Tuesday, September 5, 2023

The Yin and Yang of Main Street

Two fascinating articles in the Times touched on issues of Main Street. The first, by Emily Badger, was about the empty ground floor stores in San Francisco. She quoted Conrad Kickert on Main Street. He organized a special issue of the journal Built Environment, which included a paper by Jacob Izenberg, Doug Farrand, Molly Rose Kaufman and me. We wrote about using music to support the small businesses on Orange's Main Street. In Badger's piece, Kickert said butcher paper covering windows of empty stores was the worst. 

These scenes have such an effect on us, Mr. Kickert said, because the vast majority of our interaction with architecture and buildings happens at the ground floor. It’s where we form our sense that a street is safe and vibrant, or that something doesn’t feel right. It’s where the city comes to life in its jumbled diversity: the cocktail lounge next to the dry cleaner next to the ramen shop, but also the financier next to the tourist next to the retail clerk.

At the same time, an article about the "Republic of Super Neighbors" in Paris showed how small-scale relations of neighboring make the city a happy and safe place. Even, the article noted, improving composting, the return of lost items and street safety.  

So we could leave our cities for dead OR we could reanimate them by helping people connect with one another, making the living village in the city. Years ago, a student in our "Urbanism Track" at Mailman School of Public Health took a photo of dilapidated Harlem storefront that had a sign: "Space for rent. Huge potential."

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