Category Archives: Art & Architecture

Art Among Art

Although it can be unfair to compare a small museum’s sculpture garden to a full-blown sculpture park, arslocii holds them both up to the same standards using the same  magnifying glass. We have been to some of the big outdoor-sculpture venues, as well as some of the diminutive ones; and we are fond of any size open-air gallery where the art’s placement is considered and complemented.

This week we visited the Delaware Art Museum, in Wilmington. First (and Delaware is the first state), let’s say that the museum itself is situated in a rather stately neighborhood. Placeness already. The Copeland Sculpture Garden is a slip of land behind the broad-lawned and broad museum building. At first glance the landscape seemed too shallow and uniform to allow any sort of interaction of art and site to occur. Walking through the main entrance and out the glass-walled back, across a large terrace and into the “yard” made me think that this was a private home with garden art. Maybe it once was.

Crying Giant

The difference is that what is immediately in your face is Tom Otterness’ “Crying Giant.” It is huge, 13 feet tall, resembling a cartoon version of Rodin’s “Thinker,” but is maybe a more accurate depiction of modern man. The piece is a cluster of geometric solids that has tendril arms and legs, and Mickey Mouse hands and feet. It leans head-in-hands, dunce cap on head, with painful swollen feet and seated on a large cube. For a series of balloon shapes, it is filled with angst, both comic and sad. Is it sad about the state of art? I was moved by its powerful simplicity, but then I wondered … about its placeness. Well, on one level, if it is pondering art then it is filled with arslocii. But then it is reflected so well in an all-glass modern gallery wing of the museum – a sort of looking glass for the angst of modern man. Also, when catching a glimpse of it through the connector bridge between old museum and new, it is handily framed by the architecture, making it appear much diminished and, perhaps, even more sympathetic.

framed view

Down a wooded path is an interesting piece by William Freeland, “Irish Pastoral VII,” a minimalist hard edged factory made of rock and steel that felt like a tombstone. Behind it and hidden below grade is an old reservoir structure, a circular pit with stone walls that looks like a train-engine turnabout. Maybe that is because it is now a labyrinth, a spiral made of gravel and stone. That day it was set up for a wedding event and, although empty of guests, it was filled with placeness by what it was and is.

Another interesting work is Robert Stackhouse’s “Delaware Passage,” a rigorously fashioned structure of square metal tubes looking, all at once, like a railroad bridge, a brise soleil, a roof, a dock and a teepee. It plays with perspective, as it is short but endless. It is a striking piece but its placement doesn’t do it any favors.

Delaware Passage

But what is this? Three large craters encircled by hedges of holly. This Copeland Sculpture Garden is not a collection in which one would expect to find earthworks, but here they are. Only … what they are, in actuality, are functional drainage pits/fields. There are cascading rocks, having been intentionally (and well) placed that lead to large cast cement cubes guarded by iron grates at the bottom of the craters. They are modern and primitive, compelling and mysterious in that they are hidden by the shrubbery. But they are beautifully rendered works that are so integrated into the environment – because, unlike most of the pieces here, they are interacting with the environment. They are of the environment and, though not “art” in its narrow definition, should be considered part of the collection.

drain field

drain house

Placeness is a funny thing. Sometimes you can gather together things that artists make and which are intentional works of art – and sometimes they can be very good representatives of the form – and they do nothing for you or to you or with you; they do not gain from the setting nor add to it, they do not relate to it in any way nor to the other pieces scattered about, all seemingly with the same purpose – display; all this despite the best efforts of art professionals to show off the work and make something of the place. And then, sometimes, something that is neither created to be a work of art nor is considered to be such – in fact, is hardly considered at all, except as a workaday intruder in the garden – can have such power or attraction or even a compellingly formal nature that it not only challenges your conception of the art and its definition, but makes the o better and the place perfectly contains it, as if it were prepared thoughtfully to do so. A rocky sluice designed to channel water runoff away from the art and into a drain can, somehow, wonderfully, become the centerpiece of the sculpture array – a questioning of the need for intention as a component of art. Arslocii can materialize from something functional as well as something artful, being the product of one or both at the same time. It just happens, and just is. Arslocii.

