Saturday, October 31, 2009
The word palimpsest (which I've heard used to describe the geological layering of the architecture of old cities) came to mind when I squatted low in the small path that runs between the long, rectangular plots of soil Mr. Sharpe loans out to his gardeners each year--in one particularly successful plot, the rich, black stuff sat atop the concrete like a tremendous brownie. From its surface sprouted neat green rows of green beans, swiss chard, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash.
At the time of this discovery, I'd--along with a few other MICAns--just begun my own gardening experiment back at school behind the Buddha statute. Having toured the city and its surround with the Hugh Pocock's Urban Farming class, I found the Miracle Street Garden to be the most mature, developed, and successful project of its kind. From within it there emanated the signs of a tremendous patience--the kind of attitude that I had romanticized for a life in the countryside. Here, though, in a part of town I'd avoided, to be sure, because of color barriers, my expectations--and their reductionist paradigms--exploded in the face of a place strangely undefinable. Not simply urban, suburban, or rural alone, the space melted into a hybridity yet fully examined by any theory I've come across. The particular character, for certain, of this garden seemed somehow unjaded by the simple, repetitive movements required for its maintenance; undaunted by the challenge of the scattered neighborhood that made its borders. It was a project without ideology, without documentation, without shine. It's documentation is there, in the dirt, for anyone to see.
I stood for a time staring at the brownie and the green things exploding from its surface. Through the layers of vegetation, I then witnessed something even more extraordinary: from behind a dense wall of cucumber vines, a small metal triangle emerged, gently but firmly prying a new row of earth open as it traveled in small rhythmic circles. I ducked down further below the raised plot, kneeling behind a trellised grape vine, afraid the operator of the tool would alter the grace of his movement at the sight of me. For a long time, I watched as he moved steadily--slowly pulling the wooden-handled hoe into the layer of soil just beneath the surface, severing the newly-germinated weed sprouts before they ever had a chance to reach the sunlight.
It is fascinating how often we see a photograph like this, very characteristic for Baltimore, an icon in a way. It is a perfect image to mock the city for all its social problems. But also it is somewhat nostalgic, depending on the setting where you find a bench like that. And it appears in different parts of the city. It is simple ‘old-fashioned’ bench designed for a comfort of sitting and does not try to discriminate the user (well, it might do so for all the other cities in America).
Seeing one of those benches on the way home from work one day got me thinking about public seating as an arsenal of inclusion. Mr. Whyte in his film illustrated the importance of a successful public space which highly depends on a good public seating. But first of all, a bench itself on a city street is there intentionally to make people comfortable to spend time outside, to open the city, isn’t it?
The number of benches appears to be greater in public places: parks, plazas, near colleges, city centers of some sort. But sometimes we also stumble upon ‘lonely’ ones. They don’t have an apparent reason of being where they are located, unlike the ones in the spaces listed above. However, all of them are always useful; we need them. They do open the city and draw people to spend time outside and interact.
I grew up in an average, rather populated for its size eastern European Post-Soviet city. As teenagers, my friends and I spent a lot of time sitting on benches. We would meet after school and talk, when there was nothing better to do (or to avoid doing homework). But it was not that easy to find a bench when you needed one, they all were taken. People were sitting on benches and simply talking, waiting for a bus, taking brakes from work, waiting for dates, reading a newspapers, discussing politics, drinking beer (which is another ‘weapon’ of inclusion); old ladies were sitting on benches in front of apartment building and sharing rumors about their neighbors and so on. Many of these examples more or less apply to different cities in US that I have visited. A simple bench is an essential element of a city.
Public seating is becoming very discriminative, exclusive, insulting to the user sometimes. It is designed to be uncomfortable on purpose. However, this doesn’t always stop the people from using the seating spaces in the way they want to; it just requires a little creativity sometimes. It would not be too bad if there were more places to sit on the streets and we spend more time outside with or without an apparent reason of being there.
Friday, October 30, 2009
After moving to Remington this past summer I have become accustomed to walking, from my home, to the MICA campus on a regular basis. With the exception of having to trek through a heavy rain, I almost always enjoy making my way through the small neighborhoods tucked behind Howard Street. When the rain comes, I scramble from overhang to awning, and have convinced myself that even in a vertical downpour, the closer I can scurry next to a building the dryer I will end up.
