Public space comes in a range of shades. In the sixties, its cultivation was effectively delegated to private developers, who were permitted to put up bigger office buildings if they provided sidewalk-level oases where workers could eat their lunch. In the eighties and nineties, New York began to rejuvenate its parks, restoring enclaves that offer a cushion from noise and congestion. Now the Department of Transportation has realized that its jurisdiction covers the basic unit of urban life: the street. There, lifestyles intersect and city dwellers co-exist with people different from themselves. It’s where we learn toleration, where leisure shares space with urgency, commerce with activism, baby carriages with handcarts. When it is narrowed by garbage or overwhelmed by traffic, then the street reverts to its most primitive use: as a corridor. But a truly public place allows people to move at many different paces, or not to move at all.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008