reflected view

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Artless City

There is an art to cities – in the way they are planned, in the way they are built, in the manner in which they develop both intentionally and organically, in the way they respond to unexpected internal and external forces, in the way they confront and respond to age, in the way in which the residents live their lives in relation to these urban plans, changes and vagaries. Some cities become fine works of art, others do not; some become both, consecutively, alternately, moving forward or backward, often repeatedly so, as the fates, citizenry and city fathers allow. The art-ness of cities is fluid, and can vary from block to block, decade to decade, administration to administration.

It is hard to tell if Philadelphia is a work of art now, on the way up or the way down. For the most part, its central core has seen much construction and advance, and especially impressive and comforting growth of those things that attract tourists, young people and empty nesters: music, theater, museums and galleries, restaurants and shopping. It benefits from the great number of single-family homes and apartments right in the heart of the Center City area and immediate in-city surrounding neighborhoods; it is a place that never has suffered that deadness of a downtown that empties after work hours. There seem to be a lot of bars and bistros feeding off the disposable income or the credit-card debt of hordes of twenty- and thirtysomethings, as well as Boomers and expense-accounters.

It is also a city of staggering poverty, of disturbing and frequent violent crime, of acres of empty lots and decrepit housing in rundown sections out of sight of the more bustling and cosmopolitan center. There is the natural tension where the two worlds of Philadelphia – the poor and the better-off – meet, along borders, in rapidly gentrifying areas, pushing the edge of the inner edge city, where abandoned factories and remarkably cheap housing entice artists and pioneers and the brave, threatening the turf and tax bills of the longtimers. There are also places in the downtown area where that poverty and decline pop up and encamp, as a sort of movable blight, creating surprising and dismaying stage sets in a kind of street-theater conceptual art that lacks aesthetics but instead is deadly serious doings. Market Street is one of those stretches.

1900

As one could safely guess, Market Street – or what has now been labeled as Market East – has been a commercial corridor at least from the time of Philadelphia’s earliest settlers, as their ships docked along the Delaware River shore and unloaded merchandise, which was then distributed on carts and in shops popping up and moving westward from the water, following the spreading population. Within living memory, the seven blocks of Market between 7th Street and City Hall were home to seven department stores, as well as dozens of shops of all sorts. Market was never the fanciest shopping street – parts of Walnut were more high-tone, sections of Locust were oddly exclusive – but it drew customers, and it was a family strolling street, going from Wanamaker’s to Snellenburg’s, Gimbel’s to Lit’s, Howard’s to Robinson’s, and to Strawbridge & Clothier. It was a street of rites of passage and city lore: here is where hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians went to see Santa, where they had their first grown-up restaurant meal, where they would go to the Grand Court at Wanamaker’s and hear the daily pipe-organ concerts and meet at the Eagle. It was more than a shopping street, or a destination – it was the stage set, a place of memories and where one became part of the great continuity that is city life.

market-street

Starting around the Sixties, Market Street began to change noticeably. The better stores disappeared, to be filled with t-shirt and sneaker shops, and low-end retail; whole rows of stores were demolished to make way for office buildings and parking garages. Lately a convention hotel has been built, and a landmark high rise has been converted into a hotel, as well. Stores vanished when the idea for an in-town mall came to fruition, and the Gallery – appropriately named, in this discussion about art and the city – like malls everywhere, became a big-box magnet and category killer. There are amenities for tourists and conventioneers, but not many.

And where once there were seven department stores, now there is one. It has gone through three name changes and, as a Macy’s, no longer has any hometown lineage, and except for the organ and eagle, no local DNA. Snellenburg’s died and departed long ago, as did Robinson’s and Howard’s; Gimbel’s has been a street-level parking lot for decades, and the site of dashed developers’ dreams for just as long. Strawbridge’s and Lit’s have been converted into office buildings, with a smattering of retail at ground level.

