What is an American Main Street? Is it a memory or image that has been perpetuated through American writing and art? A real space within new urbanist town planning? Or is it a place where some are welcome and others are shunned? Perhaps it is all of the above.
Distinguished Temple professor Miles Orvell and photographer Sandy Sorlien will take on these questions, and more, at an interdisciplinary conversation on American Main Streets at Paley Lecture Hall on 2/21, 2:30 PM.
When asked about the importance of main streets to planning and sustainability, Sorlien, who has been advocating for walkable downtowns for the past decade, stated “the importance of the traditional Main Street is that it is the essential center of a walkable
village or urban neighborhood. You can’t have walkability without useful destinations (shops, offices, civic functions), and without walkability the place depends on cars, which further damage walkability, at least the way we’ve designed cities for many decades.” She also adds that “It’s important to understand Main Streets as essential to great cities, not just quaint little rural towns. Philadelphia’s mixed-use corridors knit our many neighborhoods together, which then enables transit. It’s all connected.”
Her photographic practice reflects her interest in these spaces, and she has been photographing landscapes and townscapes since 1980. She has published her work in Fifty Houses: Images from the American Road (Johns Hopkins 2002), and is finishing a book about Main Streets in America with the working title The Heart of Town.
Dr. Miles Orvell, professor of English and American Studies here at Temple, is equally interested in main streets, and his innovative, interdisciplinary research approaches questions of space and the built environment through a number of theoretical, visual, and historiographic methods.
In the last five years, Orvell has focused his research on the cultural meaning of
place, and he has co-edited a collection of essays,Public Space and the Ideology of Place in American Culture (Rodopi, 2009). He is an editor of the University of Pennsylvania Press series, Architecture, Technology, Culture, and is co-editing
a volume in the series, Thinking Architecture, Technology, Culture, based on a
conference he helped organize in Munich.
His most recent book is The Death and Life of Main Street: Small Towns in American
Memory, Space, and Community (University of North Carolina Press, 2012), which
recovers the complex and contradictory cultural meanings of the small town at the
same time that it problematizes the icon of Main Street. He is presently working
on a book on photography, ruins, and contemporary culture, called “The Course of
Empire: American Photography and the Destructive Sublime.”
Join us to examine these real and imagined notions of American main streets with Miles Orvell and Sandy Sorlien. We hope to see you at Paley Library Lecture Hall on Thursday, February 21 at 2:30 PM to join in the conversation!