Space, Place, & Identity
The assignment for this class is to find ways to make a section of W. Lisbon Avenue grow stronger in the community. In the beginning, the approach was to divide the street into five different sections, one of which spanned between N. 33rd Street and N. 36th Street. The first task was to find as much history as possible in order to gain an understanding of what the major road once was. In doing this, it was discovered that W. Lisbon Avenue used to have more businesses than it does today. The next task was to investigate assets that could be used, built, or refurbished in order to bring back the life and strength of the community. Within this span of W. Lisbon Avenue between N. 33rd Street and N. 36th Street, there are empty lots and boarded up houses that used to be strong community focal points. One such site was a bank that was demolished, and another one was once a popular corner store. These empty lots, along with some of the boarded up houses, that are seen as damaging to the community from an outside perspective can be altered to create a place that brings the community together and can ultimately change that perspective.
Throughout the book Place: A Short Introduction by Tim Cresswell, an understanding began to reveal itself as to what could be done in order to make a place with more than just a geography and location. Within the book, Tim begins to breakdown the multitude of ways in which the term 'place' is used and misused. He also explains how place is wrapped in common sense, and it must be unwrapped in order to be able to create true places from 'placelessness.' He also explores the ways to create place from space, which is directly related to the goal of turning the empty lot spaces into gardens or green areas that could potentially become community meeting places. These are points that have been in the history of W. Lisbon Avenue that need to be brought back.
On W. Lisbon Avenue between N. 33rd Street and N. 36th Street there is not much to see at first glance except for small businesses, schools, and a church. After a little while, the vacant lots, open spaces, and boarded up houses become more noticeable. After seeing the street's condition, the average visitor may conclude that W. Lisbon Avenue simply is not a good place, but, as Cresswell mentioned, the word 'place' is a term that is often misused.
In Place: A Short Introduction, Cresswell writes "It is also a problem as no one quite knows what they are talking about when they are talking about place." This study begins with this problem because most people just see W. Lisbon Avenue as a 'bad place.' What people need to see is the real 'place' that is this street, because even though it was once a richer area, the people living there still find ways to make it rich by taking the negatives and using them as positives in their daily lives. By bridging literature from Tim Cresswell's work with this study, W. Lisbon Avenue's seemingly negative aspects can be re-imagined as positives. Place can be used to identify spaces, identity, and home. These terms create smaller spaces within much larger ones. Instead of vacant lots, they are spaces; instead of boarded up houses, they are homes; and instead of random spots where people throw things out, they are identity.
Space, identity, and home all matter because they are important parts of the word 'place' and help to create new places on W. Lisbon Avenue. People coming from outside the neighborhood do not see how space, identity, and home come together to create a place for the people living there. Gathering takes place in the spaces that the open lots provide; it creates a different path of circulation apart from the sidewalks and streets, which gives the neighborhood a free feeling. Even though there are many boarded up houses in the area, these houses can give the neighborhood a feeling of home, as these houses can be fixed and used as shelter. The porches and steps of these boarded up houses also provide for small gathering places in certain parts of the neighborhood for kids. The random spots where people throw trash, old toys, and furniture are an identity of the neighborhood. To outsiders, these areas looks bad, but for the people living there, the story is a little different. This also creates a place for children to go and have fun with some of the used materials that people throw away, as well as allowing others to reuse items they still see as valuable. As space, home, and identity were discovered in the W. Lisbon Avenue area, a number of methods were also revealed to verify the above conclusions. Firsthand account from actual Washington Park residents revealed these findings to be true.
Now the question of what comes next comes to the forefront. Here is an area that looks broken but is actually full of potential. The open spaces can create areas for positive community gatherings in many different forms. Re-purposed alleyways that, at times, hold community artifacts can enhance the sense of identity. Lastly, the homes, places that are vacant but still standing in the community, continue to add to the overall sense of community. These unused houses hold the history of the people in their essence and in the architecture. They have attributes that recount the past and act as blueprints for the future.
The answer to the question "What next?" is to come up with feasible solutions to create proper amenities that work to enhance the ideas of 'space, identity, and home' within the community. For example, many of the neighborhood's younger population can be found gathering in open spaces and alleyways, playing with things that were set outside by other community members. This is a positive example of appropriating used or unwanted artifacts, but how does this become an actual amenity that embodies this act and the constructiveness that can come from it? Ultimately, there must be a lot of consideration of what still is, what once was, and what could be present in a space. By thinking outside of the box, this community's enrichment process can see a great boost.