Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Rest in Piece: David Bowie (and music and cities)

The rock musician David Bowie died yesterday.  Creativity music and the rock scene is associated with cities.  And many of the best places to see concerts have been in cities ("Remembering David Bowie appearances, influence in Maryland area," Baltimore Sun).

I was fortunate to see Bowie play a couple times in the late 1990s at a concert hall called Capital Ballroom, on Half Street SE.  The site is now an office building.

Bowie at Capital Ballroom, September 1996. Barry Wilson Photography.

As the Economist piece "Remembering underground Washington, DC: DC never stood for Dodge City," makes clear, back then DC was a very different place, and Half Street SE was decidedly not a part of the "Capitol Riverfront" and Ballpark District of today, even though then it too was a short walk (or bike ride) to the US Capitol and Capitol Hill.

Each of the concerts was very different.  The first was more focused on what you would call art rock and "B side" material.  The second was focused on his hits.  Both concerts were incredible.

I miss Capital Ballroom.

One of the circumstances that follows from DC's relative lack of industry, height limit, and the fact that 1/3 of the city's land is comprised of federal and other special districts, is that we lack the kinds of large buildings that Jane Jacobs wrote about as fostering innovation and creativity.  In part it's because we never had such large buildings in the first place.  The other reason is because the height limit leads to a voracious energy to repurpose lower density uses to the maximum use allowable by zoning, especially in well-located areas, which Half Street SE is today, even if it wasn't 20 years ago.

Also see:

-- "Tale of Two Cities: Washington's Inability to Sustain DIY Culture Highlights Baltimore's Greatest Strength, Baltimore City Paper, 2008
-- "Do it yourself culture #5," 2008
-- "Ground up (guerrilla) art #2: community halls and music (among other things)," 2011
-- "Planning your community's night time attractions in terms of music," 2011
-- "Seattle creates priority parking privileges for musicians un/loading equipment, 2014
-- "Music and urbanity," 2008
-- "Why did DC's attempt to create a music museum fail?," 2008
-- "Does Chicago finally have a Music Office? Maybe, though most people don’t know about it yet," WBEZ radio, 2013
-- "Chicago Music City: A Report on the Music Industry in Chicago by the University of Chicago for the Chicago Music Commission
-- "Don't mess with Austin's music moniker," New York Times, 2006
-- Austin Live Music Task Force presentation
-- Biennial white paper: State of the Music Industry in Austin, Texas, 2015, Austin Music People, the trade association and advocacy group for Austin's music industry

There is an important academic exploration, Decline, Renewal and the City in Popular Music Culture: Beyond the Beatles on music and cities, focusing on Liverpool as a case study. The author, Sara Cohen, also co-authored this journal article, "Local music policies within a global music industry: cultural quarters in Manchester and Sheffield," Geoforum, 2000

Panic in Detroit

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At 8:02 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

well, I was going to comment on your other entry on "creativity" vs LA, and it isn't all building stock.

This is the world's largest collection of people who all ran for high school class president, and like high school class presidents are all impressive people but a bit of a bore.

I felt that way about the arts prize in grand rapids -- there is a degree of skill and work that would never happen in the DC area.

On the positive side we can go to coffee and discuss Yemen politics or pension benefit reform. I'm serious -- once picked up a girl based solely on OPM procedure talk.

The strange thing about DC is thanks to international institutions, embassies, foreign press and university is how effortless international we can be. Something hipsters-class doesn't always see but is part of our world.

Well, that and the only persian fast food in America.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I didn't mean to imply that LA's secret is all about buildings. There is an incredible amount of creativity there, attracted in part by the weather I am sure. (Similarly, Salt Lake City is a beacon for people in the Intermountain region.)

wrt your point, I used to joke that DC and college towns are bad places to find good business books at used bookstores.

HOWEVER, it isn't true exactly that DC was always just for the ex-class presidents. There was a period "in the 1960s", influenced partly by the anti-war and civil rights demonstrations etc. when people came here and organizations were formed by people "aiming to change [a small piece] of the world."

There weren't a lot of buildings for that but there were some, like the building that is on top of Dupont Circle where the Krispy Kreme is, or the building--I think it was a Nader building--that was where the north exit of the Metro is today, where rents were low and small groups were able to get space, and organize.

when I came to DC, the group I had worked for had been created by three guys who worked for Nader but didn't like being bossed around by lawyers (they were PhD scientists). They decidedly disavowed being considered a Nader group but there was no question there was Nader lineage.

Anyway, they got to use a desk and office space at the Oil, Gas and Chemical Workers Union--the then leader was pretty progressive (considering)--and that's how they got their start.

I think there was a lot more of that in the 1960s, now everything is very institutional and top heavy and there isn't very much flexibility.

My joke about DC is that "big government trickles down and shapes little government in its image." It means that at the local level, things are institutional and ossified, and one problem with ANCs is that even at the most grassroots level, people are taught to believe that "it is the government's job to step in and take care of things," which debilitates self help. etc.

When I came here it was out of a motivation and a belief that it was a good place to do good things.

E.g., in college I came across a book (sadly I don't have it anymore), published during the Carter Administration called People Power (I think). Even though Reagan had been in office for awhile, "the people"/progressives were still energized by opposition to that change.

... back then, I did communications and other stuff for the advocacy group. Pre-Internet you sent out press releases and had press conferences and got press mentions, etc.

Post-Internet the media is decimated and I don't think you can get press conferences covered on tv or in newspapers. I hardly see the group that I worked for mentioned at all in the media anymore...


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