In Art Scape’s online article on “Approaches to Creative Placemaking,” they write: “Creative Placemaking can be used by communities to engage residents locally, enhance public space and contribute to healthy sustainable communities.” Today, I think placemaking needs to be geared towards making public space better while fostering health and sustainability. This is particularly important in a time when mass populations are flocking to cities and the environment is constantly being damaged. In cities, there needs to be a focus on mitigating environmental degradation, but this can only happen on a large scale when people feel a part of a community and thus partially responsible. Public spaces allow for communities to meet and grow, stimulating this team effort and care for saving the environment.
One way that both public space and communities can be improved is through community gardens. Community gardens make public spaces more beautiful, greener, and promote collaboration. They also promote healthy living both in terms of making the air cleaner and providing local produce, no matter how small the quantity. Community gardens are also great for children and schools. When children work with the earth from an early age, they learn to appreciate and respect the environment more as they become more emotionally invested and passionate about the gardens they work with.
Besides community gardens, having more green in public spaces and emphasizing public parks is extremely important for placemaking. In a class I took, titled “Elements of Successful Public Spaces,” I had to take an existing place and recreate it into a successful public space based off of Holly Whyte’s observations and recommendations. I chose to redesign a vacant lot on Avenue A between 12th and 11th Streets. As a public park, the lot could include seating, horticulture, restrooms, entertainment, and more. It could be welcoming to all from strollers to joggers to dog walkers to kids playing to people sitting and reading.
In my new design the park is distinguished from the street by the park being elevated. The park would have many features Holly was found of, such as: a water fountain; a lawn with theater seating behind; large trees on either side of the theater seating provide summer shade; a wooden pergola covering a pathway with benches; a formal garden; moveable chairs and tables; and a building that would be the park’s restrooms and food vendor.
By redesigning the vacant lot, I hope that it would slow the problematic gentrification of the East Village, while providing a communal outdoor space for the neighborhood. Following Holly Whyte’s recommendations, from being able to see in and out of the park to having food available to the presence of moveable seating to a wide range of horticulture, the park would be a successful public space, and contribute to the placemaking of the East Village and Alphabet City.
Driving south of Florence, the car leaves the buildings of the city and winds in and out of forests and vineyards. Every few curves, the view opens up as fields of wheat and sunflowers expand from the side of the road into the abyss. Cypress trees and villas dot the scenery. After an hour, series of houses are bundled together along the road, broken up by cafes, a gas station, an automobile shop, a grocery store, and a school. This marks the beginning of the town Radda in Chianti.
The car dips down into a valley then quickly climbs back up a hill past a vineyard and winery. Getting closer to the city center, the car passes a small inn situated in the middle of a field of vineyards, and an old dilapidated stone house. More modern homes sit along the road until the road opens up into a large plaza area. A café to the south advertises paninis, gelato, and internet access. The paved road turns into cobblestones and all of the buildings ahead are made of stone.
Radda in Chianti has a spirit of place. The city center, with all of the stone roads and buildings, looks like it has not changed since the Renaissance. The city is extremely small too, perhaps a quarter mile squared. The main part of the city center is closed off to cars, allowing for pedestrians to stroll all over the place. There is one main “street” that pedestrians can walk down. A few restaurants, bodegas, hotels, and souvenir shops line this street, making it easy for pedestrians to shop and wander around. Outside of the main street, smaller side streets veer off and wind their way into a circumference of houses and apartments.
Chianti is one of the major wine producing regions in the world. As a result, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of tourists that visit the area. There are three main towns in the area: Radda in Chianti, Castellini in Chianti, and Gaioli in Chianti. Each has a similar Tuscan Renaissance environment and aesthetic, and is surrounded by kilometers of vineyards. Every summer, there is a major wine tasting event, where people flock from all over the world to try the new wines coming out of the Chianti region that year. For a weekend in June, people circulate between the three towns. After purchasing a wine glass for ten euros, one can then go around and try all of the wines from the different vineyards, ranging from fifteen euro bottles to two hundred euro bottles.
