“WHO-O-O is it?”

After seeing the title of this post and the video grab above, did you involuntarily say to yourself, in a tough New Yawk accent, “It’s the plumber. I’ve come to fix the sink”?

If you did, then you are the reason for this blog post.

In case you don’t know, the above picture is from an animated sketch featured on the old PBS children’s show, “The Electric Company.” (You can refresh your memory by watching the video on YouTube. And does the plumber really die at the end?)

In an earlier post titled “What creates community?” I said that shared stories create community, and that sharing happens when people experience the same happening. And although I edited it later, I originally said:

A group of individuals sitting at home watching the same show on separate televisions does not create community.

My dear wife read my post and gently took me to task. Not that unceasing television watching is an automatic good, but she reminded me that among people of our generation, growing up in the late ’70s, there is a certain kind of odd shared TV heritage.

In fact, all through the 20th century, there were different low-culture activities that you pretty much enjoyed alone — such as radio and TV shows, sports and movies — but then could talk about with your friends later.

And yes, books count too, Harry Potter fans.

As with any thing else, overuse of television cuts you off from friends, because you’re spending time that should be social time staring at the screen. But as my wife said, “Television actually can help you make connections with strangers.” Because then you have a shared experience with other people who root for the Colts, are addicted to “Lost” or still struggle with the hallucinogenic effects of watching too many Sid and Marty Krofft shows.

Traditional neighborhoods and modern architecture

Scott Greider, over on his personal blog, quotes a portion of the San Jose historic design guidelines that addresses the role of modern architecture in older neighborhoods. (If you’re adventurous, you can download the entire 95-page PDF.)

What does San Jose say? It says, “Bring it on”:

Rather than imitating older buildings, a new design should relate to the traditional design characteristics of a neighborhood while also conveying the stylistic trends of today. New construction may do so by drawing upon some basic building features — such as the way in which a building is located on its site, the manner in which it relates to the street and its basic mass, form and materials — rather than applying detailing which may or may not have been historically appropriate. When these design variables are arranged in a new building to be similar to those seen traditionally in the area, visual compatibility results. Therefore, it is possible to be compatible with the historic context while also producing a design that is distinguishable as being newer.

A modern-style home can be a wonderfully contrasting complement to a historic neighborhood. It certainly beats decay and vacant lots, and it also beats a hundred suburban neo-Colonials with three-car garages in front.

I can’t say the modern home above is my style, but frankly, plenty of older, classical homes aren’t my style, either.

The style of the structure is not the main point. Urbanism is site plan more than architecture. If you bring the house close to the sidewalk, put the parking or garage in the back and make the front wall permeable (that is, not a blank wall), you are strengthening a neighborhood, no matter the style of architecture.

— photo of modern townhouse in Lincoln Park, Ill., by Scott Greider on Flickr

10 reasons cities are works of art

The Work Research Foundation‘s Comment magazine published a little point of view piece called “Public Arts in the City: with reference to Chicago.”

Not only does the author — Clinton Stockwell, the executive director of the Chicago Semester — give ten positive reasons for considering cities as works of art, he peppers his short essay with great quotes, including these:

“Place is space with historical meanings, where some things have happened which are now remembered and provide continuity and identity across generations.” — Walter Brueggemann

“Art points out to the Calvinist both the still visible lines of the original plan, and what is even more, the splendid restoration by which the Supreme Artist and Master-Builder will one day renew and enhance even the beauty of His original creation.” — Abraham Kuyper in Lectures on Calvinism

Read the essay here.

photo of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue by kitchaboy on Flickr

What creates community?

What creates community? Shared stories.

Shared stories require three things, two of which are obvious:

  • A story, or any kind of happening, even a small happening, like a game of cards.
  • Some sharing, that is, a group of people who experience the same happening.

But a shared story also requires:

  • A first-hand, intimate knowledge that the story is being shared.

A group of individuals sitting at home watching the same show different shows on separate televisions does not create community. But the smallest thing shared with a neighbor does.

An example of a shared story is the above photo, which was taken in downtown Wheeling, W.Va., in 1950. A parade had gone up Market Street — you can see it in the background. Today, downtown Wheeling is almost vacant and you must drive ten miles to a shopping mall to do any substantial shopping.

— photo from the author’s personal collection

Creating a pedestrian and bicycle friendly downtown

That’s the title of a promising event May 7 at the downtown Cinema Center.

Dan Burden, executive director of Walkable Communities, will be leading an event that hopes to answer these questions:

What are the elements that make up a pedestrian and bicycle friendly downtown? Learn what Fort Wayne can do to make our downtown more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. What are other successful communities doing? What are your questions?

Fore more information, check out The Good City’s new events page. When I find out more about what will actually happen at the event — Is it a presentation? A charrette? Very few details are on the city’s press release — I’ll post the information.