Sidewalk storage tempos

Even within the seemingly most mundane details of street-level life, one can extrapolate what a given context values when it comes to managing citizens’ experience of the city, and how the city reflects local norms to shape peoples’ behaviors and beliefs.

Above, the sidewalk storage behavior outside the Albert Heijn grocery store in the Binnenstad neighborhood of Amsterdam has crates stacked high on to caster carts on a fairly wide slice of sidewalk (which in turn case blends seamlessly into parking and then the road itself). As I read Venkatesh Rao’s excellent book “Tempo”, you could say that these crates are primed, and relatively ready for action. It seems as if they were placed here with an emphasis upon preparation for future action and impending use.

This stands in contrast to how these crates are stored in a back alley of Meguro district, Tokyo. Like the Albert Heijn grocery store in Amsterdam, this store – whether for space reasons or otherwise – decided to store these crates outside their establishment. Unlike in Amsterdam, the people who organized and stored these crates beneath the stairs of the store traded their “momentum” for “unobtrusiveness”. Within a seemingly purpose-built room beneath the stairs, these crates in Japan are much more “at rest” than those in the Netherlands, but in turn they’re far more out of the way of pedestrians on this markedly more narrow slice of sidewalk.

Besides consideration for pedestrians, this also speaks to the idea of space and objects are “public” in different urban spaces. Who “owns” the domain of the sidewalk, how much of it do they own, and what are they allowed to do with it?

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