Jun 182013
 

Town Branch by rheotaxis, part two

By Danny Mayer

From the NY Time's "Mapping the 2010 Census." http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/map?hp

From the NY Time’s “Mapping the 2010 Census.” http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/map?hp

The root issue is land.

–Max Rameau

Writing in 1964, the sociologist Ruth Glass created the word “gentrification” to define what she saw at play in many of London’s working class neighborhoods. “One by one,” she noted, they “have been invaded by the middle classes—upper and lower.” What Glass saw should by now be familiar. Old Victorian homes long since broken into multiple blue collar domiciles begin to get restored to single family. Blocks of shabby homes transform into pretty domiciles with fresh paint. New businesses arrive weekly to serve the needs of the newly arrived residents. “Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district,” Glass observed of these London neighborhoods, “it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”

In many ways, Glass was writing in 1964 about a topic of marginal interest to an American audience. Though gentrification did occur in select areas of large cities as far back as the 1950s, the general half-century trend that followed World War II here in the non-bombed-out United States was that of suburbanization. The middle class was leaving the city for the unclaimed spaces of newly ripped farmlands, and they were taking their public and private development monies and any other side-capital with them. Along with an aging infrastructure, the working class and poor were what remained behind. Only within the last two decades has this outward trend reversed, with American and global money, its sitcoms, media space, and middle classes now returning to the urban and near-urban core.

One of the first to note this switch was the academic Neil Smith, whose 1996 collection The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the revanchist city connects gentrification to the process of eighteenth and nineteenth century frontier land-claiming. For Smith, a geographer by trade whose first-hand observations of the gentrification of New York’s Lower East Side provide the framework for his book, both the present urban frontier and the past “western” frontier are economic and cultural things. Continue reading »

Jun 012013
 

On the Fayette commons, part 3

By Danny Mayer

Don’t look to me for virtue, for high-minded feats or elevated speech that flows in a stream of lustrous silver—when cutting is my nature, meandering my path. Find me instead lowdown, landscape in tow as I take the way of least resistance, draining the uplands, purging the slopes.

From “The river issues a statement regarding its watery ethos,” by Richard Taylor

The Scape/Landscape Architecture design plan entitled “Reviving Town Branch” presents a compelling vision for a linear downtown urban park. The plan divides the Lexington, Kentucky, Town Branch watershed into four design phase/areas: Reveal (Rupp Arena), Clean (Vine Street to CentrePointe), Carve (CentrePoint to Thoroughbread Park), and Connect (the lower East End to Isaac Murphy Park).

Map from http://www.townbranchcommons.com/

Map from http://www.townbranchcommons.com/

The Scape map, like all maps of the area, lends itself to a certain reading. The stream’s textual and cartographic flow, Reveal/Clean/Carve/Connect, makes movement from left to right, upstream, seem natural. Reading it, one might assume that Town Branch’s source flows from a revealed Rupp, passes through a cleansed then carved downtown, and thence arrives, trickled-down rainfall depending, to a textually disconnected Isaac Murphy park.

To get Town Branch, or at least to get a different Town Branch, one that takes hydrology and history as its compass axes, it seems one must read the map backwards: from right to left, downstream, East End headwaters to Distillery District emergence, connection to carve, and thence to clean and reveal. What follows is a stab at that downhill backwards reading, what I’ve been calling (with many thanks to High Bridge river rat Wes Houp) “Town Branch by rheotaxis.” ~ d Continue reading »