Friday, August 12, 2011

Is This Garden a True Improvement?

This historic, central and hidden corner of the city looks so lovely, doesn't it? Unfortunately it's fake.

Fake in that the grass is plastic while the flowers and bushes are real. Yet that one important element of grass being fake compromises the whole beauty of the arrangement.

This is a picture of the courtyard behind Palazzo di Ezzelino, which dates back to the 12th century and is located off Via Santa Lucia. The courtyard is nestled behind the old palazzo and between several up-scale shops.

When I first came to Padua and discovered this little haven, it had a couple of marble benches and a wall full of spray-painted missives dedicated to lovers and local graffiti artists. The teenage population used its secluded nature to romantically sit together, kiss and make out.

I remember one May day in 2008 when a local artist, Sonia Furiato, decided to dedicate an art installation to the unique space for a roving exhibition I was curating, Libri d'artista per il centro di Padova (Artists' Books around the Center of Padua) . She laid dozens of white origami birds around the courtyard and something magical happened that afternoon. Kids and shoppers were drawn to the space and her action within it. They stopped in their tracks. Their faces lit up. (Unfortunately the shopkeepers didn't understand what was happening and seemed upset at the performance, as they came out and scolded her.)

Libri d'artista per il centro di Padova
Libri d'artista per il centro di Padova

Then fairly recently I walked through the space again and found it cleaned up (from the spray paint), landscaped and fake. It doesn't invite anyone to stay in the space anymore. The benches are gone. The garden looks great but lacks heart. There isn't any meaning to any of this, especially if it doesn't even have real grass.

I'm sure the shopkeepers splurged on the landscaping but don't want the hassle of cutting grass. Plus, glass needs to be weeded and no one wants to do that either. Solution: spruce it up with flowers and plastic! Such a gorgeous way to kill the spirit of a place.

Where is a city allowed to not be pristine? Only in the outskirts and under overpasses? We as humans often have an underbelly of our public persona, which is not always perfect. I believe our cities should be allowed to have similar "alternative" spaces, especially if they bring meaning to those who live there. The former version of this courtyard respected that loved, hidden and cruder part of ourselves.

Where do the teenagers have to go now to catch that minute of privacy, I ask?

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