Gateway to the Neighborhood
This project began with the history of Washington Park, specifically at the end of the street that has been referred to as the "gateway to the neighborhood." This is an area that has been slowly declining in population and successful businesses since the 1950s. What was once an active area with multiple restaurants, hotels, and occupied homes is now an area of failing businesses and vacant houses and lots. The objective was to dissect the situation and find some answers that led to the decline of Washington Park.
To begin, interviews were conducted with locals who have lived in the Washington Park area for some time -- a business owner, a library worker, and a local resident. These interviews revealed that the neighborhood's decline seems to be a hole that is very difficult to dig out of. There are serious problems that prevent success such as economic issues, crime, and overall appearance of the area holding a bad reputation for living conditions and businesses. The local resident talked extensively about how the business owners were being fined for poor conditions of their buildings and lots. He reasoned that the businesses could not be successful if the profits were going to very costly repairs and renovations. This led to bankruptcy and building forfeiture.
To better understand the nature of businesses in Washington Park, the investigation went deeper into the idea of business aesthetics that seemed to be preventing success. Each building on the "gateway" strip was closely studied and compared to see which areas were doing better than others and for what reasons. From there, the aspects of pure aesthetics and surrounding environment were taken into account to gather clues about what the strong points of these buildings were versus where they needed improvement. To begin this study, the buildings were personally visited and photographed at three different scales -- from across the street, at the entrance, and at the level of material close-ups to show wear of the buildings. This information allowed for the buildings to be diagrammed and analyzed in the same way.
The full view scale gave an idea of what a person would see while quickly passing through the area. The overall appearance makes a big impression to a potential customer, and if a professional or comfortable look cannot be indicated, business will likely suffer. This ability to stop someone who is quickly passing through also helps the surrounding businesses, as people who are out to run an errand typically make multiple stops. The conclusion was that a building's exterior aesthetics can help bring people to an area. In the case of many of the buildings on the "gateway" strip of W. Lisbon Avenue, business was not being attracted, the signage was worn, and the materials were rundown and off-putting.
The next level of observation was to look closer at the buildings' entries. Not only did this reveal how a person might perceive a business from an outsider's standpoint, but it gave a more intimate look as to what one sees while walking by the front of the building. None of these buildings truly provided a comfortable entrance; most of the doors were right up to the street and had no view into the building, whereas an inviting business should allow some sort of buffer zone between the street and the door -- a welcome mat, so to speak. It was also observed that some of the more successful facades used quite a bit of transparency. This allows a potential customer to know what they are entering before actually going into the building, bringing about a sense of certainty, comfort, and security by putting eyes on the street from the inside.
The final level of analysis was more at the micro-scale, looking at the condition of the buildings' materials. Looking closely at the buildings' faces revealed where specific areas could be cleaned up to promote an overall healthy-looking and inviting building. What was found were many instances of dirty storefronts, windows, entrances, and signage. This provides a seeming lack of sense of ownership and care. A customer will naturally steer away from a situation such as this if they are not familiar with the area.
These three observations allowed for a thorough diagramming and specific insight to what was found in each building's analysis. The general consensus was that these buildings lacked in major areas that would promote an economic stimulation to the area. The business aspect of a neighborhood is very important, as it leads to a sense of community in an area if there are long-standing businesses. The residents stick around longer, and there are opportunities for locals to acquire jobs at these successful businesses. A good and clean business also reflects upon the areas around it, as the lots are cleaner, and the street and sidewalk in front of it tend to remain tidy.
The reading The Eyes of the Skin is one that relates very closely to the scope of this study, as it deals with the language of architecture engaging the sense and providing a human experience. The book teaches that architecture needs to have aspects that achieve a life-enhancing effect. Not only does architecture need to provide visual stimulation, but it is still lacking if it does not touch on the sense of sound, smell, and touch. The overall message here is that architecture is an art that takes integrity. Without close attention, spaces that negatively affect humans are being created.
From this research, a theory was formed on why this area of W. Lisbon Avenue has been on such a decline in these past decades. Moving forward, the results of this study will be used to provide solutions to some of the situations. Areas of interest will be entries to the buildings; these areas lack an inviting feel. What can be done to change this? Perhaps providing vestibule designs or landscaping solutions that allow the user to interact with the building before entering will improve the overall feeling of these businesses. Enhancing facades so that they are clean, inviting, and effective for the functions of the businesses they cover will be a main goal, along with opening the facades up to the street to provide security and engagement between the exterior and interior. By using creative design solutions, these possibilities will be further investigated, and a solution to revitalizing this end of W. Lisbon Avenue will hopefully be provided.