I was fortunate enough to live in Radda in Chianti for two months one summer. Although, I was there to work on an archaeological dig and therefore had an unusual experience, I would recommend to anyone to visit these three beautiful towns.
My ‘sense of place’ is not NYC. Coming from Northern California, I am used to a mild, dry climate where I can take a stroll at any time of the day, at any time of the year. The climate of NYC is something I struggle with on a daily basis. When it is below thirty degrees outside, I always have to bundle up. This includes two layers of pants, two layers of socks, at least three layers on top including a sheepskin coat, a wool hat, and fur-lined gloves. Prepared for the freezing temperatures, I begin walking towards my destination at a brisk pace to reduce the amount of time that I am exposed to the cold. However my fast pace increases my body temperature, making all of my layers extremely hot and uncomfortable. The reverse phenomenon happens when it is hot. I try to dress appropriately for the warmth, but not matter how few clothes I wear, I am always hot and miserable.
Yet every once in a while, there are moments when I walk on the street that make me love NYC. Sometimes when I walk on the street in the early morning and my eyes are still blanketed with sleep, I feel this special moment. The streets are fairly quiet, and people are just beginning to wake up and begin their day. I can hear birds chirping in the trees and rays of sunlight filter through the buildings on each block.
I’ve felt these ephemeral moments at night as well. Recently, I had to walk to Chinatown from the East Village. It was a brisk February night, but it wasn’t uncomfortably cold. As I crossed Houston Street and began walking down Mulberry Street, I became fascinated by the window displays in the boutiques and high-fashion designer stores. The cobblestone street was practically empty and the streetlights added an enchanting feeling. I could imagine what type of people would shop in these stores. Continuing south, I could physically see the transition from Soho to Little Italy. The beautiful architecture of the buildings with clothing stores began to change into more dilapidated buildings with Italian restaurants on every ground floor. Red, green, and white appeared everywhere. When I began to smell fish, I knew that I had entered Chinatown.
NYC is unique in that you can walk down a single street and witness major transformations of culture and character. Just from the buildings or the way people are interacting, you can tell when you have exited one neighborhood and entered another.
When I get on Highway 101 South to head to the city, it is a mundane experience. The only thing I can see is the grey road, which sometimes turns black where it was recently paved. Pale grey barriers on either side of the south-bound lanes make up most of the landscape. Occasionally I’ll get a glimpse of a gas station, In-And-Out, or supermall. If I am lucky, I’ll see a tree or even a body of water. The game of cat and mouse with the other cars is fun at first, but the desire to avoid a speeding ticket makes me sustain a steady speed. Soon the lull of the engine and the monotony of the speed and the scenery makes me bored and drowsy. The signs that dot the side of the highway use the same colors, the same fonts, the same symbols, and the same characters, with only the letters rearranged. Whether I am north by Napa Valley or south by San Jose, Highway 101 is essentially the same.
Placeless Places have no character or culture. They are standardized, normative, uniformed, and inauthentic according to Edward Relph. There are many places that have a sense of placelessness about them, particularly highways. Highways fall under two of Relph’s categories of placeless landscapes: the first is “uniformity and standardization in places,” the second is “impermanence of places” as roads are always undergoing continuous redevelopment (119).
To me, highways are like airport terminals. They are transitory and temporary spaces that are only used to get from one destination to the next. Additionally they almost all look the same, with the same layouts, infrastructures, and signage. Part of Relph’s definition of placeless places includes when there is an “inauthentic attitude to place.” Relph writes: “Attitudes relating to technique, in which places are understood to be manipulable in the public interest and are seen only in terms of their functional and technical properties and potentials” (121). Highways have no unique character or culture. They are purely used for their functional properties of a road for mass transit.
Some may argue that different highways within the United States look and feel different. Driving on U.S. Route 9, for example, there are never the pale grey barriers seen on Highway 101. Instead the highway is lined by trees and forests on the outside, and a strip of lawn or trees in the center divide (a much better approach to California’s, if one ignores the issue of water access). While there is definitely a difference between Highway 101 and U.S. Route 9, there is the same purpose, function, feel, and character to both landscapes.