Keeping this daily routine in mind, while thinking of methods to travel in less cumbersome ways in and around the city, I am proposing the awning, and specifically the bus stop awning in the arsenal of inclusion.
The awning is a familiar and compelling image to urban and residential life. To an older generation it is probably sentimental to think of times when business owners would roll out their awning at the begging of a workday, with their company name proudly exhibiting itself. Today, awnings in Baltimore, the ones that I experience, seem to be scarce and certainly less personal. But similar to older awnings, the more permanent awnings of today are just as practical. Because of their permanent structure they offer protection from the elements that surpass Joe the Barber’s business hours.
A type of contemporary awning that is found throughout Baltimore today would be a bus stop awning or shelter. I think you can argue that the contemporary bus stop awning differs from a storefront awning in that it is clearly more public. In the case of a storefront awning, you can be asked to leave due to loitering, where as with the bus stop awning there is a condoned social element involved. Here you are not obstructing anyone’s walking path and/or blocking an entrance to a facility. A person can choose to be there momentarily or set up camp; it can be used by those awaiting a bus or someone in need of a place to rest. The bus stop awning provides shade, breaks gales of wind, and protects from rain or snow. Because the bus stop awning is a sheltered waiting area it naturally brings people to a closer vicinity. Therefore the bus stop shelter opens up chance for social interaction, a place for people to strike up a conversation. It is a place of arrival and departure, where diverse groups of people are heading to multitudinous locations.
This somewhat primitive weapon in the arsenal of inclusion offers possibilities for progression. In some American cities bus stop shelters have been designed to have green roofs, and solar panels. This is a small action with probably minimal environmental impacts but it can improve the moral of a city. It may not be the most efficient place but because the bus stop shelter often has glass walls it seconds as a bulletin for people to post flyers for local events in and around Baltimore. This makes the bus stop a means of communication, despite the shelters primitive nature. Being comfortable is very important to people and the bus stop awning is something that is malleable enough to make public transportation more appealing to the masses, thus opening the city.
Open Clubs are an are public and non-discriminating, and thrive on internet social networks to of like interest together in the city. Spending time on line can take away from daily contact, however it has the ability to reach an expansive amount that it can be used to form community. It remineded me of a group my friend had been trying to get together online – Baltimore Fun Club. In the beginning it was mostly to get together friends and friends of friends on a larger scale for simple no pressure fun activites such as “kickball, baseball, frisbie, tag, polo, football, dodgeball, horseshoes, laser tag, water balloons, blow darts, guns, kites, crafts etc.. that could involve anyone in mass.
This past spring I rode to Wymann Park to play baseball. This was one of the First meetings and the varied group of people playing was very interesting. Down the in the valley were the Dog Park is I saw several people I knew, some I didn’t and many young kids, probably only about 20 people in total trying to figure out who was up to bat. The team was comprised of people from different regions, different schools, backgrounds, class and ideals. The younger kids were practicing hitting. They came to the park to play and were drawn in and joined the game. The games are non-competitive need to be because of the range of abilities. I wasn’t sure how everyone new each other but was satisfied with Balimore was big enough for me to not understand the connection but small enough that people could all know and enjoy about the same activity. There were two other MICA students there that joined the club because they saw the newsfeed pop up on Facebook that someone they knew had joined, but came without knowing anyone. Fun club had sent out an event message to come to Wymann park to play baseball and any one to show up and come play. The events were constantly changing the people who came based on the interest they had in the activities and when and where it was held with a few that were always there. One on the most interesting attentants, was a business man in Fells Point that was looking up Clubs in Baltimore on Facebook to get himself involved in the city. He been transferred to Baltimore for work and didn’t have any connections to his new city. He came and met new people and talked about where he was from, why he is in Baltimore now. Not much came from it there was not much in common, but he was a nice guy that came and had a good time. I am optimistic future events, will have the same sort of result.
I wondered if I could consider online clubs as a weapon of inclusion. Clubs are often more exclusionary and to become a member of a club, someone needs a connection to a member already part of it. The privilege, distinction needed, and a fee attached to them in order to join make them exclusive and intimidating. Open clubs on the Social networks on the internet, like Facebook have don’t have these regulations. To become a member, all there is to do is push join. Clubs can be formed and promoted by anyone. People with common interests and meet in, or in around the city.
