I am pleased to present The Urban Review’s third edition, I’s on the Street. In this collection, we bring together work from graduate students at three universities across several degrees and disciplines. The authors, from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, and UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs—in urban planning, critical conservation, and the history and philosophy of design and media—have poured many hours and tremendous energy into these thoughtful, illuminating, and critical works over the past five months. It is exciting to finally share with you these powerful voices.
The concept for I’s on the Street was conceived by three urban planning students at Harvard—Sarah Zou, Emily Klein, and Evita Chavez, whose work is also included in this collection. Their goal was for writers to engage explicitly with the complex ways identity and space are intertwined, and how this sociophysical collision is mediated by structural mediums of oppression, isolation, power, and community at all scales. Sarah, Emily, and Evita present us with a provocative rearticulation of Jane Jacobs’ words in her canonical The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “There must be
eyes I’s on the streets, eyes I’s belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street.” These I’s—our identities, multifaceted, complicated, beautiful, used to oppress, used to liberate—inform every moment of our spatial experience, how we choose to create and divide and unite, what we see and what escapes us, how we are enabled, restricted, loved, and threatened by others.
Holding this framing in mind, we invited writers to react to the following questions:
How do your identities shape your experience as you navigate through cities, streets, towns? When and where do your identities and your senses of self inform or alter your perception of and orientation within the built environment? How are streetscapes liberating or inhibitory, oppressive? When do urban environments allow us to loudly assert I AM ON THE STREET? When do they disconnect us from the “we,” demarcating disbelonging? When are you a proprietor of the street?
The authors set out to answer these questions through a diversity of lenses, with great creativity, producing a wide range of perspectives and styles that explore this topic in breadth and depth. By throwing into relief the political, spatial, and social dynamics fundamental to our existence, these pieces will demand your attention, engaging you viscerally in the project of unearthing the violence, confusion, joy, belonging, and overlapping and contradictory subjectivities inherent in the confluence of identity and space.
Most of these pieces were written well before the pandemic, but their intersections with the issues surfacing around COVID-19 run deep. Identity and belonging—as they take shape across, and create, space—are central to individual and collective sentiments surrounding community, responsibility, and meaning in life. At the same time, identity has always been mobilized as a medium of oppression, exploitation, division, fear. The global pandemic, while producing novel geographies of marginalization, also throws into relief, and in many ways deepens and extends, the existing injustices that have forever undergirded society, while simultaneously inducing new patterns of organized resistance and mutual aid and invigorating existing movements.
In parallel with the numerous critical conversations emerging around the pandemic, the works in this edition help us to think through both ongoing and novel injustices as well as the complex emotions and interactions that materialize at the intersection of identity/space/time.
How can we think of these pieces in relation to COVID-19, yet how can we also think about them as topics that transcend the pandemic, that existed long before and will continue to exist in a post-pandemic landscape, and that we must continue to engage with, reflect on, and organize around?
This is the vital work we all step into.
Take inspiration in reading,
Editor in Chief, 2019/2020