For one who works in one of those buildings and who exits onto Market Street five days a week when the sun is similarly making its exit, the art of the city is difficult to interpret, and certainly to appreciate. The street surface is filthy, foul odors emanate from a sewer system overtaxed by the flushings of shoulder-to-shoulder multi-story buildings, a deadening darkness pervades the streetscape as shops – those that are not vacant – close early or roll down their metal grates over the windows of their unlighted businesses. It is by no means “Blade Runner” but it is a vista that resonates with several layers of failure and many more layers of tolerance for what should be intolerable.

stores

So much for the set ­- now for the actors. A walk up Market Street more and more seems like a stroll down a byway in a third-world country, with the lame and beggars lined up, trying to snag some change from passing tourists and dayworkers headed home. These are people in dire shape and straits, and they are not to be ignored; but, not too long ago, there was a campaign by a local group with the poster tag-line, “The more you give change, the more things stay the same,” and that is the philosophy we follow. But we all play our roles: they ask, we politely decline, and that’s that. Some passersby behave as if these people do not exist, not acknowledging their presence. Very few of us actually give, and these are often visitors from other countries. But there is almost a dance of request and rejection, and both sides know their lines and, really, know how the scene will end. Indeed, some of the panhandlers ask for things – a dime for a meal, a quarter for coffee or a bus ticket – that are so patently ridiculous on the face of them that they are bound to lead to the failure that is predetermined even if their “pitch” were better. But there is, in that walk up Market, an element of danger, of some fear, of the possibility of a confrontation or an accusation, and then violence.

homeless

Market Street, once a benign place of commerce – not the city’s liveliest, or best, but certainly one of its most solid – has become emblematic of a changing urban “theater,” one we no longer wish to be in the audience of. We all, in the city, put up with too much to get what we think we need. When one no longer gets that, nor gets it in a way that is satisfactory – when one realizes that there is no reason to put up with so much unpleasantness, that one no longer wants to take it anymore, that what we believed to be the city’s placeness is mutated or gone completely – then it is time to say that this city as art is no longer to our taste, and that it’s time to direct our gaze elsewhere.

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Cones of Silence

cones galoreCan there be so many traffic cones on residential streets that you become immune and stop noticing them? Cones are all around this city neighborhood – cone overload. The reason is ubiquitous new-home construction. One would never guess that the housing market is down; not here. Every scrap of empty ground in this super-packed, cheek-to-jowl area is being covered with new construction; squeezed in the way road cones squeeze moving traffic into too-narrow lanes. In the service of producing these new constructs, the utility companies are busy as robins in the spring, digging up entire streets that extend for several blocks and lining them all with road cones, much like a highway. It is the one colorful result of new houses.

Cones are friendly, geometric and orange, and they can be jarring, especially to alert a driver going the distance on highways. Out on the open road, we sort of know what they are saying and what we are supposed to do when we see them. On a tight 19th-century city street, they squeeze the limited space further, and stand there resembling a queue of penguins on the march, so that they take on a kind of human or pedestrian presence. And, as pedestrians ourselves, we aren’t quite used to face-to-face interaction with a life-size cone. Should we weave through them like a test course? What is the protocol?

In addition to work zones, cones in the city often represent proprietary space; they can seem in-your-face. Since it is utility companies that use them mostly, homeowners feel that they can nab one or two – since they are taxpayers – and employ them to stand guard and save the parking space directly in front of their door. This strategy is used mostly after a snowfall, but some sticklers decide that it is a useful year-round ploy.

