Urbanism To Me

Urbanism is people-watching. Urbanism is walking the dog at night. Waiting for the bus in the rain, comparing boots and disliking umbrellas.  Streets with or without cars; paths for wheels; sidewalks for eating, or shopping, or strolling. Bundling the baby in a stroller to get to daycare on cold mornings.  Riding the train to work.  City living and dreaming of owning a yard.  Visiting relatives in the suburbs to remember it’s not worth the yard. Traveling and walking, walking, and more walking.  Skyscraper views out the window, due South.  Baseball park views due North.  Fire-escape gardens and neighborly noises.  Studying strangers on the street corner. Calculating the groceries that fit in one backpack and 4 reusables bags. Anonymity amongst familiar crowds. Parallel parking and paying to park. Big parks, small playlots, and potted plants. Towers with elevators, third floor walk-ups, carriage units, roommates in houses with envious gardens, and double-loaded corridors. I’ve had the great fortune to experience life from all of these perspectives, which has catalyzed the urbanist in me. I’d love to know, what is your urbanism?

Submitted by JS ::: This is the first in a series of short posts that intend to further shed light on each of our interests.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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Mardi Gras is arguably the best use of a city street to have ever been conceived.  The typical unkempt medians of New Orleans grandiose boulevards (lovingly called neutral ground) are used year long by streetcars and joggers save for 2 weeks when the 4 mile parade route transforms into a magical scene.  Carnival is a season filled with as much joy and pride as Christmas for most New Orleanians.  Spanning more than just a single calendar day, it encompasses far more than the stereotypical scenes that outsiders tend to imagine. More than anything else, it is a celebration of family, history and a city with a culture that is, in this writer’s opinion, unmatched by any American city today.

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While the vast majority of people in the French Quarter during Carnival are tourists and wandering from location to location, the Locals have had “their preferred spot” along the parade route for many of generations.  Young and old crowd the streets, staking out their territory on either the sidewalk or neutral ground, waiting for one of the many parades which roll by rain or shine.

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Krewes throw elaborate balls throughout the week. Crawfish boils spread along the sidewalks. Ladders, chairs, and benches line the curb.

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Massive floats, lively musicians, horses, dancers, and flambeaux carriers process along the thoroughfares day and night.  Young kids hang out above the crowd on brightly painted ladder boxes, teens throw snappers against old brick walls, college kids bring out their couches, and grandparents sit on balconies taking in the entire scene.

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What helps make Mardi Gras so unique is that it seemingly stops New Orleans “business as usual” in its tracks. The event takes over the city – nothing else matters and that is good.

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When the crowds finally disperse and the sweepers come through, the city is perhaps the cleanest it’ll be all year (with the exception of the few beads that hang from tree limbs until hurricane season comes again).   It is a wonder how such a laissez faire metropolis pulls off one of the greatest, most organized events every year. Undoubtably one of the reasons why is because the city and its public rights-of-way are allowed to be commandeered as people see fit.

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If you do ever have the privilege to attend, wander as much of the route as you can – you are sure to find the most eclectic variety of people co-existing in one jubilant festival and it all takes place on New Orleans’ cracked, sinking, oak-lined and beloved streets.  Two members of of MGLM’s crew have strong ties to the Crescent City (hence the bias in this post) and both certainly have been affected by the city’s wonder and architectural charm and significance.

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We wouldn’t recommend seeing this incredibly city for the first time at Mardi Gras – you’ll miss too much of the rich heritage that is reflected throughout the city’s building stock, historic neighborhoods, streets and public spaces.  But Mardi Gras or no, New Orleans should certainly be on every urbanist or architect’s must-visit list.

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