Are shop windows a thing of the past or the future?
Candy Chang's Post-it Notes for Neighbors project
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the role storefronts play in the pedestrian experience. Mike Toolis got me started on this train of thought at MPC’s Talking the Walk roundtable on April 21 when he gave a thought-provoking analysis of the impact building design has on streetscapes – especially windows that open to the street and give passers-by a glimpse into the space.
Then MPC’s partner on the Polish Triangle project, WPB, announced a program to bring life to empty storefronts. The contest, Make Believe: Reactivating Vacant Spaces in WPB, asked artists to submit proposals that show how they imagine commerce in Wicker Park and Bucktown will look in the future. I can’t wait to see the amazing ideas people came up with when the installations are completed in early July!
So when Kaid Benfield wrote a post earlier this week on the need for “ground level visual interest” on streets, I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something. Kaid’s article, Are shop windows endangered as a species?, was sobering. He discusses the trend away from actual storefront windows that allow people to glimpse into the store toward “covered windows” that provide a barrier between the store and the pedestrian. Quoting a story in Sunday’s Washington Post, Kaid laments the loss of this public space:
“A covered window is more than a concession to the hard realities of the retail economy or to the fear of crime. It is the loss of a form of consciousness -- the mutual regard of urban people for one another. It is the loss of an urban space that can't be found on any map, a place where you are on stage but not an actor, in the audience but part of the show, mixed up among I and you and we and us, a liminal space that has thrilled and terrified people since cities grew large enough to dissolve us in collective identity.”
Depressing, right? Still, I have to believe that for every storefront that turns its back on the street, there are others that embrace the street and understand the value of inviting people into their store through exciting window displays. Just walk down Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square, 57th Street near the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, or Division Street in Wicker Park for examples of bustling commercial centers that engage pedestrians.
Even when storefronts are vacant – which is all too common these days – people are thinking of creative ways to use these spaces. WPB’s art in vacant storefronts is one example. In one of my favorite uses of an empty storefront, Candy Chang, a designer based in Helsinki – and one of my friends from graduate school – used post-its on a vacant storefront to connect neighbors.
I’m curious, what are some of most innovative uses of storefronts you’ve seen?