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Is urban space disappearing?
Is urban space disappearing?

Spaced Out

As you look around at the slowly diminishing landscape of downtown Fort Lauderdale, you may be incensed. It may be because you're not part of the über-rich club whose shiny phallic condos will soon block out the sun. They can't build west or east, so let's build skyward, right? Or it may be the fact that public space has become so limited, not just here but in many downtown areas. Random public art is plopped in front of federal buildings, courthouses, and fountains to discourage people from sitting; open-air marketplaces and parks are bulldozed to make way for another TGI Friday's or Family Fun Center/Weight Loss Clinic. For those who might not remember what urban landscape means, the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art wants to take you to school with Night of Shorts I: Then and Now, three short films documenting the history of urban space.

Considered one of the first avant-garde films in the United States, Manhatta (1921) is essentially a series of random images strung together to create an imaginary day in New York City. The Vanishing Street (1962) documents the disappearance of the Jewish community in London's East End, as old buildings become targets for wrecking balls and are replaced with high-rise housing. Hmm, sounds familiar!

The final short is urban planner William H. Whyte's The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980). Whyte walks the viewer through various small urban parks and plazas to find out where people sit, what attracts people to certain common areas, why we're hesitant to venture to places on foot, and it proposes a city where walking could be rediscovered in the spirit of "drift and détournement" -- the act of wandering the city according to no set route or schedule, immersing oneself in the streets without really going anywhere, and -- gasp -- actually interacting with people! Check it out, and make sure you bring a blanket or chair to sit on. Walk there if you have to.


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