Of stoops and streets

A Reading Note

Sennett remarks on the (sadly, former) street culture of the LES:

In the surviving street cultures of the Lower East Side, booksellers clump together but display wares that separate themselves from their neighbors, like a musical theme and variations; hawkers using the steps choreograph themselves so that browsers can move from stoop to stoop; tenants hang out laundry from house to house so that key windows are not blocked. To the casual visitor it may look a mess, but in fact the street dweller has improvised a coherent, economical form. Rudofsky thought that this hidden order is how most settlements of poor people develop and that the work of improvising street order attaches people to their communities, whereas “renewal” projects, which may provide a cleaner street, pretty houses, and large shops, give their inhabitants no way to mark their presence on that space.

Sennett, The Craftsman, page 237

I would extend this to all people, not merely the poor; wealthy communities differ only so as to better demonstrate their wealth. When a suburban neighborhood association bans clotheslines or regulates how far from the curb the city-issued garbage can must be placed, it makes spaces that are clean, cold, and limpid—spaces where money happily resides but people cannot.

Related books

The Craftsman

Richard Sennet

Sennett defines craftmanship as the desire to do a job well for its own sake. In so doing, he frees it of the bounds of carpentry or metalwork and extends the work of craft to that of the programmer, the doctor, and the parent.