Lileks on streetcorners


Lileks today has a gem of a paragraph on the different influences exerted on the development of streetcorners by the streetcar and the motorcar:

I love the small commercial nodes left behind by the vanished trolley car system – you can tell where the cars used to stop, because there’s always some old brick buidings from the 20s crowding the corners. Two stories – stores on the ground floor, apartment buildings for singles, old maids, drifters and lonely souls above. The antithesis of these corners are those strange intersections where once there stood four gas stations, erected in the bitter genocidal Gas Wars of the 60s. As much as I love gas stations, I regret those four-station corners – they demolish the peculiar humanism you get with four two-story brick buildings crowding the sidewalk. Even if the stations turn into other stores, which they often do, they have the tell-tale taint of a two-bay gas station sitting in the back of the lot like motionless lizards waiting for prey. If you want to reclaim the city, you have to knock it down and start again.

Strong language from the son of a gas station owner. But he's right. It's the streetcar stops, with the two-story brick buildings hugging the sidewalk, that have formed the basis for Tulsa's successful boutique-and-restaurant shopping districts. While jumping on the gas stations chime is fun (assuming they still have one), it's more fun to be able to look in the shop window because it's right next to the sidewalk. Also, the presence of the building right next to the sidewalk means you don't have to watch for cars suddenly crossing your path from that direction or muggers leaping out of a shadowy place. It's called a "street wall", and it's something that works at a subconscious level -- we're more comfortable walking next to a building, particularly with windows, than next to an open and undefined space.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 24, 2004 5:00 AM.

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