Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Inclusionary Amenity, Snow

Snow, natures innocuous blanket, has the propensity to be an inclusionary amenity. It has the capacity to draw crowds to areas of the city that may not be the sight of prolonged occupation and interaction. Inherent to the idea of 'no loitering,' is the common understanding that certain areas of a city have a reasonable time limit for people to exist in them. In the instance of a cross walk, it is acceptable to be standing in this spot momentarily on your way to the other side of the street. Any longer and such behavior might elicit the question of "why?" That question disappears when the setting is changed to a park or bus stop where it is common to see such behavior. Conversely snow takes the familiar city scape, transforms and invites you to mark and engage with it.

The temporal quality of it makes it the most permissible form of graffiti one can think of because it will eventually melt away and nourish the immediate environment. It is your building block do with it or upon it as you please. That is the beauty of snow, it can be compressed and sculpted, moved with relative ease and impacts our physical environment in ways that rain can only dream of.

The aspect of snow that earns it a spot in the arsenal of inclusion is the fact that it functions on many levels. One could argue that the most measurable impact is snow as a commodity, which sustains the ski industry. There are actually machines that create snow and spew it forth in an effort to stimulate business. However skiing is exclusionary because it requires so many resources equipment and is expensive in much the same way that a hockey rink is exclusionary. It affects the economy of commerce in a city as workers are delayed in such weather conditions and the city spends money to clear the way for a productive work day. Urban environments are void of these mountains and conditions so it is an inclusionary subject on the micro scale of open city interactions.

The snow day is a perfect example of this and very appropriate to the Baltimore area where they are infrequent but loosely defined as a mere few inches. The snow angel, snow fort, and snowball fight are among some of the inclusionary activities that are unique to these days off and I have participated first hand in sledding down the hill in the Commons. Sledding is of particular interest to me because it is taking an otherwise site specific area and turning it into the spectacle of that environment, whether it is the hill in the park or the uncleared road that is seldom used. They become active spaces that are in accordance with Lefebreves anthropological foundation. Interactions in snow are 'unpredictable' and arguably satisfy our human anthropological needs in every sense. People love to create, destroy and experiment with snow as a material. What better way to feed this human tendency than to create a menacing snowman and destroy it ( one of my own personal favorite snow day past times ). You can even taste snow although I do not recommend it in cities where car exhaust and any other number of environmental pollutants are contaminating its pure composite.

Snow fall is not selective and so everyone must engage with the experience. Whether it is your neighbors collectively shoveling walkways outside of their apartments, it becomes one more experience that unifies the city's inhabitants. Relative to the season, it does not snow that often in the US, unless you live in upstate New York, so these special occasions warrant a change of behavior. It could be the kids shoveling your driveway to make some money who you would never have another reason to knock on your door. Even the idea of a snow fort is inviting, because snow is so easily moved. Their walls do not actually keep anything out and are an index of an afternoons worth of public activity. It is for these reasons that snow will remain a constant tool of inclusion.

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