Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eyes on the Street

This is the proposal for a permanent public project I am working on this summer at College Court, which is an apartment complex for the elderly run by the Milwaukee Housing Authority. Any feedback/criticism you guys might have would be great, as the piece is subject to change from the proposal as I begin constructing the benches.

Eyes on the Street
a proposal by James Pederson

Introduction: A book by urban theorist Jane Jacobs entitled The Death and Life of Great American Cities, discusses the idea of “stoop sitting” and how it insures that there are always “eyes on the street”. This phenomenon is a critical component of the self-regulating urban street. According to Jacobs, when people spend significant amounts of time sitting on the stoops or in the front yards of their buildings, they not only enhance the sense of human presence and community in a neighborhood, but also insure that attention is paid to the conditions and activities of the neighborhood streets and sidewalks. These vital conduits between the various residential and commercial buildings and the people who occupy them make up a neighborhood. The benefits of this can include better awareness of the need for street repair, crime deterrence, and an overall awareness of changes and developments within a community.

Concept Statement: In talking with Bill Goodrum, I was very interested when I was told about how much time residents spend sitting outside the front entrance on lawn chairs watching the neighborhood during the warmer months. Bill described how there is space in the back area of College Court, yet most residents seem to prefer the front specifically. He also mentioned that even during the colder months many people like to sit by the windows and just watch what is going on outside. It seemed to me that there must be something about observing the activities of the neighborhood surrounding College Court that interested the residents.

In light of what Jacobs has to say, I see the residents who spend time sitting out front as doing something much more than simply passing the time. They are keeping an eye on things; and it is happening naturally without the need for some sort of organized effort. I truly believe this has a real social value. It seems fitting then, that it would be useful to the residents for me to create something that would facilitate the activity of street-watching more substantially than the lawn chairs they currently use. Additionally, I wanted something that would create a relationship between the street and the residents who are seated and watching it. It is also my hope that the
benches will catch the interest of passers-by, and they might take note of the residents sitting outside, as well as College Court and its presence in the community as well.

I am proposing to build three benches designed to to be placed underneath the awning adjacent to the main entrance, in the spot which usually has the plastic lawn chairs. Each bench will respond to the Highland Boulevard street-scape which it is facing by depicting a mirrored-image of what occupants of the benches would be seeing across the street. This will be accomplished through a combination of sculptural relief and painting directly on the bench. Each of the nine buildings across the street will be recreated as a sculpture/armrest, and the space in between each building will be depicted in paintings on the backs of each chair.

Front View

Side View

Installation View

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