Public Space Essays

Public Space Essays-36
The woman behind the counter disappeared and returned with an angry Doberman.Understanding that the woman did not quite value him as a possible sale, ...

Sometimes an effort to revive a broken place involves a charismatic leader like Mac Adams, or even an establishment figure like the architect Frank Gehry. Others have described people like Mac Adams who reclaim broken places as nimble, fast-moving “innovator bees” who commit their creativity and time to the community where they live, work, play, and volunteer.

(My take: Conflict with establishment figures is part of most efforts to revive a broken place—at least those efforts that grow into something big.) But sometimes broken places are reclaimed without the involvement of well-known figures like Mac Adams or Gehry. A group called The Ugly Indian was launched in Bangalore, India, in 2010, when everyday citizens decided they could no longer tolerate desecration of their city’s public spaces by trash and human defecation.

The Ugly Indian started with one cleanup in Bangalore, and spread to hundreds of spotfixes across India and now Pakistan. The Ugly Indian cleverly exploits traditional and modern Indian culture.

The organizers invite housemaids—the very ones who take out the trash and dump it in public spaces—to create traditional rice flour drawings on the spotfix sites for people to enjoy.

Dear Reader, One of the questions I have been asked most often by aspiring writers is how I began to publish.

Variations of the question hint at certain myths about the publishing business—how being at the right place at the right time, or having the right connection to the right people, would be the most important factor in one’s career.The group organized volunteers for what became known as a “spotfix”—an effort to pick up garbage and install pathways, planters, trash bins, and no-smell urinals in what had been a smelly, ugly space along a city street in Bangalore.These volunteers remained anonymous so that no one person would grab the credit for transforming rubbish and stench into a public space people could enjoy.They figured out that painting walls a maroon color would cover the statins of betel nut spit without provoking tensions among India’s different ethnic groups, which consider maroon a neutral color.The anonymous professionals and volunteers behind The Ugly Indian are structural and social architects—not of Gehry’s stature and not public figures like Mac Adams—but architects nevertheless.In another illustration, Staples describes an instance in which he was delivering a story to the editor of a magazine for which he was writing, and was mistaken for a burglar.While racing to his editor's desk in order to meet his deadline, the office manager and an "ad hoc posse" (199) of security personnel began to chase him through the building.They also need to recognize the multiple benefits that a broken place can hold.The Los Angeles River has become the center of a revival movement as Angelenos have come to see it as more than a means to control floods or a place to dump trash."I had no way of proving who I was," Staples writes."I could only move briskly toward the company of someone who knew me." (106) While writing for a Chicago paper, Staples walked into a jewelry store in another well-off part of town, and encountered another situation where his skin color came into play.


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