On a brisk autumn day, the Gallatin Design Collective club took a field trip to the Lowline. I had heard of the Lowline before, and knew it involved a public park in an old subway station. Excited to spend the afternoon in a park, the group hurried to the Lower East Side. Yet when we arrived at the address, there was an empty warehouse instead of park. Tentatively we entered the silent space, with dusty light filtering through shattered windows. As soon as we walked in, two young women greeted and welcomed us to the “Imagining the Lowline” exhibit. Engaged by an interactive map of the city and its’ underground systems, I began to explore the concepts for the Lowline. Navigating through pitch-black pathways I was drawn to the luminous colored screens with information on the concepts, inspirations, and technology involved.
Suddenly, as I turned the corner, I emerged out of the darkness into a bright room with a miniature park as the centerpiece. The park included grass, moss, a tree and other vegetation, as well as a minimal range of animals, such as crickets. But what really captured my attention was the umbrella-like contraption of hexagons hanging above the vegetation display: the newest design for how to filtrate sunlight underground to the future park of the Lowline.
The Lowline is a project geared towards transforming the Delancey Street-Essex Street subway station, an abandoned trolley station, into an underground park. Originally named the Delancey Underground, the Lowline project began with a Kickstarter site, a crowd-funding platform, where it raised $155,186 in 44 days. As a result of the interest and support of the project, cofounders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch were able to put forth a proposal for the project as well as start constructing the project’s first exhibition, “Imagining the Lowline.”
The goal of the Lowline is to balance the historic trolley station with modern technology. Since this park will be underground, the vegetation needs a source of sunlight. However, diffusing enough sunlight to sustain the entire park is a unique and difficult problem. In an interview with Ramsey, he described the power and influence of the Lowline: “It’s not just design, it’s not just urbanism, it’s not just strictly technology either, it also incorporates an element of urban archaeology – in a lot of respects the Low Line has a lot to do with […] New York City history and archaeological exploration.”
Although gaining the official support of Manhattan Community Board 3 politically advances the Lowline project, the project cannot begin until it has the rights over the property of the Delancey Street-Essex Street abandoned trolley station, something the MTA has been gripping on to. The MTA has long-term leases on the abandoned trolley station, hindering the Lowline project. However, once the city legally leases the property, the Parks Department can officially designate the property as a public space, and further the progress in constructing the Lowline.
More information can be found in the following sources:
J.B. Jackson believed that a culture was reflected in the landscape. He believed that there was a greater meaning in the everyday, mundane elements of a landscape and that man and landscapes became equal when viewed from alternate angles, emphasizing aerial photography. At a time when humans were really beginning to make an impact on the environment and on landscapes, Jackson analysis on landscapes had a large influence.
Astor Place is one of my vernacular landscapes. The location is sandwiched between 3rd Avenue and Broadway to the east and west, and between 9th Street and Astor Place to the north and south. Although there are many streets that intersect the radius of Astor Place, the area is acts more like a plaza. Astor Place is a major intersection for pedestrians, creating a hub of foot traffic. There is a consistent flow of people in and out of the space, making it easy for the masses to jaywalk and extremely difficult for cars to drive through.
Additionally, Astor Place is a destination. The area is dotted by restaurants, coffee shops, theaters, office buildings, banks, schools, and so on. People wait for coffee at the MUD Coffee Truck at the northern end of the area, do work at the Starbucks to the west, copy papers at FedEx, work out at the David Barton gym, attend class at Cooper Union, or head east to the infamous Saint Mark’s Street. Astor Place is also a transportation hub. The 4, 5, 6 Subway line has a station right in the heart of Astor Place. A few blocks west one can find the N, Q, R subway line. There is a series of bus stops around the area as well. A Citi Bike station sits on the northern end near 9th Street.
In the center of Astor Place is a black cube sculpture, called Alamo. Over the years, this cube has become a major tourist attraction and a central meeting place. Furthermore, the cube spins when a few people grab the sides and walk and push them in the same direction. The Cube has become infamous among local New Yorkers. Recently, there was a video that went viral of a writer who claimed that he secretly lived in The Cube for a period of time. Although the video was proven as a hoax, it added to the character and folklore of Astor Place.