The original traffic cones, though, invented in 1914 by Charles Rudabaker, were for the streets of New York – so their provenance is urban. And they were concrete. Try scooting around one of those. They have been made of various materials including wood, plastic, thermoplastics and rubber. And they can range in size from 12 inches to 36 inches. They are usually reflective, aside from their bright, primary palette. With stripes of reflective tape, they remind me of the legs of Munchkins with their stripey socks. They are party hats for the pavement, or maybe dunce caps.

traffic-cones

Generally speaking, the cones tend to be recognizable. But what is this?

pair

 

A new modern simulacrum of a road cone? Did they run out of the three dimensional ones? They seem makeshift and clever all at once. Like signboards, they are flat but appear full-bodied. They, too, are orange. Plywood, a two-by-four – kind of an easel, but already painted. The weird thing is, these new brethren make the normal cones look fake. Probably, these new cones are less likely to disappear.

artcone

It seems that cones are popular. People do goofy things with them; they wear them, they make art out of them. In 2007, artist Dennis Oppenheim made five giant-sized ones, called “Safety Cones,” for the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle and other places worldwide – perhaps a tip of his hat to Oldenburg and van Bruggen. A New York City architecture firm, EFGH, built a concert pavilion out of cones.

concert pavilion

Cones have become iconic, they are like a universal sign before there were universal signs. They create a placeness wherever they are plopped down. They now decorate my neighborhood. We like them, even with their pointy heads.

cone line

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Harvesting a Home

fitting d into omEveryone makes moves in their lives, and, in a mobile society, changes in their living accommodations. There was, at one point, a period in my life when I made a series of seven moves in eight years – relocations that made me a citizen of four different states, and they weren’t all contiguous. Ultimately, I ended up buying a house in one of them. Well, not really a house – yet.

It was originally a house (built in 1873) turned into an office building nearly a hundred years later, and then turned back into a house once more – by me. Not your typical house, though. Rather, a strange hybrid of a house and an art piece. Arslocii, indeed. As it stood, it was contained space and not much more. Everything that makes it a house of note now is a result of my direct response to its houselessness and the denuded nature of is office-ness: beige walls, beige floors, fluorescent tubes and stark, detail-less spaces. It was so nondescript that I felt a mandate, an imperative, to take it as far from blandness as was possible. Far over to the other side.

Twenty-seven years later, it is as unique and one-off as the nest of an Australian Bowerbird: an assemblage of found objects meant to attract the eye … in his case, of a mate. My mission was to embellish the place to find its soul, or to restore it. In many respects, it was like building a stage set about houseness, or my dream version of what it could be, put into a tangible form – and on the cheap. It progressed naturally, building one project upon another, and finding my own place in the creation of the form. Whatever complex layering resulted, it reflected the multidimensional layerings of me as an artist and a human being. My house and I are one, difficult to separate. But separate we must.

For, after years of unrest and unsettling neighborhood events, a culmination of disillusionment and dissociation, it became clear that this house is not in a good place – not for me anyway. And that there is another location that can potentially create placeness for now and for the future. And it is hundreds of miles from this house. I have found another house there, in this new place, and it is nothing like the one I helped to create here. Nothing at all.

My dilemma now is in trying to salvage what I worked half a lifetime to build, and to attempt to fit it into and onto another house that is so completely different from this one: sort of made from scratch and customized into an artistic assemblage. The only thing the two might have in common is that the new one, although not stripped of detail, has such indistinct or poorly rendered detail that it, too, is open to interpretation. Plus, this second one is much smaller. In the new structure, the struggle will be one of physical matter more so than conceptual matter; bringing forth a challenge of material limitations rather than cognitive ones.

I liken it to building a first prototype of a robot – a kind of manufactured living thing – an endeavor that is successful, but nearly three decades later, it is sadly stuck in its time and limited by its creation date. In other words, stuck in its place. The urge is to make it again, an updated version using some of the same parts and more hindsight. As a second generation, it will have recognizable traits, but it will move beyond the original exercise, becoming a more integrated whole. That is the hope, anyway, for this experimental house-innards transplant process. As I harvest the very seeds that I planted a generation ago, will both patients survive? Will I? Who will end up the monster, the creator or the created?

