Places and Spaces: Filling Empty Spaces

This is the final post in a short series on the issue of “place.” Place and space are sometimes used in interchangeably, but less so recently. If you think about it, you can reason why. “Place” has connotations of significance to the people who use it. “Space” could have these same connotations, but the word itself implies a sort of nothingness: think outer space. Through this short series of posts, I’ll be emphasizing the importance of examining your own world in terms of its places and spaces. This has more implications than just academic, if you do commit to understanding places and spaces you can begin to change them and make them “better.” For an introduction to this series, click here.

In this post, we explore efforts to make spaces into places. As we saw in the second post (here) a consequence of our (the “West’s”) obsession/dependence upon automobile-borne transportation, particularly private forms, has been literal and figurative dead spaces. Spaces where nothing grows and no one goes.

One hallmark of humanity is that we do try to improve our surroundings, not only functionally but aesthetically. Of course, aesthetically pleasing places are usually tied to affluence (thanks politics!). The pictures below were all taken in Arlington, Virginia and highlight the in-between nature between places and spaces. I don’t have a clever word to describe these spots. Splace? There we go, splace. It sounds kind of silly and amorphous, which is what these splaces are.

Art under an Underpass, Arlington, VA (via ME!)

Art under an Underpass, Arlington, VA (via ME!)

Colored Columns, Arlington, VA (via ME!)

Colored Columns, Arlington, VA (via ME!)

The two pictures above are…interesting. The first depicts art underneath a freeway overpass. I don’t know how I would feel about my artwork being relegated to an area under an underpass, countless motorists passing over your work, 99% not realizing that they’re speeding over it. As a pedestrian I suppose I appreciate the sentiment, this is on the way to the grocery store for me, but do I ever stop to admire this? No. And it’s not la gallery where the work is rotated occasionally. And if it is than I’m also making my point. I don’t stop here, I’m underneath an overpass. The second just makes me laugh whenever I run by it. Colored columns. Recently, a friend observed that it this was affluent-place behavior. I have to agree, spending money to paint overpass-support columns. Incidentally, these dead spaces end up housing the very things that birth their existence – automobiles.

An...underpark? Arlington, VA (via ME!)

An…underpark? Arlington, VA (via ME!)

And then there’s the picture at left. A park built under an overpass. It’s quite curious. I still don’t know if it’s a good idea. My friend and I visited this splace (since its right across from the colored columns above) and didn’t quite know what to make of it. I certainly doesn’t help that the building outside the shot produces a loudish buzzing. No grass. No trees. Nothing, except some benches, a trashcan, and a lot of rocks. I wouldn’t spend time here, but there are quite a few cigarette butts lying about so I guess that’s one use for this splace.

Despite these futile attempts at creating a livable place, there are some notable mentions.

Park Row, Arlington, VA (via ME!)

Park Row, Arlington, VA (via ME!)

Roadside Gym, Arlington, VA (via ME!)

Roadside Gym, Arlington, VA (via ME!)

The two photos above show some notable splaces. On the left is a row of benches and greenspace just outside a very tall hotel. While a wonderful idea, benches and greenspace, rather than have the benches face the green grass they face…a blank building wall. The roadside gym is actually a great idea. There is an on-ramp in this shot but it’s wonderfully obscured in most places by trees. There’s a basketball hoop, a running trail, and outdoor exercise equipment making it a place for fitness. When I’m in the area I routinely see people at the basketball hoops or sitting on the benches, relaxing.

There are some lessons to be drawn from these photos and I have been harping on these concepts throughout the series. The importance of green space. We’ve spent most of our evolutionary history outdoors, in and among greenery. I know (but can’t cite a reference) that some studies of urban workers (in Finland) found that the happiest and most stress free took frequent vacations or lunch breaks to “natural areas”, whether further in a “rural area” or in a park. Similarly, others kept pictures and paintings of greenery in their cubicles – to remind them of life outside a building. Green space needs good lighting. As we’ve spent most of our time outdoors, we’ve invariably spent it in the sun (we get vitamins from that star too). Freeway underpasses can never, ever be a place for humans. There’s no light and no green.

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