Monday, March 24, 2008

A moving story

Last week I moved out of my office of 18 years. This required packing up books, papers, tapes, maps, photographs and all the detritus that can accumulate in a research office over that long a period of time. The hat I got in Detroit, while visiting their Halloween night anti-arson activities. The voodoo doll magnet meant to fend off hostility. The dirt, air, water and light people have brought back as presents from cities around the world. Water from Lourdes has to move as it might come in handy one day. Dirt from Centre and Kirkpatrick in Pittsburgh has to go, because that's the center of the universe. At a certain point, everything goes into a box to get sorted later. The move is a learning experience, too. Our offices were being relocated because of gentrification in the neighborhood. We learn that the men that are moving us are also affected by gentrification, but their company is going out of business, and they are losing their jobs. One of the men who was helping us had been with the company for 37 years and was being turned out without severance pay or any other financial consideration. These forces are affecting Main Street, though the pace of change will likely be slowed by the economic downturn. While it's on pause, we have a moment to think about the future and to ponder how we shape new investment to promote stability and continuity, not simply upheaval and displacement.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What Main Street Maplewood Has (and 57th St Doesn't!)

Main Street Maplewood is an irregular 3 block stretch that lies in the embrace of the train station and its parking.  This tight, useful conjunction of city services and public transit is humming with people.  I visited in the middle of the day, when many of the visitors were pre-schoolers out for some urbanization.  In addition to good eats, there was a supermarket, movie theater, post office, and bank for taking care of business, a candy store for odds and ends, and some interesting spots for shopping.  One might say Maplewood designed its Main Street for its own convenience.  It is not on a major road, the way Main Street Bogota is.  Rather, the voyager has to follow the signs from Valley Road in order to get there.  Tucked away as it is, it is an insiders' locus of transactions.  It is a crossroads of a pleasant town, and it serves as a place of exchange.  This is highlighted by the many, many messages people have put up for each other.  I was struck by the town bulletin board, which was covered with colorful and informative leaflets.  But I also noticed lots of posters and leaflets in the windows of the stores.  The people of Maplewood are in conversation with each other, using the windows of Main Street as a tool of communication.  So what about 57th Street in Manhattan?  A wonderful street in its own right, but not one community bulletin board that I could spot...