[Editor’s Note: Patrick Piuma is director of the the University of Louisville’s Urban Design Studio (UDS) and a board member of City Collaborative (which is currently seeking ideas for the next location of ReSurfaced). This post originally appeared on the UDS blog and appears here with permission.]
“The urban fabric contains symbols (icons) that tell us something about ourselves and something about those to whom the symbols belong. This aspect of the urban fabric has been called the glue that bonds people to place.” (Hull, Lam & Vigo, 1994, p. 109)
While we work to reweave the urban fabric of our city and activate currently underutilized or vacant spaces such as ReSurfaced, one establishment, that for me fosters a sense of what makes Louisville a great and unique place, will be closing its doors. There will still be a building there, along a wonderful stretch of walkable urbanism, but there will be a huge hole in the fabric nonetheless.
The quality and variety of businesses that fill the storefronts along walkable streets is equally as important as the existence of storefronts and buildings.
It is easy to look at a map and view all of the dead surface lots and spaces that blight the city, while also offering opportunities (the cup-half-full view). However, sometimes what is within the built environment is lost in the urban design discussion. The quality and variety of businesses that fill the storefronts along walkable streets is equally as important as the existence of storefronts and buildings, not to mention all of the other amenities that make for a vibrant pedestrian environment.
Wild and Woolly is a place that provides the “glue” of our community. It generates an identity for the city as well as the neighborhood and immediate area. The memories and social interaction that Wild and Woolly fostered over the past 18 years will continue on as a legacy to a great Louisville institution. Though, the video store is one of a growing number of locally owned linchpins in our community that have become victims to our new digital world.
While we stare at our digital lives through the screens on our mobile devices, we should step back and consider what other great symbols of our community will suffer a similar fate from the march of progress. This is not meant as a lament for days gone by, but a gentle slap in the face to wake us up to momentarily consider what the impact our mobile-connected lives will have on the future of our built environment, Louisville’s identity, and our own attachment to place and self-identity.
We will and must continue to work on filling in the physical and social gaps of our city, activating places that will bring about new icons for our identity. However, we also must be aware of where we are going and how we can adapt to ensure that our gathering places, the “glue” of our community, don’t simply become a series of virtual spaces, lest we will lose our own sense of place.
[Reference: Hull VI, B., Lam, M., & Vigo, B. (1994). Place identity: symbols of self in the urban fabric. Landscape and Urban Planning, 29, 109-120.]