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Category — cities

A bit of joy

Perhaps you all have seen this:

I came across it via a 3 quarks daily item referencing a New York Times article. That I discovered this two-week old clip–which already has millions of views–so circuitously speaks to the fact that I’m just not up on what’s hot on the Internets these days. 

Any number of descriptors come to mind for this video: goofy, joyful, callow, spontaneous, kitschy, universalistic. One could ask what sort of manipulation is going on when upbeat music makes you feel upbeat. One could find any number of reasons to by cynically dismissive of the whole thing–perhaps by counting up the ways it could illustrate Stuff White People Like. That might have been my reaction, some years ago.

But watching the video did bring me a few minutes of joy today. Upon reflection, it brought to mind the “Dancing in the Street” pattern (#63) from A Pattern Language:

All over the earth, people once danced in the streets; in theater, song, and natural speech, “dancing in the street” is an image of supreme joy. Many cultures still have some version of this activity… 

But in those parts of the world that have become “modern” and technically sophisticated, this experience has died. Communities are fragmented; people are uncomfortable in the streets, afraid with one another; not many people play the right kind of music; people are embarrassed….

The embarrassment and the alienation are recent developments, blocking a more basic need. And as we get in touch with these needs, things start to happen. People remember how to dance; everyone takes up an instrument; many hundreds form little bands.

APL goes on to with recommendations for building an environment that fosters dancing in the street. So however accidentally and undeliberately he got into it, Matt Harding is onto something.

The video clip above is the third of his videos. The second video, from 2006, is similar, but consists mostly of Matt dancing by himself. In fact, it was the spontaneous participation of the children in Rwanda that led, in part, to the idea for the third video. The second video is set to a song called “Sweet Lullaby,” by Deep Forest. Watching the video, the song struck me as quite familiar. Was it from an ad? From This American Life? I was having the hardest time placing it, until I realized that it was actually a track on a Lullaby CD of ours.

July 8, 2008   2 Comments


There are three books that form the foundation for my urban Weltanschauung, and I hope to write of each. The first of these, for me, was James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere, a polemic examination of the state of our built environment. Written before global warming or peak oil commanded the attention they do today, Kunstler focused on the dehumanizing aesthetics of postwar development, particularly suburbia.

I’d long felt an uneasiness about the suburbs: I’d had a general notion that total reliance on cars must be bad for the environment, and I also knew that the suburbs appeared dull and boring at best, but I could never quite put a finger on precisely what was wrong with them. Kunstler’s book was a clarion illumination of the problems of suburbia; he put into amusingly acerbic words precisely what I had felt.

Kunstler wrote two more books about the built form: Home from Nowhere, and The City in Mind, and he maintains a curmudgeonly website, with his delightful eyesore of the month. Kunstler is, by trade, a writer, and so his work is generally very well crafted. In the past few years he has mostly been concerned with Peak Oil and the complete catastrophe it could be for the American Way of Life, and his book on the subject, The Long Emergency, isn’t quite as captivating as his other works: in large part because the depth of research and analysis that went into his other books just isn’t there.

As someone who listens to several podcasts, I was excited to learn that he is now doing a weekly podcast of his own: Kunstlercast. The first episode concerns (chain) drugstores, and their proliferation. It’s worth listening to.

February 25, 2008   1 Comment