Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Lancaster Vibe

I don't know what it is, but Lancaster has a distinctive vibe. Although I still feel like an outsider looking into the city from a great distance, new information and exciting events trickle to me every week. Lancaster's vibe is hip and it travels well on the internet. I feel progressively rooted into Lancaster's virtual community just as this very community appears aggressively connected to the textures of daily life rather than the zapping of virtual space. I'll give some examples. My colleague Linda Aleci has invited me to a city walk organized through Facebook. It's called the Lancaster Photo Walk. A number of people (who presumably don't know each other) will meet on the corner of Market and Queen Sts. at noon on Monday, Nov. 30. We will all wonder through downtown taking photos and collectively discover the rich architectural heritage in an impromptu kind of way.

On the night before, Sun., Nov. 29, 6-10pm, the Creative Works of Lancaster and the Lancaster Building Conservancy will be hosting their first movie night entitled "Love, War, and Architecture." I haven't seen any of the featured films and look forward to attending. The films are as follows:

1. Lost Buildings
A collaboration between Ira Glass (This American Life) and master illustrator Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth), this short animated documentary tells a heartbreaking story of beautiful buildings, the people who love them, and the people who tear them down. (2003, 22 minutes)

2 Little Castles
An irreverent history of Formstone, the fake stone veneer we love to hate. Shot in and around Baltimore, the birthplace and undisputed Formstone capital of the world, this short film includes a hilarious cameo by John Waters. (1998, 30 minutes)

3. Los Angeles Plays Itself
A critically-acclaimed portrait of Los Angeles as depicted (and distorted) by Hollywood's mythologizing lens. (2003, 160 minutes)

At this event, Ben Leach will conclude his Lancaster Kodachrome Campaign. A bunch of folks have gotten the last surviving samples of Kodachrome film, which the Eastman Company stopped producing this year. We're all using this suddenly archival medium for the last Kodachrome impressions of the urban fabric. Ben will collect all of our rolls and send them for batch processing. My roll is actually in the mail. My friend Matt Milliner spotted an old roll at a camera store in Cyprus. For those interested in the Kodachrome legacy, Ben recommends this video.

My introduction to the Lancaster vibe is also flavored by David Schuyler's A City Transformed: Redevelopment, Race, and Suburbanization in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1940-1980 (University Park, 2002), which I have just began. The book is a MUST for unpacking Lancaster. Schuyler is a colleague at Franklin & Marshall, professor of American Studies. In addition to being an incredible scholar, Schuyler is exemplary in involving undergraduate students in his research and co-authoring books and articles. Schuyler reassured me that he became a Lancaster expert only after arriving at F&M. His book rose out of his teaching, which is just an amazing pedagogical notion and something that F&M seems to do quite well. So, I can't wait to work with my first Hackman Scholar.

Lancaster's postwar urban renewal is a typical story of the American city. The wholesale demolition of the blighted inner city took place in the 1950s. City Transformed tells an incredible story. Suburbanization, federal funds managed by city official, modernist architecture, and race politics transformed an attractive Victorian city into a fragmented faceless place. Lancaster's low urban density did not warrant the same kind of revival that other downtown experienced in the 1990s (e.g. Philadelphia). The city, thus, remains as a laboratory caught in various historical moments. The Lancaster vibe measures its pulse. I'm really glad to be here and virtually surrounded by a crowd I haven't even yet met.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States