Yale class takes the measure of New Haven’s Crown Street all weekend

May 2, 2014
By Jim Shelton, New Haven Register
New Haven >> Yale students have a parting gift for Crown Street before they do their summer scoot.
It’s an art exhibit dance party, infused with a fondness for a certain nexus of city nightlife.
“Why Crown Street? It’s a crucible for New Haven,” said Elihu Rubin, an assistant professor of urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture and guiding force behind “Interactive Crown Street,” a three-day event that began Friday afternoon.
“It’s a nightclub district, a restaurant district, a parking lot district. When those begin to mix, that’s interesting,” Rubin said. “I’m trying to get aspiring architects to look at the social environment of a street, as well as the physical environment.”
As Rubin ruminated, students put the finishing touches on a “pop-up urban research field office” — a storefront at 200 Crown St. that would serve as headquarters for the weekend’s events. There were photographs being projected on walls, video cameras being set up to record testimonials and trays of food being brought in from local restaurants.
“I made an Instagram map of Crown Street,” said Daniel Nguyen, one of 12 master’s degree students in Rubin’s class. “This project tries to make people aware they can have an impact on how Crown Street is perceived.”
Nguyen’s exhibit, “Smile, You’re On Crown Street,” allows people to touch a map of the street and pull up photos taken at that spot over the past seven days.
Crown Street begins at State Street in the city’s Ninth Square district and ends at Howe Street. In between are the iconic Louis’ Lunch burger emporium, the beer and pizza maestros at BAR and some holy guacamole at Geronimo Tequila Bar.
There are plenty of nightclubs, as well, whose popularity has prompted numerous altercations and a beefed-up police presence on weekends.
It all adds up to an intricate layering of experiences, Rubin said. He prefers the word “palimpsest,” which refers to a document that holds both original writing and subsequent alterations.
“This is the Crown Street collective memory palimpsest,” Rubin said. “It’s a metaphor for how we navigate the city, which is being made and remade every moment we use it.”
Rubin’s storefront will get its share of use and reuse over the next two days. Friday evening’s agenda included a dance party and food. Activities on Saturday and Sunday begin at 2 p.m. There will be a “Disposable Camera Experiment” at 4 p.m. Saturday, a musical performance by Greg Sherrod at 7 p.m. Saturday and a Cognitive Mapping Workshop at 4 p.m. Sunday. The event ends at 6 p.m. Sunday.
“The living history of Crown Street is important,” said Louisa de Cossy, a technical specialist at Yale’s Digital Media Center for the Arts. She was preparing to record video testimonials. “It breathes life into these buildings.”
In another part of the room, a long sheet of paper with a map of Crown Street dropped down from the ceiling. Visitors were asked to take markers and fill the map with favorite memories of the street, at the spot where they happened.
“Whether you’re an urban planner, a newspaper reporter or an urban historian, you’re telling a story,” Rubin said. “But what about having a shared narrative, a story that’s never finished? Can we be okay with that?”
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