Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hine Jr High: Dead Zones and Life Zones

In my GMU course "Globalization in My Neighborhood," we learned about globalization by looking at how globalization works in our own neighborhoods. The students chose all sorts of places to research: H St NE, Columbia Heights, Fairfax, Ashburn, Annandale, Centerville, towns in NJ, Moscow State University, Istanbul, etc. For their research, they did interviews and surveys, used census data, took photos, made maps, and used archival documents. Their research papers were so fascinating. One student was asked to present her research to her city's mayor. Another student made a glorious, room-sized mural of H St NE that included photos, drawings, census charts, and quotations, specifically from Gil M. Doron.

For class, we read Gil M. Doron's "The Dead Zone and the Architecture of Transgression." Doron discusses how urban planners and architects see abandoned buildings, closed industrial areas, empty lots, spaces under bridges, and other such spaces as "wastelands," "voids," and "Dead Zones" and seek to rescue them from their wasteful existence by redeveloping and "revitalizing" them. When further investigated, these apparently empty places are in fact not dead at all, but rather represent "an order of a different kind." Doron studied such "Dead Zones" in 20 cities in Europe, America, and Asia. In such "voids," he found:
  • community gardens
  • public art (licensed or illicit)
  • cruising or public sex
  • homeless inhabitants, permanent squatters, boat dwelling communities
  • havens for wildlife
  • raves, parties, informal beach bonfires
  • alternative economic enterprises
Before you focus only on the public sex, here's what Doron found in the center of Rome, the Villaggio Globela in a former slaughter house:
  • a music school
  • an elderly peoples' home
  • stables
  • a restaurant named 'Casa Della Pace' run by Middle Eastern immigrants
  • a small community center for Kurdish refugees
  • a center for alternative art and music
Urban planners and architects are anxious about abandoned spaces because they realize that they don't have a role in these spaces; other people have taken over the role of architect and planner and have begun putting these sites to new uses. These spaces often open up to other uses because they are going to be redeveloped but plans are in suspension. Such suspension is a normal part of the planning process as plans are put together, resources coordinated, etc. Doron suggests, however, that this suspension might be indefinite and the worlds created in such "Dead Zones" might be more alive than what urban planners and architects can imagine.

To demonstrate Doron's argument to my students, I quickly took some pictures of Hine Jr High. Here is the slideshow I showed them (follow this link to my actual flickr slideshow which looks better and you can also see my commentary on the photos):

After I showed them the slideshow, the students said that I should start a discussion on the bulletin board about alternatives for the Hine Jr High site. Due to being so busy, I made only a small attempt at doing so (see in the last slide, there are two green index cards posted on the bulletin board). What might Hine Jr High become? How might different people imagine and practice different worlds? How might our neighborhood benefit from these different worlds?


  1. This slide show will be incredibly valuable in about 2 or 3 years, when we look back and try to remember what was wonderful about this location in recent years past.

    Each slide is wonderful, but two in particular caught me eye. The first slide, the view of Eastern Market across the playground, demonstrates what will be lost forever with development: The Hine open playground has been a platform for displaying the namesake of the neighborhood. The "North Building" of the development will sit more or less on the footprint fo the temporary Market shown in the picture. It will be a five story tall building, only as wide as that footprint (44 feet) with two 20' wide apartments facing across a 4' wide hallway. For that purpose, all views of Eastern Market from 8th Street will be blocked.

    Slide 4, looking east into the playground, reminds me that there were two wonderful, active tennis courts across the way along 8th Street, removed to make way for the flea market when its space was reduced for the temporary market. Even more fun, to the right of this picture, was a couple of regulation-length basketball courts which attracted some of the best players in the city on summer days, also displaced to make room for vendor parking squeezed to make way for the temporary market. The temporary market is long gone, but no effort was made to replace the tennis courts or basketball, no doubt because no one wanted those activities in place when it comes time to build the Hine development.

    Hine stood empty (save for use as CAG headquarters) for a long time. No effort was made to make the space useful during the development and licensing process. What a waste!

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