Municipal Art Society’s “Jane’s Walk” West Village, May 5th 2012,was fun and invigorating. 

I was the “official” photographer and took my mission seriously, running ahead, falling back, click click click.  Get the shot.

Joan Schechter  is a pro tour-guide and she covered the architecture and history of the Village by the lights of Jane Jacob.

Jane's Walk 2012 - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

How did it happen that Michael Levine, Charlie Anderson and I veered of the path of the official walk and viola! began a sensational wander?

It started outside of 555 Hudson – do you recognize that address? It was Jane’s last home in the US, before leaving for Canada as a protest of the Vietnam War, and a way to save her son from the draft.  The kind current owner showed up at the front door – perhaps she heard the sounds of our group of 75 determined tour-ists?

At Janes house - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

As the group moved on to the wonders of West Village, some of us stayed on to discuss the building and her apartment.  Michael had visited Ms. Jacobs in 1967 and wondered about details: were the rooms still configured the way they had been, what about the roof garden?  Soon, the house owner offered a home view. Up we tramped on the narrow creaky staircase.

Janes house - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

Oohs and aahs, the original planked floor, the window where Jane made her observations, Micheal’s memory of cockroaches that lived there too (whose apartment did not have roaches at that time?).  All were discussed and photographed.

Jane's window - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

By the time we reached the sidewalk again our tour group had gone.  We tried to guess their track, and turned up Bleecker.  There, we discussed the merits of “obstructions” (the remnants of slate-sidewalk past), embedded relics of railings and tiny trap doors for coal.

Bleecker Street - looking down, Photos by Leni Schwendinger

We bemoaned the endangered species of Village life…

Endangered species of Village life - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

Our conversation unqualifiedly animated to find like-minds appreciative of the “nature” of urban accretion, we retired to Cafe Angelique for refreshment.

Cafe Angelique, photo by Leni Schwendinger

What was learned?  Urban planner Michael conflated my interest in Found Lighting to Found Seating. Architect Charlie shared his quest to walk all over the city at all hours of the night shooting photos of doors, building materials, people of all stripes and his upcoming blog on the same.

Found Seating - Photos by Leni Schwenidnger (and Michael Levine)

Seating? Photos by Leni Schwendinger

An all together satisfying New York City, nay, Manhattan experience, was had by all.

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The walk according to the New York Times: “One Jane’s Walk tour starts at the Christopher Street subway station in Greenwich Village, where Jacobs arrived after moving from Scranton, Pa., to pursue a writing career. Another sticks to Roosevelt Island, focusing on how it evolved from a purely institutional setting of mostly almshouses and hospitals into a planned residential community. You can explore the Rockaways in Queens or visit “Main Street U.S.A.” in Tottenville, on Staten Island.”

The listing by sponsor Municipal Art Society:

Jane Jacobs’ West Village

Time: 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Walk Host: Joan Schechter

Meeting Place: 7th Ave. South & Christopher St., in front of Village Cigar

Accessibility: Partially Accessible – curbs, uneven terrain, busy sidewalks

Description: In 1934, 18 year old Jane Jacobs arrived in NYC from Scranton to pursue a writing career. While exploring her new environs, she found herself at Christopher Street Station, and immediately began her love affair with Greenwich Village. Our tour will include the history of the area, woven with stories and relevant sights of Jane’s epic battles with city bureaucracy and the powerful Robert Moses to preserve her beloved Village. Walkers will visit Hudson Street, where she lived for 20 years, observing its daily ‘intricate sidewalk ballet’ that was the inspiration for her acclaimed first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, as well as see several other historic sites that would not exist today if it were not for her successful grassroots activism.

Selected dérive posts in this blog:

Islington After Dark, A London Light Walk 

Leni Schwendinger Lights the Way

Public Lighting Theory – developing the nexus of lighting and urban design

Mexico City,  Las Calles y Luz de “La Capital”

Public Lighting Walk with Leni

Dérive, a Cultural Week in Manhattan (July 2009)

Dérive, a Cultural Week in Manhattan (May 2009)

*dérive

One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll. In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones. — Theory of the Dérive by Guy-Ernest Debord

Leni Schwendinger on camera

The urban nighttime environment is a dark canvas that humans have created – our previously daytime oriented “clocks” have been extended into the night.

Lighting designers work with architects, engineers and landscape architects to illuminate city structures – including buildings, bridges, parks – to make these places visible and safe to walk at night.

But, before that act of design, there should be an urban -planning and -design phase to determine how the public spaces of our cities will be lit.  This intersection of lighting and urban design interests me.  It is important to merge the ideas of urban design with public lighting design – taking the uses of buildings, pedestrian and transportation patterns into account.  Street-scape design — street alignments, curbs, medians and street furniture — sets the stage for public lighting. I am not just talking about utility lighting – I am looking at creative lighting that exposes the built environment at night – promoting legibility (“where am I”?) but also illumination practices that encourage public connections and conversations and more usage of our sidewalks and public life.

Public Lighting Video Storyboard

Urban designer Brian McGrath and I have developed classifications of light in the public realm.

Public lighting is provided by the city or utility as the very basic in safety lighting.  It is augmented by private sources of lighting – significantly, cars themselves with their headlights.  Additionally shop windows, displays and various types of commercial buildings provide light on the sidewalk to help pedestrians find their way cheerfully and safely.

Finally the phone booths, bus shelters, light billboards and even ATMs provide what I call “found” lighting.

In addition to “designed” lighting, emergent — undesigned — systems develop as site-specific “unplanned” lighting.  Light added by users, inhabitants, building owners, etc. can help the designer understand the needs of a neighborhood by documenting the incidental additions of light.

In mid-October Light Projects will release a short video tape produced by TVGals – an on-the-street light walk – where I will reveal the concepts of public, private and found lighting in depth.