Nick Lawrence
Traffic Calming

In March of 1997 a proposed map of street alterations to Buffalo's Lower West Side was floated at a series of poorly publicized "community meetings" led by representatives of the City Council. The changes consisted mainly of erecting steel gates and traffic diverters at various corners throughout the neighborhood, ostensibly cutting the amount of through-traffic and reducing opportunities for drug-dealing and prostitution. At the same time, the enclosures resulting from the gates, following the single-entrance/exit rule of suburban street planning, would effectively reorganize the district into a series of mini-neighborhoods of widely varying character. It escaped few residents' attention that the proposed compartmentalization of the neighborhood followed lines set down by the demographics of income and home ownership, and that segregations by class and race were the inevitable result. Following the meetings, a group of LWS residents organized to resist the movement toward gating and (to the tune of "Don't Fence Us In") initiated a series of counter-proposals based on an alternative conception of city planning, one based on democratic procedure and commitment to public space. It's against the backdrop of this effort that I've assembled the following reflections, mine and others, on place, lessness, and the relevance of poetry to all this. I've chosen as my points of reference the still-underappreciated contributions of early Situationist writings to rethinking and recreating the conditions of a livable urban space/place, and my brief is for a reconsideration of their efforts at breaking down the boundaries between aesthetic and sociopolitical practice, not, as in their original formulation, in order to supersede the making of art, but to reenergize our ideas of the possibilities of each.

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