Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pet Peaves

My earlier post inspired me (and missing the trolley) to walk back downtown. To wit, I came across one of my all-time most irritating details. In this case we're in uptown, but it's the insistence upon TREE LAWNS in downtown locations. The sidewalk is four feet wide, runs parallel with a building with no "perforation" or pedestrian "porosity," and is a maintenance (ie cost) drain. Notice the seeds, which if we're "lucky" will eventually need to be mowed.

The American reflex to plant grass everywhere comes from the European Bourgeoisie use of space as a indicator of power and wealth to define nobility from those in the cities. Writ large, it became the American ideal that every man was his own king of his little sodded castle.

Native grasses can be lovely, drought tolerant, and maintenance free, but turf, or manicured lawn, has two appropriate and practical uses, in the present day: fields of play (whether organized or informal) and places serving double duty as gathering places and a design device to accentuate scale. Think: DC Mall.

Pet peave #2:

Over simplicity. Sometimes genius is found in subtlety. Sometimes things are just ham-handed. On the corner here, is one of the new centralized newspaper vending stands replacing the messy(?), individualized by media outlet ones that are found on every city street corner ever (or just ones that often have people (customers) standing and waiting at intersections).

Intelligent design, and I don't mean the State of Kentucky's curriculum, is driven by the maximum amount of feedback possible. In this case I am not referring to public process feedback, which can either drive or muddy planning processes, but the collection of design factors that are or can be taken into account. The more factors addressed in one coherent and elegant solution is the definition of smart design.

In the every day urban world, feedback includes eye contact between a driver and a pedestrian crossing the street at a four-way stop, the body language of passersby, the tone a mother takes scolding her child for running into the street or the way a building engages or takes a defensive posture with regards to a street depending upon the street's design and characteristics. All manners making the everyday hum along. It is communication of all things to all things.

The design challenge here seems to be limited strictly to, "clean up all those damned paper vending stands." The solution doesn't reach out and create a dialog with the adjacent connections, the dynamic, the visible, and invisible things that create said feedback and further informing design, in the way that all things in nature are reactions to actions. Such potential informative factors include the building/use adjacent, local weather patterns, the opposite street corner, etc. This forgets to be visible from two sides. It forgets to be located in a place where people linger, as a form creating space itself. The more design "connections" the more something looks as if it belongs, integrating completely into its environment. This looks out of place.

Oh, and it forgets to be elegant...but, that isn't always necessary, as how many of these interesting, messy little nuances are elegant in NYC? But, it could be.

Things can always be better.