Sunday, November 20, 2011

The 5th Street No-Man’s-Land (95)

One of the pleasures of being a dog walker is that I ramble the Davis streets often and on foot. This means that I see close-up places some others only glimpse from a speeding car.

Because I live in the Old North, one area I see closely is the north side of Fifth Street from F to Miller.  Although almost a half mile long, it contains only ten residences. The greatest portion of it consists of three block-long stretches belonging to a church, a school district and the city government.

The strip is distinctive as the northern border of a heavy-traffic urban throughway. Proximity to such a massive traffic danger, noise, and auto fumes must surely exercise an influence on who elects to live there.

My impression is that all ten residential buildings are inhabited by groups of students. But these are not just any renters. There appears to a self-selection of people partial to visual, audial, and other kinds of blight.

At least two of the ten have been used so heavily by hard-living residents that their owners have recently needed to perform major rehabs.*

Of course, three of the blocks have no residents on them. But even there, two of the three organizations that own these street-fronts seem to be less than diligent in maintaining their public frontage. This is especially ironic because one is in the field of religion and other is in the field of education, fields traditionally held up as exemplars of proper behavior. On 5th, though, they tend to be exemplars of sidewalk-front sloppiness.

A notable micro-ecological feature of the strip is that is lacks physical arrangements that foster neighborhood contact. Stated in the reverse, to live on 5th is to face away from normal neighborhood interaction and toward a wide chasm of racing if not raging traffic. The “neighbors” one looks out on are entities such as an office structure, the fire department, a welfare shelter, an almost always closed museum, a park, and apartment buildings. This is the stuff of urban anomie not robust and gracious neighboring.

I hear that a redesign of 5th street is in the works, a design to make it calmer and more pedestrian, bicycle, and otherwise friendly. It will be interesting to see what effects, if any, this redesign has on the 5th Street No-Man’s-Land.

* Amazingly, to me, eight of the ten are owned by one person and his associates (or at last they were when last I checked). (This person seems to specialize in acquiring and renting houses in Davis No-Man-Land strips, by the way.)