Tuesday, February 24, 2009
1. Access our Google map here.
2. Click on the Edit button beneath the map directory.
3. Select the 'pin' icon from the button options.
4. Drag the pin to desired location and click to pin it to the map.
5. You may now add a title for your location, and descriptive text. Click on the rich text option to to upload images from your computer, or from a URL.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Jane Jacobs chapter “The Use of Streets: Contact” in her book Death & Life of American Cities tackles the issue’s facing American cities and towns and how the changing social environment is depriving local communities of necessary interaction and social growth. Jacobs notes if social contacts are solely confined to the privacy of ones own home then a city becomes stultified. She points to the need for interaction through the social life of city sidewalks which help bring together people who do not know each other and how the changing and lessening use of city side walks as a way of social communication amongst the community is leading to a time where one solely communicates with people we directly know and within ones own clichés or individual community’s rather than the broader community at large.
Reading through Jane Jacobs chapter and relating her concepts to the risd community one can see where her concepts relate to how and why our community interacts with each other and where we as a community are going wrong.
Whilst Jacobs concepts are true, some of the reasons for why social interaction has changed over the past 20 years can also be been attributed to the advancement in technology and the growth of brand multiservice stores. The evolution of phone and Internet technology made communication accessible from ones bed. Big super stores are increasingly taking the place of local stores with their financial clot and hard nose pricing. Fickle customers will therefore automatically turn to what is cheaper. In the US these stores are often located on the outskirts of towns where large plots of land are cheaper to buy and where accessibility by road is easy resulting in shoppers traveling by car to purchase goods or services rather than on foot or local transport which is often in decline. Subsequently this makes it less likely for one to bump into a fellow resident or community member.
Arriving from abroad one can relate to many of the concepts put forward by Jacobs, as they are the same issue we face back in England. Focusing on the risd experience it becomes apparent that the lack of local stores and services in proximity to the already spaced out campus can be seen as one issue with the main place one could relate to being Thayer street above the main campus. The need for real leaders when it comes to the social aspects of street life can be related to RISD's need for a real student union where the elected body of students represent the community at large and actively work to bring people together socially rather than on an academic level through social gatherings and activities. Such a body which in English universities plays a huge an active part in the student community is similar to what Jacobs states helps encourage the social aspect of city sidewalks some one who brings people together.
When it comes to housing Jacobs points to the lack of trust which people have for one another and therefore people do not feel the need to communicate with ones neighbors. This could be said for students living in many of the housing complexes at risd, with no specific place in some areas of housing in which people can meet communities often become closed up with people unlikely to just knock on a neighbors door and say hello. When there is activity or a social gathering of sorts people are more likely to communicate as they are in a mutual space where both have actively chosen to go.
A further issue is placement, for risd students it becomes apparent that students see the place of work as where they pretty much live. And therefore without a central core a central place where students want to go little communities are formed within communities as Jacobs refers to when looking at the formation of clicks within communities. While the placement of risd buildings is applauded by helping to rejuvenate specific areas in particular downtown providence, it has consequently created separate community’s with people rarely spending much time in the main campus across the river as there is little need to go there.
Active engagement within the community in general is a further issue which Jacobs referrers to at the end of the chapter. Looking at our institution risd we do everything behind closed doors, with only those accepted and those who can afford the education engaging with one another rather than the average community member. This is often an issue found for many institutions how to we work with the local community so that they feel apart of us rather than a part. For RISD, actively presenting what we do best, our creativity our work so that not just are critics can see or be apart of would help break down this significant divide between those who have the building access cards and those that don’t.
I learned of the extent of disconnect after enrolling in RISD. Small self made communities are rarely seen around campus. Student and faculty rarely exchange conversation out of class. Even in passing fellow students avoid saying hello. The whole thing gave me a complex until I learned this was an occurrence not limited to myself.
The side walk contact Jacobs describes in the book, “Death and Life of Great American Cities”, refers to trust acquired from interactions though public space. Becoming familiar with people in public interactions allows communities to gain trust and knowledge. In connecting with people in simple community interactions, such as grocery shopping, laundry, and playing in the park we are familiar with faces and general trust grows. Trust is essential in the formation of community. Jacobs describes how trust is established in a community, “The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many, little public sidewalk contacts”. (56)
The one place on campus with a consistent street life is the location in front of Benson Hall, the print making building. Students have claimed the stoop, providing the community a familiarity about who these printmakers are. Although I have never had any personal connection and usually avoid walking throught the crowd that forms, I am familiar with faces, in part with my sense of the printmaking identity and my general trust of these faces in public.
This space is one of a few where students can be seen gathering outside. Sidewalk interaction is not strongly encouraged in the RISD campus. In the new Chase Center, public hang out space is located under the building, out of sight from the street. Keeping these spaces out of the view of larger community enforces a segregation of the RISD community form the surrounding community. Placing student gathering areas such places also reinforces the separation of student and faculty. When students are separated from the whole community, a lack of trust, knowledge, and communication forms, reinforcing the separation.
