I find union station a fascinating epicenter of DC. On one hand you have the constant flow of travelers, businessmen and tourists commuting to and fro. Hundreds of hurried people rushing about trying to catch their trains or their greyhound bus. But on the other hand union station’s grand architecture is the middle of a major DC divide. On the Northwest side you have the Georgetown Law School, Mass Ave and the working center of DC while on the east side you have Maryland ave and other residential neighborhoods, some of which get dangerous by night.
For my DC exploration I went to Union Station. As I stepped off the metro I was immediately greeted by the noise that is the hustle and bustle of a major transportation station. I began taking mental notes. First, I noticed a homeless man asking for money at the corner of the metro entrance and I thought back the invisible man in Tiki Palaces of Detroit as I watched the people, who looking at their iphones, walked past, not even realizing he was there. As I continued walking through the crowds of people I thought about the identities in a city and the limited interactions people between people of different identities. The earlier instance I described, one man sitting alone asking for help while others wiz past moving quickly to their next destination, is a great example of this phenomena. I then thought to De Certeau, are these walks a rebellion against the conceptual city thought of by urban planners? Are these busy business men and women making their own path? How does technology influence this walk? Now people look down as they walk, staring into a black box and barely looking up to enjoy the view of their city. As I continued walking and watching, I tried to imagine people’s stories. Where they were going. Where they came from. It is interesting how easy it is to categorize people. As I walked a few blocks up there was a street lined with homeless men and women. I crossed again, and just a blocks over young professionals busily passed by, I then saw groups of teens, loudly joking with one another waiting for the bus. I looked back to the street with the homeless and thought about perspectives. I, a young female, am telling this tale of my city by day and at times felt a tad uncomfortable alone in a new part of town, uniquely because I am a female. However, I admired the city of fact–the beauty of a grand building like Union Station and the tall business buildings sprinkled about. I felt the city of feeling– the D.C. culture of constant movement, people on a mission hurrying through the crowds and I saw the invisible men and women lining an abandoned lot. But what if I was not this young college-aged girl. What if I was the homeless man on the corner of the metro. How would my city be different?
Street Art DC
For my first D.C. exploration I wanted to take a closer look at D.C. Street Art. It began in the U street corridor, I was in the neighborhood for a movie at the new Atlantic Plumbing Cinema and as I was walking I passed a magnificent portrait of George Washington. I stopped to take a picture and immediately began surveying the area. Why did the artist choose such a place? U street has become trendy and artistic with music venues and restaurants but this particular building was located on the street right before U street had little but a gas station, liquor store and a nail salon. I thought about place. What was it about this place that made Aniekan choose it? How has he made this seemingly insignificant building into a place of meaning?
In a different part of the city, Adams Morgan, I found another work by the same artist. This time the mural was on the side of a building with vibrant colors shooting in all directions. I was so excited when I saw the name and recognized the artist. Upon recognition, I immediately felt more connected to the city. I felt like an insider, knowing the stomping grounds of the street artist. I then started wondering how many other people have seen the art? How many people are connected to it? I thought to Let the Great World Spin and the collective memory those people shared about the artistic performance by Philippe Petit. In some small way street art does the same thing. Anyone can see it and most when reminded will remember it. I wonder how art like this can connect the city and create a “collective memory” etched onto the side of a building for years.
Logan Circle Walk
As I sat in Logan Circle waiting for the group I was immediately struck by the contrast from the novel. This Sunday afternoon the circle was filled with children playing, white exercisers biking and running, all surrounded by luxurious mansions. This scene was vastly different than the one Stephanos knew, a Logan circle where drug dealers sold their merchandise and prostitutes lingered. As I sat, I eavesdropped on two sets of people who sat on the bench next to me. The first was an old white man who sitting with his two young grandchildren and I listened as he began to describe the epic change of the neighborhood since he’d be in D.C.. He pointed to houses “Look” he said to his grandson “That house over there was in ruins just twenty years ago.” It is interesting to think about how collective memory is passed down. The next pair to sit at the bench couldn’t have been a sharper contrast. It was a grandfather and grandson again but the family was clearly international. Under the watchful eye of his grandfather the grandson sat down and immediately got to work reading what looked like schoolwork. This reminded me of Stephanos brief mention of education “being as student was as complete an identity as I had ever hoped for.” How was my vision of the identity of this boy shaped by the fact that he was clearly a student?
As we began our walk I thought about the city of fact. In every direction beautiful houses surround the circle, some worth hundreds and thousands of dollars. As we continued to walk, the quaint neighborhood continued to look upscale. There were some things were under construction but for the most part the historic buildings looked restored and refurbished. My thought then turned towards the city of feeling. I noticed the Whole Foods and Lululemon, as I scanned the newspaper stands I even noticed a pet companions advertisement. How superficial it all seemed yet so familiar. I walked in the footsteps of Stephanos and wondered at how the city of fact had changed so drastically and how in turn the city of feeling had shifted.