Observing Our Changing Urban Spaces

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A few weeks ago I exited our local library in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland to see a small crowd of adults, children and toddlers, pausing to watch as bulldozers across the street torn apart the First Baptist Church. As its walls came tumbling down, its insides revealed what seemed to be spaces that just recently held its church goers. Posters still affixed to Sunday School classroom walls, rows of pews in the sanctuary and bookshelves all became exposed. With each of my weekly visits to the library the building diminishes more and more. Even though I personally have no memories attached to this building, which sat central in our community, I still regret not taking more photos to document some of its details, especially its original Art Deco signage from the 1950s. Now it’s replaced with banners advertising what’s to come – new apartments, ground level retail and a new space for the church. While more mixed use development is needed and the housing will most certainly be in high demand, it seems parts of this building will be missed. Beyond what is to come and what was in this space, it was encouraging to see residents stop in the middle of their paths to watch their city changed before their eyes.

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Earlier this week I also volunteered to help tear down another urban space. While this happened on a much smaller scale it was exciting to be a part of a project, even in a little way, that aimed to recycled a much loved architectural installation into a new space. I’m referring to packing up the roughly 650,000 plastic balls that made up the Beach at the National Building Museum this summer.  As summer officially ended with Labor Day this weekend, so too did this Snarkitecture exhibit which sought to bring the beach to DC’s urban dwellers. The balls we packed into boxes and then relocated to Dupont Circle. There they will be part of a future art installation at the Dupont Underground space, an abandoned underground trolley station. The amazing part about this relocation project was that it was almost entirely completed with the help of volunteers. Most of us came simply because we wanted to see the deconstruction of the Beach or the underground space. We were spurred by our curiosity and desire to witness this transition.

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As our urban spaces both small and large change before our eyes it’s inspiring to pause with my neighbors to observe the changing landscapes around us. Changes that many citizens, developers, planners, designers and government officials have spent much time and energy working towards. We paused both on the corner watching the church wall being torn down, and in the middle of packing up the beach to remember not only what was once there but also, to remember the process of transition as our cities continue to evolve into better places.

All photos were taken by the author.

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