Public areas where students would have interactions with faculty are limited, and minimal space is open to the public. In coffee shops that are used by faculty and students there are no chairs or tables. In cafes like Watermark that promote being open to the public, gaining access to the establishment, patrons have to climb an intimating stairway.
The general frustrations shared within the RISD community could be partially solved with sidewalk interaction. Independent stores, Laundromats, coffee shops and bars, would help students, faculty, staff and the public gain trust with each other. Subgroups would have a stronger support system, and students would not be limited to interaction only within their department. Knowledge would spread further with more connections forming in the community, thus making the community whole.
I have been thinking about ambiguous spaces, that is, spaces that lack a clear sense of place. What makes a place? One definition offered by Merriam Webster is: a distinct condition, position, or state of mind. Place is something that is created, deliberately marking, or bounding, something as being separate from something else. I’m curious about the spaces in between places, intermediate zones with flexible programs.
The stoop, or porch or mediates the private function of a building and the linearity of a sidewalk or street. It offers a moment for pause. It is a place, but it makes no demands of its users, unlike the interior of the building and the sidewalk. It allows interaction and exchange to occur, as well as quick passage.
I am thinking specifically of the steps at the entrance of the
The porch does not impose rules, but permits the user to more easily control their situation. One chooses their primary reason for being there, and other things are secondary. In particular, interaction is not mandatory, rather it is possible. It is not a condition of “’togetherness’ or nothing.” The rules are flexible in this ambiguous space.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
With the question of how Jacobs’ concepts apply to my experience at RISD to date in mind while I read Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities this quote struck a cord: “The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to fulfill his function-although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. His main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people. In this way news travels that is of sidewalk interest. Most public sidewalk characters are steadily stationed in public places.” At RISD the most successful “sidewalk life” is found in the form of our shops. Our shops, like Jacobs’ sidewalks, are the places people pass thru out of necessity, as so much of our life here is based on production. Our techs are our “public characters”. The monitors and gear heads the “roving characters”. The shops posses many of the elements Jacobs sees as vital to a lively neighborhood. Our techs facilitate social interaction and the spreading of news. The shops, especially as the semester progresses, are bustling with activity. This activity attracts even those not needing to be there because there is palpable excitement, lively discussion, music, food, gossip, knowledge, and advice to be found. Looking at RISD as a city these are our successful neighborhoods. They are places where we feel solidarity, security and where we turn in times of need. Reading “Use of Sidewalk: Contacts” drove home the import of these places. Though the shops may not have been set up with this level of social interaction in mind, it is the place where I personally feel the most sense of community. By sad contrast, and in testament to “its cultivation can not be institutionalized”, my experience with the areas “designed” for casual interaction is that they are not so lively or interesting. They lack the permanent fixture of public characters and also our need to pass through them. One is must intentionally go to the space to have social interaction, it requires a plan. The spontaneity and/or serendipity of a chance social interaction are taken out of the equation.
The I.D. Wood shop located at 161 South Main St is possibly the most unique “neighborhood” in our RISD city. It is on river at street level, walled on to sides with floor to ceiling windows. These windows not only provide beautiful light and a nice view for those in it, they provide an opportunity for residents of the city (Providence) in which our “city” resides to glimpse in and be enticed by our bustling little neighborhood. It is the only place on campus (that I know off) where “outsiders” have the opportunity to see the creative process of our world in action not just its product. During the warmer months when I find myself having a cigarette on the stoop outside the shop, I frequently find myself answering questions posed to me by passers by on their way to or from a night out on the town “What do you do in their?” ”Looks like fun”, “Can we come in” etc, etc. I found myself as the object of entertainment to a gathering crowd while doing a woodturning one warm, spring night (see photo of lathe). At night the light from within affords those on the outside a clear view in and draws the attention from passers-by, RISD or otherwise, like moths to a flame.
Jane Jacobs discusses the notion of trust when describing relationships between customers who leave their keys with local merchants. This type of relationship exists in the studio as well. The studio is a place that only thrives when students help one another out. Borrowing and lending supplies and information is a daily routine that is common practice in the studio. A system of “what’s mine is yours” quickly develops and students begin to trust one another. This notion of trust in the studio is essential. It exists because the studio is not a private place. Clear boundaries of individual space are ambiguous and most areas become shared spaces. Individual desks become unlocked homes in an urban neighborhood. The spaces between the desks become city streets and sidewalks where interaction is normal and natural. No one is a stranger. Everyone knows each other and trust is quickly established.
Jacobs describes situations on the streets of New York where people look out for one another and invest themselves in bettering the community as a whole. Jacobs describes Bernie, a local candy store owner, as an active community member who is engaged in the lives of fellow community members on a daily basis. The relationship he develops with customers goes beyond the business aspect of his job. He is interested in doing his part to contribute to the welfare of the community. I see this same notion in the architecture studio. As students, we have the responsibility of attending class, getting work completed in time, and participating in class. There has never been a rule or obligation to help fellow classmates when a peer is struggling. However, this notion of helping one another out is a vital part of the dynamics of the studio. Classmates become invested in each other’s work. If a student is producing less then acceptable work, it brings down the rest of the class.
