19 October 2012

municipal adaptations, by humans and by vegetation

The sidewalk ends but a path continues. South Broad Street, far south Philadelphia. October 2012.

One of the more enjoyable Internet-based finds I've made over the last year has been the work of Chris Berthelsen and his Tokyo-based urban lab, a-small-lab. His weekend explorations to the metropolitan fringes of Tokyo, walking around and exploring for the tiny disruptions of gardens in the concrete and asphalt landscape of urban Japan, or the  creativity of Tokyo's residents to improve upon or fix small elements of their day-to-day lives is a window into the small details of living in a city and a country that has, for me at least, remained foreign aside from the writings of Haruki Murakami, the films of Hayao Miyazaki, and assorted articles about Japan's place global economy or awesome espresso. And perhaps Murakami, films, and articles all conspire to keeping Japan foreign. But Berthelsen's work opens up the urban fabric of Tokyo, the little pocket gardens along a sidewalk or the place of semi-mythological feral raccoon-dogs in the nighttime streets and back alleys is an enjoyable, informative, and highly insightful diversion from my scholarly research on and daily life in cities in the United States.

In the spirit of Berthelsen's work, I've attempted over the past month to first 'see' and then to document similarly unique and/or strange but normal elements of Philadelphia. In the photo above is a local adaptation of an poorly-thought out sidewalk situation. The road on the right merges into Broad Street on the left, the main north-south artery through central Philadelphia. Rather than continue the sidewalk to cross to its continuation, the planners just ended the concrete, leaving residents to continue the path themselves. The three photos below, while perhaps not fitting with the DIY impulse that a-small-lab seeks out, document vegetation overtaking views in Fairmount Park. The benches at one point presented a view of the Schuylkill River, along with the Delaware River on the eastern side of the city, one of the two rivers that define central Philadelphia's boundaries. The park's gardeners come through and mow the grass regularly, but the fringe of shrubbery and trees has completely overtaken any view, leaving the benches to present a scene of urban nature likely not intended by the landscape architects who located the benches where they are. The three benches are ordered with the first one furthest downstream and consequently closest to the city itself, and the other two progressing out and upstream toward the city's edge.

Bench 1 in Fairmount Park along West River Drive. At one point this bench overlooked the Schuylkill River, but the riot of growth now interrupts the view.

Bench 2, also not overlooking the Schuylkill River.

...and Bench 3, looking out at trees instead of the river. These three photos from mid-September 2012.

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