Currently, there is major construction happening in Astor Place. The Cube was removed from the square, and a large part of the street of Astor Place is closed off to cars. The NYC city government plans for Astor Place can be found here. The new plans for Astor Place will emphasize the pedestrian, parks, and successful public spaces and plazas.
I grew up in an unusual suburb. My home is in San Rafael, Marin County. The city is across the Golden Gate Bridge, just north of San Francisco. Heading north on Highway 101, you get off at the downtown San Rafael exit. Taking the first right, you continue driving straight passing by: a shell station; a single KFC restaurant; a small mall with a Starbucks, FedEx, and Bank of America; another gas station on the left; another mall with grocery stores, restaurants, retail stores, and pharmacies; an enormous whole foods on the left, one of the biggest high schools in the county, a surf shop and seafood grocery store; and a series of houses and small neighborhoods divided by pockets of marinas and views of a canal. All of these landmarks create the views of the five-minute drive from the highway exit to the street I live on.
Sound like you’re in suburbia yet?
A tennis court on the right hand side of the road is the landmark to tell you that it is time to take a left onto Summit Avenue. Leaving the main road, Summit Avenue leads you into a quiet neighborhood. It is densely wooded with unique, individual houses serially placed on either side. After a few minutes, you begin to climb up a steady hill. The further a house is along the hill, the longer the drive way is. The houses become more and more secluded. My house is halfway up the hill: you can see the front of my house through the gate, but the woods seclude the rest.
Since I live in this secluded neighborhood, and on a hill, I did not grow up in the typical American suburb neighborhood. Growing up, I would have to drive to other areas in order to do things that could only be done in a Levittown environment. I learned how to ride a bike in the neighborhood to the east of my house. I learned how to ride a scooter in high school in a friend’s neighborhood. I never had the experience of walking home from school or going to my best friends house a few doors down. I love my house and my neighborhood, but it was an unusual suburb to grow up in.
Robert Moses was born in 1888 in Connecticut. Before moving to New York, he received a BA from Yale, an MA from Oxford, and a PHD in political science at Columbia. In NYC, Moses began working for the municipal research bureau where he befriended the soon-to-be governor Al Smith. As Smith rose to power and was reelected in 1922, he brought Moses on to the Long Island State Commission and to help oversee some city parks.
Moses was an extreme visionary and idealist. He also loved cars. In Robert Caro’s biography on Moses, called The Power Broker, he discusses how Moses never received his driver’s license and thus only experienced driving from the backseat. Furthermore, Moses valued automobile transportation more than community and individual needs. As Moses successfully finished multiple mass city-planning projects, he acquired increasing amounts of power over the years.
One example of Moses’s power and influence is his land grabbing in Long Island. In 1922, Moses rented a house in Long Island where he could see traces of woodlands and old water reserves. As a result, Moses created a legislation that would give him control of the reserves and appropriate other properties.
Another example is the creation of the Northern State Parkway. Almost 30 miles long, it connected the northern communities on Long Island with NYC. However, there were many wealthy families that lived along the route that Moses proposed for the Parkway who wanted to divert the road away from their homes. In one instance, the Parkway ran through Otto Kahn’s property. To avoid his gold course from being dissected, Kahn bribed Moses to move the line of the Parkway. Yet other neighbors found out about the bribe and threatened to expose Moses. Consequently, Moses had to change the line of parkway to appease all, by either giving private properties private entrances or bridges if the parkway bisected the property.
Perhaps one of the most controversial of Moses’s completed projects was the Crossbronx Expressway. This series of highways cut through neighborhoods indiscriminately. Instead of cutting through the state-owned Crotona Park, where he could but the highway without trouble, Moses decided to cut through the neighborhood of East Tremont. The project required the eviction of thousands of families in East Tremont, as a trench was dug right through the middle of the Bronx, and bisected the area so pedestrians could not get from one side of the Expressway to the other.
