty. I have personally witnessed the crowds of people who have flocked to their shelves on many occasions, and greatly due to the excellent public transportation that NYC has given them. There is even a ferry that will take you from Manhattan across the East River just to go to Ikea, just to shop, public transportation purely for the consumer. Granted NYC has an exponentially greater population than Baltimore, however this discrepancy should not have to excuse Baltimore from having successful urban movement. The entire city is stagnant for the most part, and if there is movement it happens on these carefully refined circuits that people have mapped over the years and just loop around on. There are smaller cities than NYC, similar to Baltimore that have well developed public transportation systems and keep their citizens at a flow, constantly moving through the streets, generating energy. Baltimore has this potential, we have all seen the crowds at Lexington Market and even the Inner Harbor just a few blocks away from East Inner Harbor. The people exist they just have no easy way to get there. East Inner Harbor is just one example. Most of the city is not easily accessible to everyone and perhaps its also not even desirable to go to but a city must have a healthy skeleton in order to have a healthy body, and this involves providing access to all equally everywhere.
Respectfully there are wonderful walking paths in the Inner Harbor that allow people to walk from Federal Hill all the way to Fells Point and through East Inner Harbor, which is a fairly inclusive tactic and creates for a pleasant open city atmosphere along the waterfront. A tourist could have a wonderful walk around the bay, and would never have the incentive or the need to wander inward to East or West Baltimore, so while the bridges and walkways are designed to allow people to maneuver around the city, they are really keeping people from the city and ensuring their stay by the water. So I can hardly say that all of the bridges, benches, pathways, stores and restaurants that make the waterfront so wonderful to be in are a part of the arsenal of inclusion because they are actually reinforcing a neglect for the wrest of the city. I suppose the idea was that the city would turn the profit made from the Inner Harbor toward the redevelopment of West and East Baltimore, creating a better means of public transportation for the entire city to unify. But right now Baltimore feels more like a mush of small towns, each choking each other for air, some buttered with money, others dry and parched for any. Its hard for me to recognize any aspect of the open city or even feel the cosmopolitan magic that such a city should be able to offer when there is so much separation and distance between everyone.
When I am riding down streets on my bike I can very easily tell where neighborhoods begin and end because people stay in their neighborhoods and why would they need to go anywhere, if everything they need is right there. It is the lack of transportation and also the lack of a generated interest or motivation that would inspire residents to become commuters, but maybe I mean consumers. I suppose if I were to see an equal integration of black and white people, of residents and tourists, of insiders and outsiders, my pessimism about the arsenal of inclusion currently being implemented would change. There are simply two different cities in Baltimore, and I think that the average West or East Baltimorian who represents one of these cities has no desire to shop in the Inner Harbor of the other city. I shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, however it’s a difficult puzzle to solve, what necessitates an interest or even a curiosity to urge one to venture beyond the borders of ones neighborhood? The nicely developed waterfront area is likely to be just as unattractive a destination to the West or East Baltimorian as West or East Baltimore is as unattractive a destination to frequenters of the waterfront area. It would be nice to be able to integrate the two different areas of Baltimore together in order to unite everyone, the residential with the commercial. But is this necessary, does anyone really want that? Unfortunately a better public transportation system may not solve the problem. Each of us are studying the other, taking advantage of the other, staring at the other, growing further and further apart from each other. Where is the real Baltimore? What really constitutes a Baltimorian? Can any of us call ourselves Baltimorians?
A well developed street should be one continuous evolution of different residences and storefronts from one neighborhood to another with a cyclical progression of the similar and dissimilar interests and landmarks, which weave in and out of each neighborhood reoccurring spontaneously with relational characteristics that evolve parallel to the blocks specific form and function, there must be frequent and infrequent sets of differences that are common throughout the entire passage of the street so that neighborhoods transcend their borders and extend into each other. The street must also be beautiful in however the community defines the word. All of this must be accomplished but none of this must be planned, it must happen naturally, that is essential, otherwise its just another form of generic gentrification.
Broadway for example, which ends at Fells Point and runs straight up to North Avenue, is a poor example of the well-developed street that I have just described. Broadway varies in its function and form drastically from block to block with no cross dissolve between its neighborhoods. Neighborhoods should transition from one another in between blocks in order to increase the mixing of strangers. Neighborhoods should not end and begin with the ends and beginnings of new blocks, because then the road becomes a wall, invisible but much more distinct than a cross dissolve in the middle of a block where different ethnicities, age groups, income rates and interests can be blended together to create a more subtle transition from one neighborhood to the next. A neighborhood should slowly fade into its surrounding neighborhoods. From Broadway and North Avenue to Broadway and Monument Street blocks are littered with abandonment and poverty, a wealth of potential for beautiful residences. However just south of Monument Street the smoothly paved road turns into the old historical brick road that can also be found in Fells Point. These bricks indicate that you have entered the Johns Hopkins Campus, a small but very distinct detail especially for bikers, who literally feel the difference beneath their wheels. With this brick road comes a nice sidewalk with well-groomed trees and grass, security, more people, more eyes on the street, and most of all more money. There is an interesting connection between this maintained moment of history, the bricks, and then the increase of wealth and those specific people on the streets. There are literally more people on the sidewalks where the brick road begins, this is obviously due to the fact that the brick road is on a college campus, but it cannot be denied that something about history attracts people, whether it’s the stories, the authenticity of an extinct craft, some kind of nostalgia, or even just an aesthetic appeal. The tourist is especially attracted to this sense of history. The tourist will attempt to buy the old city like it were an object, take a picture of it and bring it home to hang on the wall. The old city has been polished, renovated and marketed in order to convey and imbue that sense of authenticity of old age and of history as part of a marketing scheme for the consumerist market. “The city historically constructed is no longer lived and is no longer understood practically. It is only an object of cultural consumption for tourists, for a estheticism, acid for spectacles and the picturesque.” (148, Lefebvre)
But I believe in history. I believe that history is a great asset to the arsenal of inclusion. For I know that it is the history and perhaps in Baltimore it is the devastating ruin of its history, the conglomerate of crumbling buildings heaped together, the mass of old abandoned factories, the endless rows of bricked up desolation, the clutter of caving in rooftops, the barrage of broken windows, the onslaught of empty storefronts that has attracted me and many of my art school piers to search and explore the city. I crave this sense of history, this nostalgia, this world of forgotten people, of memories lost. I cannot say that there is a strong open city environment in these forgotten areas otherwise they would not be forgotten, however, slowly I think people, specifically artists are investigating, searching and discovering these long forgotten locations and putting them back to use, bringing new life, teaming with parties and music, drinking and love, art and galleries, film and food, gardens and community that such is a great festival, a bonfire in the night for all to gather around, a utopia amidst the apocalyptic rubble of our past. There is an open city to be found within us, the birth of new markets and homes and venues and restaurants, “We should take charge of the excesses and create ‘something’ to the scale of the universe.” (149, Lefebvre)

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