The doors, the lighting, some walls and even floors are going to find their way to this new home. It is an organ harvest, house to house; taking the essence away from the original and re-creating a revised version. The staging is terrifying, the removal and replacement are difficult to imagine, let alone orchestrate. I think about it every day, this square peg fitting into a smaller hole. Can a cathedral be scaled down to fit within a parish chapel? I have three or four notebooks filled with measurements, ideas, lists and questions. Can placeness result; that is, true placeness? The best of one combined with a better place could achieve the desired end. Wish me luck.

in the box

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The Road Not Taken

road to nowhereWe do not think of roads in pieces but as ongoing lengths – we even refer to them, in stories and songs, as ribbons of highway. It is almost as if, if you kept driving, a road would keep appearing under you, as needed, fabricated out of whole cloth over empty land to ensure your continued travel. When we think of roads in sections, it is usually the landmarks to the roads’ sides that we refer to – seldom (other than potholes or known construction barriers) do we consider the roadway itself. Like electricity when we flick a switch, it’s just there. And, in most places, where one road ends another comes off it. A road does not, it seems, in and of itself, have placeness, though its environment may.

That is why a so-called “road to nowhere” is so jarring, and intriguing. For, by the very nature of its stopping, literally dead in its tracks, it seems to go against “nature,” but also, by its causing us to stop dead in our tracks as well and to demand consideration of the absence of its “roadness,” it creates placeness.

Famous, of course, is the “road to nowhere” that was built to connect to the “bridge to nowhere” envisioned as connecting Ketchikan to Gravina Island, in Alaska, the scandalously wasteful, pork-barrel nature of which may have added fuel to the disenchantment with and ridicule of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential candidate and voice of right-wing Republicanism (a road that, itself, seems happily to, finally, have gone nowhere, although the trip took longer than the projected 15 minutes).

Regularly, on the way to doing some tasks near Norristown, Pa., we have found ourselves quite suddenly and surprisingly on another such derailed road. You come off an exit from a bridge, rolling down the chute, and then you find yourself facing not the straight lanes you expect but instead a chain-link fence that diverts the road you are on to make a hairpin turn sending you off rather quickly in the opposite direction. But, before you leave the area, you can spy, behind the chain link, the road that might have been: multiple lanes go off a short distance, ending in a jungle of overgrowth – and it is as if one had reached the end of the earth before falling off, or disappearing into the wild. From up above, looking down from an overpass, you can see the abrupt disappearance of highway even more clearly. It … just … stops.

hairpin

Having had our curiosity piqued by this odd sight – a circumcised highway imprisoned like a white-collar criminal, without any indication why – a little research uncovered the backstory. Apparently, a link was imagined between two routes, to ease commuting, and, given the grand name of Schuylkill Parkway, the work was begun. And then funds ran out, right in midstream. And so, today, stands a monument to the “dream” of interlocking paths to make suburban sprawl even more conveniently sprawling, and an indictment of pouring tens of millions of dollars into a useless folly and not having the sense to spend a little more and give it usefulness. Better to let it be pointless is the logic, it seems. And should it ever come back to life as a project, how wasteful it will have been to let everything crack and crumble, with more millions needed to bring it back up to baseline buildable again.

But, if one rolls down that exit ramp, and instead of making that sharp turn and continuing on in the opposite direction, if one were to pull over and park in what would have been the road’s median – well, it is a whole different place to be. Indeed, it is a place. If no other cars are coming, one has the great, eerie pleasure of walking on a wide, deserted highway, as if all the world were gone but you, as in some Twilight Zone episode. But even better is to walk to and squeeze through the chain link, and you are in another world: A road almost never used that, in very short fashion, ends. Here, and in few other places, the highway can be looked at as a piece, as the way you might see light as particles and not rays if you had the tools to do so. It is wide and clear, but a snippet … and, in some way, sad, in the way something that does not achieve its potential is a sad thing. And, if you step farther into the stunted road, you can almost feel the quiet, and you can yourself feel like a thief, or a time traveler, or someone (Twilight Zone, again) whose time-metabolism is different from those on Earth, and that there might be cars zipping all around you, but you are out of sync with them, and thus unaffected. It feels like a place of unintentional but no less powerful art. Not holy, not spiritual, but insistent, and resonant with arslocii vibes and possibilities.