The reason I consider “Open Clubs” a weapon of exlusion because they can bring people together in the city physically, it creates an outlet and opportunity for those that maybe have a limited daily path and not much room for exploration of the city to meet new people. Because of the openness of information shared on the internet people stumble upon clubs by chance online. In many instances this open information on Facebook and Online Networks are not ways to open up a city. Users spend countless hours getting lost in the expansive paths of the internet clicking from one thing to the next navigating themselves in a virtual realm. It lacks physical constant and separates the user from real interaction. All the information about a person can be obtained just by browsing his/her profile. There is no real physical space on the internet. There is no possibility to really connect with someone in the internet through bumping into to them. You cant get to know your city except maybe on street view of google maps. It is not like being able to walk down a street and start a conversation by someone you accidently brush against. But the meetings of these clubs makes online a source for real interactions to exist away from the internet. These interactions and activities can draw people in public places also.
The restructuring of the internet caused by “Open Club” in a social network is the perfect weapon of inclusion. Through events and clubs brings, online social networks allow people to come together with little effort on an organizers part, and is a passive way to talk to many people at once. This can be very effective to get people together by taking no effort at all. It creates a rhizome effect in which people are affiliated with other people through other people to create diverse experiences in the city.
Public City School Reform in Baltimore is a current weapon used to open up the city. Segregation in schools was reputed in the 50’s yet integration is still not achieved in today’s City Schools. Open-minded Parents who choose to live and raise kids in the city that are who are for exposing their children to a diverse city life, still do not send their kids to a Public city school. Parents that can afford to pay for private school will to give there kids an opportunity in the workforce or college. Without the funding for good private schools, parents feel forced to move to the suburb to raise kids. Public City schools are often seen as run down, and dangerous especially in Baltimore, an urban city with crime and one of the lowest literacy rates. City teachers take on a role as officer, and mediator between children; jobs that are often too hard and it becomes priority over teaching to make sure the students are in line over teaching. Many teachers view the children as hopeless, which can only perpetuate the student’s lack of interest. I don’t believe it is fair to blame a parent who wants the best for there kids, but sending their kids to private school does further the divide of class in the city.
One of the charming views of Baltimore City is that it can fix its problems with slogans. One of the most current reforms to be put into action is “Great Kids Great Schools;” the City School Transformation and the ARRA (American Recovery Reinvestment act)”. In 2001 Baltimore Public School System set up a program to create 8 innovation high schools and convert nine high schools into smaller neighborhood schools. Its aim was to create strong academic rigor in small supportive structures. All though was effectively for specific schools it could not achieve the scale needed. On February 17, 2009 The AARP was signed as part of Obama’s economic recovery plan. This allows the opportunity to toward providing an equal opportunity for education to all demographics by stimulating innovation in education. The aim of both is to improve student achievement through school improvement and reform(www.urban.org). The plan increased funding in schools for a specific two year plan to demand College and career ready standards and assessments for all students, distribution of effective teachers, intensive support and intervention for lowest performing schools and the increase of Pre-K. It set up for rewards – Higher Education Teacher Quality Partnership Grant, and Teacher Incentive Fund mostly for schools in need of assistance.
