From backyard to street fronting
My recent move took me from a backyard fronting apartment to a street fronting one; from a green space shared by half a dozen apartment building and looked upon by more than a dozen or more balconies, to a rectangular crescent whose shape produced a sense of gathering “hollow” at one of its two bends. See Feature image, of entrance to my building, taken from my balcony and image below, of entrance to neighboring perpendicular building, taken from my window.
Watching the “hollow” at summer’s end
Although we both see the same things, my cat and I may not be watching for the same activities … a sharp noise will cause him to decamp while I register the banal door slamming of the delivery truck I may be expecting.
What we both find interesting, for different reasons, are the activities occurring in the public space of the “hollow.”
In his milestone Life Between Buildings, Jan Gehl proposed the following categories of activities we may find in urban public spaces, as they relate to their physical features:
- Purposeful and “necessary activities” that can be facilitated or hampered by physical and human features: walking to catch a bus, going to work or school, distributing mail, waiting for a person, etc.
- “Optional activities” based on spontaneous decisions to participate in encounters with others that are suggested by physical and human features if time and place allow them: deciding to sit on that parapet to take in the sun or stop under a tree shadow to cool off and have a bite and watch a food truck crowd, etc.
- “Social activities” that may result from the above categories as encouraged by the physical setting: greeting and conversation, passive contacts and general awareness of people around one, etc.
Of the “necessary activities” category, let us note in our case the continuous roll of delivery trucks and people mindless of proper parking practices and the rushed pedestrian traffic in search for the shortest distance across the street, etc. … with the resulting wave of the hand and blinking lights strategies to avoid conflicts!
Of the “optional activities” category, let us note dog walking, returning children from school and walking baby in a pram, improvised street badminton games at night with little to no traffic … i.e. activities that thrive on sympathetic, slow, or no traffic, wide sidewalks and nooks and crannies of building, hedges, landscaped retaining walls and garage entrances … all promoters of unexpected encounters, clannish banter, etc.
These brief notes on the life of a street corner “hollow” must take in account two essential contributing factors:
The social mix of residents: basically students, young families, immigrants of various origins and retired people who may be rushed by time constraints on necessary activities or eased by freer time into street encounters at various time of day and night.
The spatial structure of the “hollow” as an “open corner”, key to its “gathering” ambiance as already discussed in a previous post.
Credit Maurice Amiel for all images