Updated: May 21
This pie really should be sliced into more digestible servings but here is the last week in one big chunk. An endeavor to deepen my understanding of Public Space (Parks), Pop-Up Placemaking, and the protection of the cultural sector(s) centered around historical and contemporary hubs for creativity and innovation.
The week started in New York, my motherland, first time home in 3 years, alongside renowned French Artist, Dudali, who was born in the same place as Rémy Martin (Cognac, France). .
Our day consisted of three assignments: 1) An underground art hotel that we can only show pictures of
2) The famous Hotel Chelsea (now open after a ten year rehab battle)
3) The High Line and neighboring park-legend, Little Island
Our first stop in NYC was at Hotel Chelsea, originally conceived as a socialist utopian commune,
Hotel Chelsea & Why.
The significance of the hotel is poetically documented in Just Kids by Patti Smith, a book that was handed to me almost five years ago when New Orleanians dubbed me a poetess, a title that heightened after my debut at DogFish (DF). DF is a monthly reading series in a private home on North Villere in the St. Roch neighborhood that was both free and open to the public, which has been temporarily closed since COVID. The legendary, Tank from Tank and the Bangas got her start on that sweet home stage.
Alas, a deep belief in embracing the lasting energies of our ancestors led me to hunt down Hotel Chelsea. Fast forward to the inner bliss approaching the 19th-century Victorian Gothic landmark, where legends have rested their head either short-term or forever (death).
Hotel resident and author Ed Hamilton got it right when he said, "there's a current that courses through the old Chelsea Hotel, an electricity that drives people relentlessly to create....often drives inhabitants to madness."
The list of now-notable people and moments is too long but some of my favorites are: the dark aura of Room 100 where punk rocker Sid Vicious was allegedly killed by his girlfriend Nancy, club kid/murderer Michael Alig, Pop Icon Andy Warhol, honorary Beatnik Poet Charles Bukowski, the tortured soul of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, Jack Kerouac, Playwright Sam Shepard, Rock Star Patti Smith, seminal painter of the abstract expressionist movement Jackson Pollock, and American Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois.
The hotel is a case study of cultural clustering, districts, and the role of proximal communities in leading to what could potentially erupt into a global art and music movement. The outside is as important as the in. The hotel was designed by architect Philip Hubert, who was raised in a family devoted to the theories of the French philosopher Charles Fourier. Fourier forged the concept that the construction of self-contained settlements aimed at meeting every possible professional and personal need of its inhabitants was what the world needed. Hubert went from brain-to-brick and today we can continue to be enchanted by what is Hotel Chelsea.
Assignment Two and the Perpetual Assignment to Meet Banksy.
The second assignment location has a deep connection to Hotel Chelsea. The secret spot housed the vagrants that were displaced when Hotel Chelsea closed. What is a forty-five year old "art hotel" where Banksy painted, given the intimate nature of the private community, I feel compelled to omit the name/location as it should be protected in respect to both the inhabitants and culture associated to the rather sacred space.
With kindness and careness to resident legend and painter Jim Bilgere, after three years he had me as a guest. Jim had two shows at this undisclosed location, one of which was during the time Hotel Chelsea closed. He fondly recollects memories with his "second family."
I recognize the privilege to meet Neddy and his full-time caretaker, Sandy, who both live in this underground spot. I joked about carrying her up to the top floor since after seeing her struggle and knowing that the building has no elevator (albeit having one of the first elevators in the nation when it was erected in the 1800s according to the host, who said the building has operated as a "hotel' its entire existence).
I learned that: Neddy has a husband, a shy ginger kitty kat named Pom Poms or Pom for short, and Banksy loves the art so much he used the decrepit Mona Lisa in his “exit through the gift shop” film and then went on to stay and paint in the place. I asked a lot of questions and left a copy of Toni Smailagic's book in "the waiting room" before departing to the next stop.
Dudali and I then stopped at the famous dining choice to countless icons, Chelsea Square Restaurant, for Dudali's picture to be added to the "hall of fame" before heading to study The High-Line as a shiny star of adaptive reuse.
As a practitioner focused on public space(s), the most interesting of the sector are sidewalks and transportation hubs, in particular train tracks. It comes from a deep-fascination with clandestine graffitists and the occult society of 'freighthopping.' Standing on the High Line, its interesting to learn that freight trains that used to deliver food created dangerous conditions for pedestrians; 10th Avenue became known as “Death Avenue" since by 1910 more than 540 people had been killed by trains.
At one point, the anitque tracks had the short-sighted fate of demolition but citizens demanded it be repurposed. I am thankful to stand here today in a place that has earned the status as a global destination for both pedestrian use and a case study on the transformation of dead industrial zones into dynamic public spaces for and with the people!
After the three assignments, we ended with the first official gathering hosted by PlacemakingFL (PMFL), a brain baby that birthed from the current conceptualization of PlacemakingJax. Pictured here are some of the 'founding fathers' of modern American Placemaking alongside practitioners from France, Spain, and Puerto Rico and PMFL Founder Sherryl Muriente.
Warren Place Mews.
