The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to full his function --although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. his main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people.
-Jane Jacobs, "The Uses of Sidewalks: Contact."
|[Judith trimming the mystery tree.]|
If I hadn't gotten a flat tire, I wouldn't have noticed Judith working in the parking lot. But my rear tube was flat and sat down on the low concrete wall to change my tire, and as I pumped I watched her work.
She was alone, snipping away at the branches of a tree that had somehow grown to middling size on the edge of the lot.
"I'm just trying to make sure the parking lot is happy, otherwise they'll cut down this tree," Judith told me.
"This is one of the the last two trees we have," she said. "When they re-built the Union Depot we lost about eight trees. Now there are only these two," she said, referring to the two trees somehow growing out of cracks in the fence. Each was about 30' tall, and we didn't know what species either of them were.
"Is that an elm?" I asked.
"Yeah maybe but it has this weeping quality with the branches," Judith replied. "I don't know, a Chinese elm?"
Judith lives in one of the buildings nearby, and is a neighborhood cultivator of the volunteer'd trees and shrubs that somehow grow between the alleyway cracks.
|[The lot owner.]|
"Do you want a hand with that?" I asked, after fixing my flat, referring to the giant pile of limbs that Judith had gathered on the asphalt.
"No, I think I can drag it pretty easily," she said.
And she did.
|[The limbs dragged pretty easily. "Now what do I do with them," she asked herself.]|