turnaround

It is like a movie set and, in fact, the city or county or state could make some money off this white elephant by making it available to filmmakers to use for car-chase and -crash scenes. Sometimes, a motor-vehicle agency puts out parking cones in this space and performs some sort of test or driving contest; it could be the perfect place to teach driver-ed classes. Or to turn into a recreational area – there is plenty of room for basketball and tennis courts. Or make it a performance venue, or show movies outdoors during the summer. Make this thing that goes nowhere be its own destination. Sometimes, nothingness is the perfect place for anythingness, because there are no restrictions, rules or preconceived notions. Sometimes, the place to start is the place where it all stops.

road end

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Central Park

Among the annoyances of having to work for a living (aside from having to work for a living) is the getting to where your workplace is – and, assuming that, as in most American locales, short-sighted politicians with lobbyist bucks in their PACs have helped to eviscerate your town’s public transportation, then the getting requires driving. And driving requires a place to park. And, if you do not work in the ‘burbs or on the prairie – where fine arable soil now lies, out of sight and out of mind, beneath flat, parched and blacktopped acres painted with corralling lines and illuminated by buzzing light poles, offering free parking within stroll distance to your office/factory/shop/cell – then you pay to stow your vehicle on a razed-building footprint that’s now a lot, or in a multi-story garage building within some city’s limits.

ParkingGarage

For the past seven years, I’ve been doing just that – committing my car to minimum-security lockup for eight hours a day while I do somewhat the same for myself. Two parking garages have been involved, and to me they seemed, though structurally different in subtle but noticeable ways, very much the same in personality and affect: floor after oil-stained and grimy floor, dark (even in day), barren (even when parked solid), echoey down its low-ceilinged/vaulted-concrete claustrophobia-inducing corridors illuminated with dim and flickering and green/yellowish rods and protuberances that give every inch the quality of the lighting employed in snuff films, and all tied together with a spiral bow of ramps, and home to the funkiest stairwells and slowest elevators since Otis installed his first emergency-alarm button.

Grim eyesores of our car culture, ugly over-charging profit machines of politically connected and corrupting developers – this is what I have thought of these ubiquitous and obtrusive storage boxes. Personality-less. Places without placeness, and certainly without art.

But, lately, for no good reason, I find myself having a change of heart.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not looking at these lurid architectural layer cakes as some sort of black-sheep member of the Guggenheim Museum family – a twisty path leading to landings on which are not paintings but Priuses – but I have come to realize that these garages are not devoid of placeness, as I thought. In fact, quite the opposite. Especially if American mass media is any gauge, these undistinguished buildings are central to a kind of basic American placeness. In fact, they are redolent of placeness.

Scorpio

It is uncountable how many times in movies that parking garages – whether over- or underground – have been used as the arena for screeching car chases (those echoes, those hairpin turns, those bowling-alley-like high-speed head-on approaches) or foot chases, or muggings, or shootings – way out of proportion to their actual danger or the role they seem to play in our waking lives. Cars race into them, out of them, around and through them; cars with secreted bombs blow up in them, and cars explode out of them, sailing through the air to the ground or water or whatever lies below – an exhilarating propelled dive from imprisonment to freedom without having to surrender the time card and pay the inflated fee to the under-interested drone in the booth.

all-the-presidents-men

Do we hate and fear these places so much that we impose our nightmares on them? Or are we drawn to them because they are the most closed of public spaces, and anything can happen in them – placeness tofu, bland in and of itself but taking its piquancy and identity from added spices? Structural Zeligs that blend in but are present at key events? It was in a parking garage that Deep Throat met with Bob Woodward. It was in a parking garage that Jerry and George and Elaine and Kramer were lost in a Pirandellian episode that was among the most existential in television history. Deborah Sorenson, of the National Building Museum, suggests  that, depending on the structure, they are either cliff or cave, and she lists dozens of films and series that have used parking garages as the focus of plot points.