This plan allows for an open city by creating resources available to students based on characteristic of the school and need. It allows for improvement instead of closing of a school district as unmanageable it opens it to reform and further use, calling for the communities’ role in school decisions. Education proves to cut down crime rates but opening children’s options, and hope of a career. Cutting down crime is what the closed city is often based on so with less fear of crime comes with more options for an open city. This plan thus far has already increased test scores, graduation, enrollment in AP courses, attendance, and afterschool arts programs that give children and activity to become an outlet to be engaged in. The goals of this program are to educate school leaders to know the need of current staff to determine gaps in the workforce to create more highly trained teachers. With these reforms the hope is to have more students and parents choose City Schools over other options. And with the reforms of the school system it will be desirable to high performing principals and teachers
ARRA becomes a weapon of inclusion by taking steps to reform the school system and fix gap between children and families living in the city. The outcome is that when children have the option to chose there future because of equal opportunity of education there would be less crime, poverty, and moving from the city. It would become possible to bring children of different backgrounds together on a non-exclusionary basis. The interaction with a diverse classroom could also lead to tolerance of different ways of life by children and their parents.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Located at 1 East Chase St. in Mount Vernon, The Belvedere opened in 1903. It was originally a staple hotel of Baltimore, with many famous & important people having stayed as guests. It was converted into condominiums/apartments in 1991. In the lobby level, there is the Owl Bar, which has been a part of the building since it opened over 100 years ago. I have the advantage of working in the Owl Bar as a hostess, so I get to greet & seat every customer that comes in (during my shift). Having worked here since January, I can tell you that there is truly a diverse clientele . The Owl Bar attracts customers of all type of classes, hometowns, ages and races. Since the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and Lyric Opera House are within walking distance, a lot of people come by for drinks and/or dinner before or after the shows. So as you can imagine most of these people are of the “older & richer” type. But, there are also younger college kids that come in because schools like UB and MICA are nearby. And I have consistently seen a wide variety of people of different races come through; everyone from Caucasians, African-Americans, to Indians and Hispanics. As well as people of different sexual orientations; because of Mount Vernon’s strong gay community, many gay customers often come in. People who live in the building often visit and enjoy a drink, as well as out-of-towners who heard about the building because of its extensive history. And all of these kinds of people sit at the bar and talk to each other. I have seen people talk across separate tables to each other, just strangers interacting with strangers because of the unique atmosphere.
These interactions are often interesting and always seemingly eventful. As mentioned before there is also a night lounge and catering company inside The Belvedere, both of which are sister entities to the Owl Bar; all three are owned by the same people and together the company is called “The Belvedere Restaurant Group.” Truffles The Catering Company of course books weddings as any good catering company does, but they have the distinct advantage of having event space in their building, as there are large ballrooms in the lobby and on the 12th floor of the Belvedere. So, having 1-4 weddings per week in this building brings through a very wide variety of people from all walks of life and from all over the world. And although every bride thinks her wedding day is special, this may not be the case at the Belvedere. If you have your wedding on a Friday or Saturday night, be prepared to put up with the large rowdy crowd and security outside of the building because of the underage/teenage night club in the basement. There have been so many dangerous occurrences because of the clientele of this nightclub, that the Belvedere permanently posts police security outside the building all night every Friday and Saturday to help keep the peace and keep an eye on the rowdy kids. Weekend nights are especially bustling with different kinds of people also because of the 13th Floor night lounge. Located on the top floor of the building with an amazing view of the city, this bar includes a small dance floor and live music. Wednesday and Thursday nights are oriented around jazz and ballroom dancing, while Friday night is reggae night and Saturday night is salsa night. The variety of live bands makes the 13th Floor perfect venue for open-minded people to come and mingle.
In addition to what I have talked about, there are about 5 other businesses in the basement level including a dentist’s office, a dry-cleaners, and a Russian bagel/coffee shop. Also, there are many condos-turned-offices for a variety of companies spread out throughout different levels the building. In describing all this, I feel like this is reflective of Jane Jacobs notion that a “used” street is a safe street, and essentially one which contributes to the idea of an Open City. I think it continues to hold true in The Belvedere, that a “used” space, in this case a building, can greatly contribute to the development of the Open City. If more buildings were used in the wide variety of ways in which the Belvedere is, there would be more progress towards opening up the city because it would allow greater opportunity for heterogeneous interactions. These interactions lead to developing the atmosphere of the Open City, and this is why the wide-range utilization of The Belvedere is a tool in the arsenal of inclusion.
Pets are a uniting vice that many people use with out willingly knowing they are using it to gain attention, interest and communication among other people. I have always been a dog-lover and have had 15 dogs (not all at once). I now live in Baltimore and have a little companion named Maddie. My dog is my weapon of inclusion. I meet countless people on the same 3 streets I walk about four times a day. They ask what breed she is, how old and then make over her. This seems to be the best way to find people with the same underlying interest as mine… dogs. Whether it be the personality, the looks, the opinion of what is right or wrong, pet’s can bring together a group of people because of their beliefs toward them, their love and admiration and their relationships among people, the city and their pets.