Rebecca Solnit, in her book Wanderlust, defines spatial relations: “The workings of the mind and the spirit are hard to imagine, as in the nature of time—so we tend to metaphorize all these intangibles as physical objects located in space. Thus our relationship to them become physical and spatial: we move toward or away from them” (Solnit 72). The importance of understanding our bodies’ relationship to our surroundings is captured by our consciousness and spirit. The way human beings handle the abstractness of our bodies compared to this thing called “space” is through the characterization of our environments, whether it is through the memory of walking the same paths or the visual cues of signs and landmarks.
In terms of space, the manual act of walking not only takes place within an environment, but it also opens up capacity for an individual to explore and learn. Solnit enjoys walks through gardens, embracing this ideology of walking as a portal for pioneering; it creates an interactive space between the body and the garden. Reminiscing how sculpture gardens were created for those who were illiterate, she elaborates that these gardens were “as whole spaces that could be read, making the garden as much an intellectual space as the library” (74).
When I first entered the Boboli Gardens in Florence, which lay behind the Pitti Palace near the Arno River, I was overwhelmed by the size of the grounds. Climbing up a hill away from the palace, I entered a natural amphitheater. This was the epicenter of the gardens. To the south, I could continue climbing upwards along lawns and hedges until I get to a massive water fountain at the top of the hill. To east, I could descend towards the rose garden and the famous grotto. To the west, I could walk down along a Cyprus-lined allée, the Viottolone.
I was immediately drawn to the shade of the Viottolone on this warm summer day. When looking down the Viottolone, the allée appears to expand; however, when looking back up the distance seems to be abbreviated. The avenue created a second axis and was bordered by boscos on either side. It led one down to the western part of the gardens to the isolotto, an oval-shaped pond and island. The island, surrounded by a stone balustrade and potted citrus trees, was inspired by Hadrian’s Maritime Theater. The path on the axis connects to the isolotto by two bridges, surrounded by ilex hedges. With the introduction of the isolatta at the end of the long straight axis, the architect fabricated a new visual and botanical focus to the garden.
Below is the drawings of the grounds of Boboli Gardens for the Medici Family during the Renaissance by Giusto Utens:
I always subconsciously felt limited by the edges of the East Village and Greenwich Village. For four years, I have lived in the East Village, and for four years I have gone to school in Greenwich Village. Everything I need and want I can find in these two neighborhoods. I know every path in the area like the back of my hand, spotted with both public and personal landmarks—the cube on Astor Place, Webster Hall, all of the boutiques on 9th street, the Muslim street stand on 11th street, the pedestrian bridges on 10th and 6th streets.
I made an effort to visit other parts of the city. I would wander around Bushwick, visit Prospect Park and Prospect Heights, eat in Williamsburg, and see the botanical gardens on Staten Island. Since these trips were out of my daily edge, they seemed like mini vacations rather than a part of my daily surrounding environment.
This all changed when I began to work in Midtown East. All of the sudden, my daily routine included a third neighborhood. Additionally, I not only had to learn a new neighborhood but also how to bike in NYC. Every morning began with me running around the East Village looking for a free and working Citi Bike. I memorized all of the locations of the bike docks near my apartment, and would run from one street to the next trying to snatch the last available bike. Once I got a bike, I would head to 1st Avenue, where there was one of the best bike paths in the city. I could always bike through red lights until I hit a red light at 23rd street, a major node. After passing through 23rd street, I would have to claim a steady hill until I reached an empty lot on the east side of the street, which was the landmark for the downhill. After a 30 second downhill, I would have to climb back up a hill to 42nd street, another major node. Once I got to 34th Street, the UN building to the East landmarked the beginning of another downhill. I would speed past all of the policemen and businessmen until 42nd Street, the last major node along my path. Passing through 42nd Street, I would begin my last ascent until I saw the large construction site at 52nd and 53rd Streets. Just past, I would cut left onto 55th street, and keep west until I hit 3rd Avenue. Navigating the bus lane in the right lane, I would hug the east side of 3rd Avenue until I hit 56th Street, and then would veer right where the Citi Bike dock was waiting.
Luckily in my 6 months of biking to and from Midtown East, I was only hit twice—once by a taxi and once by another biker.