San Francisco has moved to reduce the minimum square footage of livable space in residential apartments to 150. These smaller, cozier apartments may be more desirable in a city where the average rent is $2,100/month, but what will this mean for the most densely populated city in the United States?
"The Last Picture", Jaime Rojo Shoots the Street - Huffington Post
Reading this article from the HuffPost brought up a great number of thoughts within me. As an avid follower of blogs such as Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” and its plethora of like-minded and geographically diverse spin-offs, I am an avid believer that a camera has the god-like power of capturing a city in a moment in time. Whether it be the images of the eastern seaboard post-Sandy or a teenager’s capture of a city skyline using a point-and-shoot, these images have the ability to memorialize a place.
Through the viewing of such photos, we begin to form our own constructions and ideas as to the culture and feeling of a place. These pictures can transform our perceptions of a city, whether it be negatively or positively. What is important is that we recognize that these images are susceptible to alteration, and that while the camera may have captured the place in a moment in time, so much exists outside of the frame. We cannot base our opinions of a place solely on a few photographs that we find on the internet.
Photographing the city also has an interesting moral dilemma written within the context of each capture. Who was the photographer, and what was their relationship with the place? Recently I was asked to enter a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with and to take photos that I felt captured a “sense of place” within the neighborhood. As a photographer by trade, I was excited by the idea of documenting the the focus of my academic studies, i.e. the city. However, while completing the assignment, I was forced to face the ethical issues that came along with entering a community that I was not a part of and attempting to define it. My relationship to the neighborhood existed purely in an academic sense; my experience with the place was limited to the books and articles that I had been asked to read for the course. So who was I to go into a community with my camera, a foreigner who lacked a deeper understanding of its residents and culture, and attempt to capture it? These types of issues present themselves often in the art of photography, and when photographing a city comes with these other issues of scale and frame, the problem becomes more complex.
This is not meant to dissuade anyone from using their camera to capture the city. By all means, use your physical lens to try and depict how you see the city through your various hypothetical academic lenses. This commentary is only intended to be a reflection on the issues with using the camera, which captures only one moment at a time, to describe a place that is constantly evolving.
There is no denying the presence of art within cities. Philadelphia, the American mecca of public wall art, is a leading example of how murals can reflect community attitudes on living in an urban area. But to what extent are these pieces of artwork impact the communities they appear in?
In Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. (collectively known as the “Twin Cities”), the impact of these murals can be traced through the various neighborhoods that they appear in. Murals are used in a variety of ways as community development tools. Organizations such as Mentoring Peace Through Art and Intermedia Arts sponsor summer youth development programs that aim to take kids off the streets and give back to their communities.
Mentoring Peace Through Art, in particular, has a very clear-cut goal when it comes to the creation of community murals. Jimmy Longoria, one of the co-founders of the organization, cites that one of the major motivations for Mentoring Peace Through Art is to combat gang tagging in Minneapolis. When a gang tags a wall, they are, in a sense, marking their territories. By preventing these gang members from marking their territory through the use of art, Longoria hopes to decrease the reach of these gangs.
The impacts of mural artwork, however, are not limited to youth development and gang territoriality; its use also signifies the presence of a community. One of the most important factors in the creation of a mural is consensus; without consensus amongst the community, whether it be on the subject matter or location, a mural could not exist. The mere presence of these wall paintings indicates, to a certain extent, cohesion amongst its residents.
While public art can be found in numerous places of varying socioeconomic classifications, mural artwork predominantly found in low-income neighborhoods and minority communities. Access is perhaps the most important factor in this statistic. Mural art is a relatively inexpensive method in comparison to other public art forms such as sculpture. Additionally, murals can be created by people of varying skill levels. This is especially pertinent in regards to their use at primary and secondary schools across the nation. The creation of a mural can foster a sense of community when numerous people are contributing to the same project, regardless of their skill level. Murals are also the predominant art form in minority and ethnic communities because of their colorful nature, which aligns itself with various cultures. In the Twin Cities, the majority of murals can be found in ethnic neighborhoods, namely Central (Minneapolis) and the West Side (St. Paul). The murals in these communities depict traditional scenes of life in the bold and colorful style that is typical of Chicano artwork. All in all, the serve as reflections of the community that lives there.
Much is to be said as to the mural’s power to create a sense of place. In contemporary urban studies commentary, the notion of placemaking is a predominant concern amongst academics and professionals alike. The pursuit of effective placemaking strategies is crucial to a number of organizations, both corporate and community. These organizations should take a moment to evaluate the ability of a mural to create a sense of place within a neighborhood. Murals can be considered points of reference or landmarks within a community, establishing their importance within the confines of urban space. They can also regarded as a source of pride for the neighborhood; to have a work of art adorning a wall in an area that might otherwise be regarded as distressed can improve resident’s perceptions of the place in which they live.
The power of the mural in urban space cannot be denied. Their accessibility and aesthetic value is crucial in cities, where disparity between socioeconomic status predominantly exists. The creation of these wall paintings can impact perceptions of place within the neighborhood; they can dictate which behaviors are acceptable within a space but also serve as a point of pride for community members. A mural can be a shining example of culture, community and hope; three things that are ever so crucial in the urban areas of the 21st century.