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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Kimmelman’

Even if, like me, you never got into the TV show “The Wire,” you may know that it was about a troubled section of Baltimore. You also may be interested in a new school there, intended to serve as a real community gathering place.

New York Times design critic Michael Kimmelman has the story.

“In many ways, public schools are gated communities, dead zones,” writes Kimmelman. “They’re shuttered after dark and during the summer, open to parents and students while in session but not to the larger community.

“A new public school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in East Baltimore wants to challenge the blueprint. Designed by Rob Rogers, of Rogers Partners in New York, Henderson-Hopkins, as it’s called, aspires to be a campus for the whole area — with a community center, library, auditorium and gym — as well as a hub for economic renewal.

“This is the neighborhood where parts of ‘The Wire’ were filmed. In 2000, when the city’s mayor convened local business leaders, the vacancy rate was 70 percent. Poverty was twice the city average. Crime, infant mortality and unemployment were all through the roof.

“The idea that emerged — of making the school the centerpiece of a major redevelopment project — is a grand urban experiment. Operated by Johns Hopkins University in collaboration with Morgan State University, the school, which opened in January, belongs to a $1.8 billion plan that also includes new science and technology buildings, a park, retail development and mixed-income housing. While gentrification might threaten to displace the poor, the school is to be the glue that helps bind the district together.” Read more here.

Photo: Matt Roth for The New York Times
Henderson-Hopkins, which shares its library, gym, auditorium, and other features with the surrounding area, is designed to catalyze change in a blighted section of Baltimore.
 

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Of the various articles written recently about the elderly Koreans hanging out in a McDonald’s in Queens, the one I liked best and learned the most from was Michael Kimmelman’s at the NY Times. He asks an intriguing question.

“Why that McDonald’s?

“The kerfuffle started when word spread that the police were repeatedly evicting elderly Korean patrons from a McDonald’s in Queens. The Koreans have been milking their stays over $1.09 coffees, violating the restaurant’s 20-minute dining limit. The news made headlines as far away as Seoul. Last week, Ron Kim, a New York State assemblyman, brokered a détente: The restaurant promised not to call the police if the Koreans made room during crowded peak hours.

“Still, the question remains. The McDonald’s at issue occupies the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards, in Flushing. A Burger King is two blocks away. There are scores of fast-food outlets, bakeries and cafes near Main Street, a half-mile away

“So, in the vein of the urban sociologist William H. Whyte, who helped design better cities by watching how people use spaces, I spent some time in Flushing. What I found reinforced basic lessons about architecture, street life and aging neighborhoods.” Read it all.

My key takeaways: older people, especially those with canes, think two blocks from home is OK, but not four; elderly people like picture windows and a busy street corner with a constantly changing scene; they like looking in to see if people like them are inside (the McDonald’s on Main Street has older Chinese, not Koreans); they like little nooks where a group can gather comfortably.

As a longtime booster of walkable communities, I find it all makes perfect sense. If such naturally occurring communities continue to appear, perhaps they should be encouraged, with some kind of compensation for the business owner. What if the city redirected some money for senior programs to a business that provided space in downtimes? Crazy?

My husband frequents a coffee shop group where folks hang out but not all day. That group has had its differences with the proprietor, goodness knows. There ought to be ways to make everyone happy.

Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
Picture windows, lively traffic and easy access for the elderly: the McDonald’s at Northern and Parsons Boulevards in Queens.

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A new exhibit organized by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York demonstrates the power of design to make life better for disadvantaged people.

“This is a design show about remaking the world … And that’s thrilling,” writes Michael Kimmelman, “whether it’s happening in Cupertino, Calif., or Uganda, where H.I.V. infects hundreds of people a day, and the latest news cellphone-wise has been the design and distribution of a text-messaging system that spreads health care information.

“In Kibera, an area of Nairobi, Kenya, and one of the densest slums in Africa, the challenge was different. Traditional wood and charcoal fires cause rampant respiratory disease there. Refuse fills the streets. So a Nairobian architect designed a community cooker, fueled by refuse residents collect in return for time using the ovens.

“From cellphones and cookers to cities: in Thailand, a public program called Baan Mankong Community Upgrading has, for the last eight years, been improving conditions in hundreds of that country’s 5,500 slums, bringing residents together with government and nongovernment agencies to design safer, cleaner places to live.”

Read more in the NY Times.

You will also enjoy reading about slum (favela) painting in Brazil and what a new coat of paint can do for building residents’ skills while lifting their spirits.

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