Pets are a double edged sword. They can also me a weapon of exclusion. Within the time frame of the day I am forced to come home and let my dog out multiple times. This means more transportation, more moving about and more time spent in the same areas. People who live in the city also have a phobia of some animals. Baltimore is well known for its fear of the pit-bull. Countless shelters in the city have hundreds of pit bulls because of how well they were raised and what traumatic things these dogs could have encountered. No one wants to take them on. Many people use pets as a uniting bond, and for those who dislike animals, those with allergies, “no pet” clauses with in leases, also use this as a way to exclude certain parts of the city. Pets that are protective of owners are also an exclusionary element with behavioral tendencies that may scare people off.
Regardless, the idea of pets in the city can be viewed as a weapon of inclusion amongst those with like situations or exclusion with those who fear or loathe them. They serve a unique purpose and there is no solution. Those who like pets will keep them close by. Those who want protection seek something with instincts. Those who dislike fur, have allergies, don’t have the time or money do not own pets and miss out of other aspects of the city.
Bike racks are one of the easiest to implement and most effective tools of opening the city. A simple sturdy piece of metal at ground level can be enough to open up a building or entire area to a much greater socioeconomic range of people. Sometimes natural parts of the city can become public bike racks unintentionally, such as a guardrail, a sign, a parking meter, or a small tree. The cops do not always appreciate this re-appropriation of space however, so the real deal is much better!
There are 2 main reasons that bike racks are such an effective way of opening up the city. First, bikes are significantly less expensive than cars, both to purchase and maintain. For people such as myself who can’t afford to have a car, bikes offer the perfect alternative for getting around the city on short to medium length trips. Unfortunately it is not safe to simply leave a bike outside, so you need a bike rack to help protect your ride! Unlike parking garages or metered parking places on the street, public bike racks are completely non-exclusionary, in that they are FREE and require no permission to use. By placing a public bike rack, this welcomes people to visit that area, other than those fortunate enough to own a car or those who live in close walking proximity to that location. By not placing a bike rack however, this can give quite the opposite message, by essentially cutting off biking as a method of transportation and as a result (either intentionally or unintentionally) denying access to a great number of outside visitors.
The second main reason why bike racks open up the city is due to the difficulty of parking. For those who DO have cars, this does not mean that the entire city is necessarily at their fingertips. Most urban areas, including much of Baltimore, are extremely difficult to find public parking in. Parking lots are often ridiculously expensive, often charging over $50 per day in parts of New York! Even if you are lucky enough to find a spot on the street, there are often very short time restrictions that force you to move your car or leave the area in a timely manner. If you happen to get to you car a minute too late, the cops are hungry for money and will often be prowling with a ticket book ready to ruin your day. I personally blew nearly $500 on my last two attempts of borrowing a car in New York, when the car was towed both times for being parked on the wrong side of the street during street sweeping hours… Never a pleasant experience. Bike racks wash all these worries away however! You do not need to be a master of parallel parking, or have a roll of money to spend on parking, or put a roll of quarters in them every hour. Even better, they are almost always placed right outside of major destinations, where it is impossible to find a parking place for your vehicle unless you have some sort of powers.
With an international growing interest in bikes, I please ask of you urban planners, build more bike racks! I would love to visit your neighborhood, but I can’t right now.
The Priceless Outdoor Skate Park
In cities around the world exists a plethora of skate spots. Skateboarding is a sport that challenges an athlete’s ingenuity against the complexities of urban terrain. In many cases, this terrain is built specifically for the sport is designed in such a way that it creates the skate park. As the popularity of skateboarding rises throughout the generations, skate parks are growing in number, and in diversity. Parks can range from crudely built ramps and stolen infrastructure to complex systems of pools, ramps, rails and obstacles specifically designed to enhance the skater experience. Whatever the case, if a city has skaters, it most likely has a skate park.
Not all skate parks are open to the common skater. Many skate parks were built without the intent to provide unique terrain to challenge skaters, but rather were built to turn profit through paid admission. These parks are often frowned upon due to the fact that they exclude many of the common skaters, including the broke skater, and the “fuck-that-payment-bullshit” skater. These athletes are not to be excluded, as they are often the most talented and passionate skaters, or at the very least, the most amusing. Paid admission parks are often inside and encourage athletes that want to feel safe, supervised, within designated boundaries, and close to snacks. However, these athletes have forgotten, skateboarding has never been about safety.
