Time, Space, and the Landscape of my Commute

“Make it stop my love, we were wrong to try

Never saw what we could unravel by traveling light,

Or how the trip debrides like a stack of slides

All we saw was that time is taller than space is wide.”

– Joanna Newsom “The Waltz of the 101st Lightborne”

As I read a bit of John Brinckerhoff Jackson’s A Sense of Space, Sense of Time for class last week, I kept thinking of the lyric above.* Jackson argues, in part, that when we think about what makes a location special to us, we are usually remembering events that have occurred there rather than any feature of the place. In a way, Jackson echoes Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities, suggesting that it is repeated practices that constitute public space.

Before Jackson gets into the roles of communal memory, he writes a bit about grids. I grew up in an area without any hint of a grid, but I could still recognize the truth of Jackson’s observation that a straight stretch of highway, devoid of distinguishing features, performs a specific role in American popular culture as a sort of zen state.

I don’t drive much, but I do sometimes approach the same introspective limit while walking, particularly on my way to work. Retreading the same mile and a half about eight times a week, I often find myself with my head down, the sidewalk becoming an undifferentiated highway. If I am particularly enraptured in a particular train of thought, this ribbon of concrete acts almost as one of Bruno Latour’s black boxes; I step outside my door and am conveyed to my employment. When I am particularly drowsy, in the morning or late at night, there is an almost alarming quality to the amnesia of the walk.

The police station at 19th Street and Oxford seen in 1961. The station became the Opportunities Industrialization Center a few years later and currently is undergoing redevelopment. Photo from the City of Philadelphia Department of Records via PhillyHistory.org.

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Research Notes: Chamounix Mansion (Hostelling International)

Having made my way through some of the pile of scholarship on Historic House Museums, I made a foray into Fairmount Park on Wednesday to visit the Chamounix (SHAM-ah-nee) Mansion, which has operated as a hostel since 1965. Abbe, the hostel’s steward, and Andrew, the manager, showed me around the place and then we had a really nice conversation about Philadelphia, historic buildings, Fairmount Park, gentrification, and the Church of the Divine.

Because I’m trying to learn some Google Map APIs, here’s a map of where Chamounix is located in Fairmount Park:

A photo from the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust (now the Fairmount Park Conservancy) after restoration work completed 2006-2008.

Built in 1803, the mansion has been a summer-home, a year-round residence, a concession stand, a boarding house, a raceway, residence for a park employee, and a condemned fire-damaged shell before it found its current purpose.

[Check out PhillyHistory.org’s collection of images that show the condition of the mansion in 1962*]

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