The architecture studio is broken into sections for the semester. The students within a section become incredibly close to one another. The majority of our time is spent with the same ten students in studio. However, the students outside of a section become individuals that we interact with frequently as well. Jacobs describes the idea of two people from the same apartment who have never spoken to one another suddenly becoming “best friends” when interacting out of the context of the apartment building. This is very similar to occurrences outside of the architecture studio. Students who may have never had a conversation in the studio will greet one another while passing on the sidewalk. Architecture is notorious for its grueling work load and frequent all-nighters. Students who share this similar experience have a common thread that unites them outside of the studio.
Here at RISD we are all citizens of an archipelago of departments and buildings, each one being quite private and unrelated. Though some attempts are made at community building within our institution, we are often left feeling uninformed and un-united.
In her anthropological survey of American cities, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs makes many observations that may begin to elucidate the obstacles an institution such as RISD faces when attempts at community building are waged.
In her chapter of the importance of the city sidewalk, Jane Jacobs illustrates her point by comparing an old-city sidewalk with the public spaces of a planned community project.
”The houses here are grouped in colonies around shared interior lawns and play yards, and the whole development is equipped with other devices for close sharing, such as a residents’ club which holds parties, dances, reunions, has ladies’ activities like bridge and sewing parties, and holds dances and parties for the children. There is no public life here, in any city sense. There are differing degrees of extended private life.”1 In many ways, these sentences describe the functionality of the RISD community.
At RISD we certainly are not in lack of common shared spaces, but none of them cultivate the kind of everyday, casual encounters that Jacobs sites as being so indispensible in the cultivation of community trust. I can think of only a one or two RISD affiliated establishments that are poised to facilitate these kinds of interactions, one being the student-run Carr Haus. RISD social life is based primarily around formal events and behavior-specific locations. As Jacobs argues, these trust-building encounters cannot be institutionalized nor formalized. RISD, therefore, stands at a disadvantage in it’s current condition.
The greater RISD community also suffers from another problem, that of departmental insularity. Another Jacobs passage alludes to this as it may relate to RISD: “These projects are not lacking in natural leaders,” she says. “They contain people with real ability, wonderful people many of them, but the typical sequence is that in the course of the organization leaders have found each other, gotten all involved in each other’s social lives, and have ended up talking to nobody but each other. They have not found their followers. Everything tends to degenerate into ineffective cliques, as a natural course. There is no normal public life. Just the mechanics of people learning what I going on is so difficult. It all makes the simples social gain extra hard for these people.” 2
The points Jacobs makes, are certainly valid points of departure when exploring ways to develop community within RISD, and without. Perhaps what are needed are more non-RISD locations where casual social interactions can occur.
My question is this, “what exactly is the relevance of Jacobs’ claims today, over fifty years after they were conceived”. What are the implications of her claims in light of the added social barriers we have imposed on ourselves, i.e. online social networking?
1. Jacobs, Jane, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Modern Library, 1951, p 83.
2. Ibid, p 89.
Established Autumn 2007
One of several new businesses in the rapidly growing Fox Point neighborhood centered around Ives street. Not only serving delicious and reasonably priced food*, George's acts as a meeting place for the exchange of ideas and information.
During wintersession 2009, a group of friends and I created a Friday morning breakfast club. Most of us are graduate students living in and about the Fox Point area, and George's was a natural choice as a meeting place. Though these meetings began as casual exchanges amongst a group of like-minded friends, over the next six weeks they developed into something more. As our conversations grew, my friends and I discussed our emotional states, personal histories and projects and ideas that had been consuming our imaginations. Many nourishing collaborations were borne of these conversations.
Additionally, as our friendships and creative endeavors developed, we were (however subconsciously) creating a repoire with a cast of neighborhood characters and entering a meaningful communal exchange.
At the time of these meetings it was unclear why George's was so vital for my neighborhood and social circle. After considering Jane Jacob's chaper "Use of Side Sidewalks: Contact" the importance of such an establishment in a small neighborhood may be more apparent. Fox Point is composed largely of private residences. Casual street interaction is limited. There is a lack of community space where everyday interactions may take place. In a way George's provides a venue for casual exchanges between individuals. I am now on a first-name basis with each of employees at George's. Furthermore, I have grown to recognize many characters from the neighborhood whom also frequent George's, none of whom I have considered pursuing a more personal relationship with. Though my conversations with these people may seem trivial on the surface, they are vital for developing the casual trust between individuals which is so important a foundation for developing a true sense of community.
George's has thus become the venue, or medium, through which a group of friends has grown with each other, and has begun to know and appreciate their neighbors and community.
*One Egg, Sausage, Home Fries and Toast: $3.75