Happy New Year

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context - a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
Eliel Saarinen

This past week, my friend and fellow urbanist Blythe Bailey and I were given the opportunity to serve as facilitators for the Hunter Museum’s Art+Issues program. Each week of the series a selected speaker chooses a work in the museum and uses that as a starting point for a conversation concerning their particular field. As we share an affinity for all things urban: people, cities, public spaces and transportation, Blythe and I were both drawn to the Reginald Marsh painting,  Subway - 14th Street.  The painting is a snapshot of subway scene in New York in the 1930s, but perhaps more important than what is shown in the painting is what has not been shown. Out of frame are the portals into the city, the ultimate destination of the subjects in the painting.

Considering that the piece is as much about context as it is content, it made sense to discuss the context within which the piece was being viewed. The gallery in which the painting hangs is a relatively compressed space (in some ways similar to subway in the painting) with a low-hung waffle slab ceiling. From that space we emerge into the more voluminous gallery spaces of the museum and eventually outdoors. The museum itself occupies a place within a district, that district a place within downtown, and downtown a place within the larger region. From the standpoint of the built environment, the success or failure of all of those elements can be gauged by how well they relate to the context in which they exist. 

As we made our way through those spaces and out to the Museum balcony, we engaged in a conversation concerning various past projects and processes in the downtown area. The common thread in the success stories was a high level of public discourse and dialogue. The common thread in our failures has been lack of attention to context. What has not escaped notice of the participants is our flagging level of public discourse regarding the physical development of downtown. The silver lining to that cloud is that there seems to be a groundswell of concern over some regrettably designed projects and a clamoring for a return to the day of active dialogue and discourse.

We were both very pleased with the turnout and heartened to see how passionate so many of them were about downtown. We encouraged all to keep their eyes open for ways to contribute to the civic dialogue and to make their voices heard in processes over the coming months. Several little birdies have mentioned to me that a number of opportunities will present themselves this summer. More to come soon…

Switch Up- Last year has finally ended. I mark my years and seasons with sports. The year actually starts at summers end with the first Alabama football game. The year ends in late May with the last Birmingham City game. The remaining time is summer. This year was pretty lame- ‘Bama underachieved, and yesterday Blues got relegated. On the bright side the Tide killed the vols and Blues whipped up on Villa en route to winning the Carling Cup. I’m looking forward to a relaxing summer without the psychological rigours of fandom.

If I may quote from Conan..."What is best in life?"
"To crush your enemies -- See them driven before you,
and to hear the lamentation of their women!"

Switch Up- In breaking news, Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing & Watson was honored with the Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics. Apparently the bribes worked... oops...I've said too much. But seriously,  I'm very proud of all the whole crew. That's good stuff.

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