The Lab conversation went online in a big way last week in response to Christine McLaren’s Friday post. Christine broached a pressing question: “When it comes to the city, what is beauty?” She talked about the argument famously made by Jürgen Krusche that “Berlin is ugly—and it’s good that way!” And she discussed the findings of New York Lab Team member Charles Montgomery and environmental psychologist Colin Ellard, who discovered that people tend to feel happier in a streetscape that is older and “messier,” rather than a block with newer, “cleaner” facades.
So, what makes a city street beautiful? And what makes it ugly? We turned the debate over to Facebook, presenting two streetscapes—“Messy” street A, and “Clean” Street B.
Most people seemed to prefer Street A, bearing out Montgomery and Ellard’s findings. Annie Edge’s comment was representative: “Street A. It’s more welcoming, and because of its many little details definitely feels more self-made, changeable and accessible for everyone. Whilst B seems rather exclusive and shut off.” Carmen Jreissati agreed: “Street A—it looks organic. Street B seems too clinical.”
There were a few who came down on the side of Street B. Interestingly, though, both some pro-B and some pro-A commenters ultimately favored variety and inclusiveness in cities above all.
Peggy Seehafer wrote, “I do prefer B, because it’s clean, stylish and has ‘healthy’ fronts. I’m not interested while passing to jump around different types of cheap door stops like the board with advertising, or the door mats, etc. Imagine—walking with a stroller or a bike is nearly an obstacle course in pic A. But in the end it’s good to have a mixture in a city.” Wrote Layth Butrus, “I like B better but the passion and warmness that is in A can’t disappear easily. It’s so special. For that reason our cities should be built with the warmness of the past but in . . . new establishments and [with a] new basis. I’ve seen something like this in Istiklal street in Istanbul, Turkey—it’s a long street with old buildings, but modern life is all around.”
Perhaps the ultimate comment on how a city dweller’s viewpoint can remain in flux came from Linda Vrabel: “If I’m trying to get to work, Street B. But for strolling the hood, definitely A.” Apparently, in some cases, beauty is in the eye of the commuter.
Speaking of messiness and beauty, an event a few days ago at the Lab delved into the meanings of the word “garbage,” and actively encouraged the finding of new uses for refuse. Participants in this workshop took part in making activities that revisited our relationship with garbage and culturally perceived life cycles. Take a look at the slide show above to see Lab visitors reinventing waste.
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Photos of streetscapes: by Charles Montgomery; Photos of Rethinking Garbage: by Luke Abiol © 2012 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York