In the Oct 24th issue of LENSCRATCH the coverage of the Cuban work of photographer Susan Bank, and its feature image*, struck me by how her work was permeated with a sense of orderly peace between animals, humans, land and built environment, expressive of what she characterized in her interview with Nancy Horton as an almost timeless “sense of ‘tamed space’ and community life.” (*Image reproduced here with the photographer’s permission.)
The sense of “tamed space”
Conventionally the tamed condition of anything, or being, is obtained, from a state of wilderness, through domestication.
A tamed space is rendered so through the collective process of making it productive, or supportive of a productive activity and/or fit for human habitation … i.e. a process of domus-making, which is an eminently cultural activity that structures peaceably an orderly community life.
The making of a “tamed space”
Examining Ms Bank’s feature photograph I noted the following features that can be associated with the sense of “tamed space”:
- A sense of unitary volume of the valley, of its cliff-like external limits and of the modulated limits of its internal parts
- The meaningful placing of people, objects and draft animals within the land, in various states of ploughing, planting and harvesting.
- The activity of people and their interactions on the land illustrated here by a lone person taking stock of the state of harvested sugar cane fields.
I also began to intuit the mutual taming effect of cultivated land, rural settlement and community life.
Can a street be something of a “tamed space” and feel like a “neighborhood”?
The question arose from a series of observations made from the vantage point of my living room window looking down on the one- way entrance stretchto the crescent shaped street I live on.
These observations dealt with remarkable manifestations of the civic handling of all sorts of situations involving vehicular and pedestrian traffic, which made me wonder if my street was not more than just a means of circulation?
To the extent that the observed civic behavior was the result of the street being appreciated by its residents as a shared resource for use and peaceable socialization, could it not be considered to have become a “neighborhood” i.e. a bona fide “tamed space” and a manifestation of “community life” ?
The making of a street-as-neighborhood
To answer that question let us examine that stretch of street in terms of the three features identified earlier that I will illustrate and briefly comment before discussing their mutual interaction.
Volume and limits: outer and inner
Given its modest size and age of development Place Decelles has a definite feel of urban room, with an entry and an exit opening, lined with three to five stories apartment buildings fronted with mature trees and hedges, and a three-lane wide, plus two for parking, paved area and concrete sidewalks.
It is a one-way crescent, off a main drag, with a name that a priori identifies its sense of place implying a territorial dimension linking it to its residents.
At night the effect of lit occupied spaces is striking as the presence of the occupants is made that much more conspicuous.
The machines: moving and stationed
The combined effect of the volume and limits features is generally to slow down the traffic whether searching for parking space or going through, to make of sidewalks walking and socializing areas and to accommodate waiting cabs, stopped delivery vans, double parked service trucks and private cars loading or unloading people and goods.
It is remarkable that all these vehicular maneuvering is not accompanied by the honking cacophony of main drag circulation, confirming the quieting effect of the urban room aspect of the street.
The people: acting and interacting
People, whether local residents, students and workers of local institutions, are either drivers of cars or bona fide pedestrians on errands or going to and getting off public transportation.
There is no lack of proximity services within walking distance from the street.
What is interesting are the many occasions people seem to find to stop on the sidewalk to chat before getting in, or after getting out of a car, to decide to jay walk across the street toward other people or their car, to stop by a concierge cleaning the sidewalk fronting the building or its garage access, or to stop after picking up their child from the local day-care center located near the main drag.
From five o’clock in the morning to past midnight there is no lack of people presence: car users or pedestrians somehow using sidewalks and pavement, alone or in small groups, of all ages and ethnic background, with or without children, etc.
The most anecdotic instances of such use that I witnessed were a night time impromptu net-less badminton game that would cede to incoming and slowing cars, and a beer drinking gathering sitting on the pavement by a car open door … summer time of course!
Whether moved by a sense of territorial imperative or by a sense of spatial environmental benevolence, the users of my stretch of street know they have entered a micro neighborhood inhabited by a micro community.
The taming of space is the obverse of the people’s civic way of using it … both mutually necessary to informal community life and to nurturing it in children!
Credit Maurice Amiel for all color photos
Credit Susan Bank for the feature photo as indicated in the text