My last night in NYC, both feet graced the breeding grounds of palcemaking in the United States, where I FINALLY got to meet Mr. Fred Kent. Invited to a street lined with what are now million-dollar homes, the place was originally built as affordable housing in the late 1800s.
At just 11-feet wide this unique cluster of single family homes are each accompanied by a private garden and writer's cottage and stretch the block. Workers’ housing imagined and created by architectural firm William Field and Son, mews means a row of houses. Warren Place Mews are tucked away in Cobble Hill. The Romanesque Revival style is easily identified by the arches and windows. Additionally, the homes are embraced by a central courtyard, the grounds wrapped by iron gates and additional architectural features include cornices, paired arched doorways, and Gothic gables.
The Gemini man behind the plan?
Visionary housing-reformer and Civil Engineer Alfred Tredway White; a man of many titles but most distinct is “Brooklyn's first citizen.” He influenced new practices in both philanthropy (an early impact investor) and housing, inaugurating the housing reform movement with “affordable housing for the working poor.”
It felt surreal to sit over tea with the Father of Placemaking, Fred Kent, almost 13 years after I first laid eyes on the controversial and too-often abused word and launched a life of work to understand the good, the bad, and the very ugly of the power of people. Kent founded a street academy for high school dropouts called the Academy for Black and Latin Education (ABLE) as well as founded Project for Public Spaces, the organization that carried the torches of Jane Jacobs and William Whyte to usher 20th century placemaking, his "life-lessons' are outlined down below. The End.
Departing the United States.
After cabs, planes, trains, buses, and biked I arrived in The Netherlands as a student and teacher, to deliver a keynote to the most uniquely-minded designers of the world with a keen interest in their pop-up public spaces, The Netherlands.
Pictured above is RAUM, a place and organization that hosted and booked me alongside Dre Urhahn (United Painting) and Shruthi Nair, creative pioneers representing global "place-keeping" in Johannesburg and Brazil on the grounds of a city lab located at the Berlin Square in Leidsche Rijn, Utrecht.
It is immediately clear, the Dutch are immaculate designers and it's clear in all the pop-up villages created throughout the cities that evolve into sacred grounds to collect spirit and celebrate co-creation since they are birthed from an intentional and inclusive neighborhood development process in response to a rapid-fire gentrification of place. The main "theme" from the evening was heritage/history. Utrecht is one of the first cities in New-Netherlands with city rights, is known by the masses for its medieval center, and on June 2 will celebrate its 900th birthday.
My first meeting in the Netherlands was with Charlot Schans, an urban sociologist and anthropologist by training, with years of experience in developing and coordinating international networks, events and projects in the field of urban development and social innovation. Schans practices from a deep understanding that the most livable, sustainable and equitable cities around the globe are the result of effective co-creation.
We met at her office at University and A-Lab where STIPO is housed.
We took a deep-dive into the transformation of public space in neighborhoods (little cities) throughout the Netherlands. Each meeting and place is a case study to better understand design-principles and to contemplate the complexities of public space. The discussion centered around who owns, facilitates, directs, uses and/or is excluded from play and gain, as well as how both the built and social environment creates barriers to access. Furthermore, the day was scheduled specifically to focus on creativity and the value of the art(s) or what the Dutch calls "the DNA of a city" that results when those who use not just their mind but also use their hands are “in-charge.”
Le Corbusier is a man of many titles including but not limited to architect, designer, painter, urban planner, and writer. Similar to Fourier and Hotel Chelsea, he forever changed architectural thinking by proposing that spaces be healthier and safe, specifically low income neighborhoods, by raising the construction from ground level to “lift” up the built environment to have the first floor open for green lush spaces and public space (amenity). Ultimately, a pioneer of “modern architecture,” pictured above is one of his first brain-to-brick buildings in SE Amsterdam, which gen. pop non-lovingly refer to it as the "bad part."
MORE TO FOLLOW. Next Up: Further Study of Architecture & Street Art/Graff.
1. Go for the heart
2. Traffic engineers are philosophically the ultimate enemy
3. We’ve been in the dark ages for 45 years but the good news is COVID got us out, now it’s what we do with it
4. You need to turn everything upside down to get right side up to then go from inadequate to extraordinary
5. You can’t go anywhere from where you are
6. Understand who owns the intersection and sidewalks
7. City government has no social life department and CAN NOT operate under the 11 ways
8. Becoming part of a discipline is getting into the most danger and is the biggest threat to places with and by the people
6 policy areas, to advance racial inclusion and equitable growth: Good jobs, Economic security, Homegrown talent, Healthy neighborhoods, Housing / anti-displacement, Democracy and justice. Each tool contains information on what the policy is, key considerations, who can implement it, and examples of where it is working.
Program History and Structure oldest historic neighborhood known as 'Lowertown'. Lowertown, annexed in 1836, is adjacent to the historic Downtown area. http://paducahky.gov/lowertown-artist-program
https://littleisland.org https://raumutrecht-nl.translate.goog/info/?_x_tr_sl=auto&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=wapp https://www.bloomberg.org/annualreport/arts/utm_source=social&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=AnnualReportArts_051122&fbclid=IwAR1NwGUoDzWlxhYPUrRcpDHeQE8cQd2EkS8ei5_2fOgrDStnHrHMqmsL2aU