Seinfeld

Maybe they had no placeness until the movies gave it to them. But they have it now. Maybe 20 bucks for an all-day piece of this uber-American mass-media theme park is not a bad admission price … and you get to park your car, too.

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Troubled Bridge Over Water

Every trip up to the Hudson Valley for the last three years, we sped past the sign at 65 mph, never slowing. The sign for Walkway over the Hudson became a marker or sorts – a landmark, but also, a point of contention between one who wanted to stop and one who didn’t. It was looking as if that sign would be as close as I would ever come to experiencing the actual site. The sign was small, smaller than the tension in the car that  was palpable.

One of us has a problem with heights and would not be a party to a stroll over a 212-foot-high “gangplank” suspended over a wide and deep (50-60 feet) river – a defunct railroad bridge, now a pedestrian path, which began its conversion in 2008 and was completed in 2009.

At last, my opportunity presented itself with the visit of a non-height-averse longtime friend this past week. Yippee! A chance to soar in the Taconic region of the Hudson River and to follow the elusive sign.

Let me see: I have walked the High Line, which is not really high. I have climbed three mountains in the past year. All these encounters have provided placeness in the way that they create a sense of place in their settings, enhancing the experience accordingly. There is a give and take between the venue and the view. Sadly, I hesitate to say that I did not find placeness at the Walkway. The Walkway, despite offering pleasant views of the Hudson that are not usually available except in a car or train, doesn’t seem involved with its site; rather it seems like a platform for viewing a site. Yes, it is high. Yes, it allows one to look up- and downstream from the center of a large body of water. Yes, it is a wonderful connection between the east and west banks for two-legged, four-legged and two-wheeled pedestrians.

I guess the reservation I have about it is that it has no intrinsic beauty in and of itself to add to the experience. It is a wide sidewalk with thick and high railings – functional and plain – in contrast to the river, not in harmony with it; very distinctly separating the human-made and the nature. At this point in time, it is a big bare plaza; hard and cold and not a little bland and monotonous. Not having seen the original, I would guess that the old railroad bridge with tracks and creosote-soaked ties and opportunistic weeds and grasses poking through the cracks had way more character and placeness. Although this is a pedestrian byway, it resembles more so a highway.

I don’t want to denigrate the Walkway, because I think it is a noble effort, especially since I think that we need more such efforts made for pedestrians. But there is something missing, some connection and integration. I have the feeling that an engineer, not an architect, designed the look and feel of it – heavy and practical, like Soviet-era buildings and U.S. interstates.

The bottom line, though, is that there are very few enjoyable ways to cross the Hudson River on foot, and this one bridge is dedicated to that purpose. I have to give bonus points for that. Until Walkway opened, the options were: the George Washington Bridge, where you can be overwhelmed by speeding traffic right beside you – one would have to be on Valium to get through this trauma; the Bear Mountain Bridge, which is cute and smaller scale, but you get to walk or ride on the shoulder of the road with big expansion-joint gaps; the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, the longest pedestrian span across but its floor is textured metal and can be slippery; the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, high and on the narrow side, and you get to be right in amongst the traffic with no divider; and the Rip van Winkle and the Dunn Memorial bridges, both of which have pedestrian walkways much like the George Washington Bridge’s lovely nerve-racking offering.

I am grateful for the existence of this one-and-only pedestrian bridge. I am hopeful, though, that things will improve in an aesthetic way for the Walkway. It has potential, it has good bones. What it should have is a sense of place, arslocii.

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