The colors of a city evening
Posted October 17, 2011
Cities present themselves differently at night from in the daytime. Imperfections recede into the darkness, while what remains visible becomes less complete and more evocative. Colors and shapes can become more vivid when artificially lit and set against the shadows.
In other words, there’s a reason that the song is called “Bright Lights, Big City,” and that most romantic movie scenes are set in the evenings. The streets become animated anew, and even interiors take on a different glow. Mystery becomes possibility.
I’m not exactly the first to notice this. The changes that come to cities at nightfall have been explored quite nicely by my friend Chuck Wolfe, for example, on his highly visual blog myurbanist. One of Chuck’s recent posts begins:
“If ‘cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night,’ as the English poet Rupert Brooke suggests, then how many of us should fear for our safety in the urban darkness? Is a nighttime city better measured by the numbers, rather than by such human perception and poetry?
“In my view, first noted here. Brooke’s poetry is a worthy start. His feline analogy creates the framework for five important qualities of 24-hour, magnetic places. The first, safety, spurs four more—mobility, proximity, commerce and interaction.”
Chuck makes some important points: for the poetic to prevail on an urban evening, the city must be safe, healthy, and alive.
Last week I had the great honor of being among the speakers at an impeccably staged “summit” on the future of livability in New York City, presented by that city’s Municipal Art Society. (My topic was the greening of historic preservation.) The event placed me in and around Lincoln Center, where the neighborhood was “misty wet with rain” (to quote another great British wordsmith, Northern Irishman Van Morrison) the whole time. For me, that made the evening scenes and colors even more evocative.
My job is supposedly understanding, problem-solving and advocacy, not photography. But surely it helps to love the kinds of places that one hopes to replicate and/or improve for the sake of sustainability? There is little I would rather do than walk around a city, even in a drizzle, and I took my camera along. I didn’t have to go far to discover a bit of magic in the colors of the evening, and perhaps a bit more about what makes urban places special:
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Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment. For more posts, see his blog's home page.