SHARED SPACE - THE AMERICAN CITY
Standing at the foot of the deep sunless canyon of lower Broadway is BOWLING GREEN, probably the city’s oldest public park. … In 1638-47 this oval spot was part of the hog and cattle market of Marcktveldt. Later, it served as a parade ground for the Dutch militia. The English fenced off the plot and in 1732 leased it to three citizens for use as a private bowling ground. The rent was set at one peppercorn a year. During the Revolution, the royal crowns ornamenting the fence pickets disappeared.
The “golden keys” to Gramercy Park, symbol of the exclusiveness guaranteed by a real-estate operator about a century ago, are still required to open the gate to New York’s most important privately owned park. A forbidding eight-foot iron fence encloses this oblong tract two blocks square that is “forever” locked to the public. … Residents in near-by streets who have been approved by the trustees are given keys for annual fees. All others must be satisfied with a glimpse through the gate.
—New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)
Ladies and gents, we’re featuring these illustrations of NYC from the 1939 WPA guide to the city because A) we love them and B) our friends over at Urban Omnibus are thinking about shared space in the American urban environment. In fact, they’re running a writing competition all about it…
What do you hold in common with your fellow citizens, the strangers with whom you share your city?
What kinds of urban space, property, or merchandise do you choose not to own yet feel you have the right to use?
How does the city affect your perceptions of the distinctions between goods and services, private and public, material and digital, proprietary and common, ownership and access?
UO is in the midst of their third annual writing competition—this year on the topic of common ownership, private property, and the sharing economy—and we thought some of our American Guide readers and contributors might be interested.
One first-prize essay will receive an award of $500. Up to two second-place winners will receive prizes of $250 each. Winning submissions will be published on Urban Omnibus and in a booklet printed by the very cool McNally Jackson Books. The booklet will be featured in the Architecture section of McNally Jackson in Manhattan for the summer, and winners will be invited to read their submissions at an event at the bookstore in July.
The jury includes plenty of great thinkers about urban space and architecture: Rosalie Genevro, Lucy Ives, Suketu Mehta, Cassim Shepard, Varick Shute, and Caitlin Zaloom.
For submission instructions and more information, visit urbanomnibus.net/commonshares. The deadline is 11:59pm at Monday, May 12, so get on this!
P.S. If anybody wants to respond to this topic via photography or illustration, send ‘em our way and maybe we can do a post or two of our own when Urban Omnibus announces their winner.