That leaves the skaters with the Priceless Outdoor Skate Park (POSP), a skate park that is outside and does not charge admission. Here is a place where no skater is turned away and can enjoy the fun regardless of wealth or principles. Not only does the Priceless Outdoor Skate Park, or POSP, includes all skaters, but it also welcome a wide array of folks from all about town with an arsenal of intentions. Gathered at one of these parks you may find a deckles skater, an aspiring athlete who for some reason (broke, inebriated, forgetful, in denial, etc.) is without a skateboard, and has been brought to the park out of the sheer love of the sport. You may also find the photographic skater, which may be and athlete or a spectator with a passion for the aesthetics of skateboarding, and can be found sporting a video or still camera capturing his or her friend’s wild moves. KOWABUNGA!
The park is also joined by a colorful group of spectators. There’s the basic and sometimes stoned spectator, who has come to watch the glory of skateboarding unfold before them. There’s watchful and protective parent, who excitedly refuses to cut the chord and allow his or her child the freedom of the sport. There is also the female spectator, or “pro-ho,” which has come with a watchful eye to find a skater to seduce in search of self-esteem. Let’s us not forget, of course, the outcast spectator, who has found themselves at the park because they really have no where else to go, and have found a place where they can call home.
Now, there are many complaints about the POSP. Many feel that depending on the community, they may find a crowd present that interferes with the image and attitude of the sport. But to these skateboarders we say, “Get over it you nincompoop. Nobody wants you’re miserable ass around either.” Yet crowds can cause a legitimate concern to the skateboard aficionado. An eager skater may be denied to chance to move freely throughout the park or to attempt a trick enough times to make the session worth the trip as an abundance of people lacking experience or courtesy may become a physical obstacle. While a defendable argument, this problem only works to further open the POSP. Skaters with this problem are challenged to find all the best times, day or night, to best skate without interference. This allows the Outdoor Skate Park to provide more opportunity as and open spot in a city. Another solution may be the well-kept secret to the location of a POSP. While this may seem as an exclusionary tactic, it actually allows a more diverse group of skaters to meet, as the location of a secret POSP can be passed in a tree like formation, branching out through a city, an giving a skater more reason to travel greater distances.
As you can see, a POSP is the perfect nominee for the Arsenal of Inclusion. It is a tool that brings together people linked through passion, purpose, performance, boredom and acceptance. Whether you’ve traveled across town, or are merely passing by, anyone is welcome, unless you’re a dirty ol’ fruit-booter, of course.
Basketball court at 2600 block of St. Paul (at 26th Street)
This basketball court functions as a tool for opening the city by providing anyone a space to play basketball. The courts rests on the east corner of 26th and St. Paul, which is a block doesn’t quite have a corner because the edge normally created by the road is replaced here (the west half of 26th street between Calvert and St Paul) by a pavement walkway, a garden, a playground, a school (Margaret Brent Elementary) and a tiny parking lot. The basketball court neighbors the school but is often used by people living in the area. The garden next to the court is shaded and lush with vegetables.
The court opens the city because it is highly visible by those in the park across the street, in the school, in the playground, in the garden, by the bus stop across the street or by those passing by on St. Paul. The space is well lit and almost always open. The court doesn’t offer basketballs, but all four hoops are usable and usually one is open. There are often people playing there that are friendly or at least will play with strangers. One thing that makes this court stand out as especially accessible to me is that, as a pretty weak (basketball skill wise) white woman, I have felt more comfortable in this court than others I’ve played in. I can not cite a spatial reason for this but it may involve those who I play with; I often come to the court with mostly female neighbors who live near the court or on my block (which is also a 5 minute walk from the court). The people we play with are generally young men of color who are friendly. Sometimes we play games or just shoot, ranging from how many people are on the court.
The downfalls to the space include its hours – closing as dusk and opening at dawn, but like most city parks this is standard. Though the space is lined with gates and has a sign with the hours, it is also lined with street lamps and is often left unlocked and frequented after dark. Additionally, the space is not crowded or surrounded by stores, however it is near a residential community and a major commercial streets. (25th Street)