We’re in week 2 of the Olympics, and one of those little vignette-timewasters inserted into the NBC coverage involved how this year’s doughnut-shaped Olympic metals are supposed to memorialize the piazza, or town plaza. Cut away to the Olympic metal presentation stage set in a giant open square surrounded by stores, cafes, and room for 8,000 people. Before two weeks ago, apparently the piazza was a busy thoroughfare where you were as likely to be run over if you were caught standing in the middle of it — forget about sitting and enjoying an expresso.
All great neighborhoods have an open air area that comprises a natural public area. Some places have parks, others have squares, while still others have promenades. In my old neighborhood in Kensington it was a wierd area caused by the intersection of two grid systems, that of New Utrecht and 36th Street and 15th Avenue at a 45 degree angle to that of old Flatbush’s Dahill Road, which pretty much goes straight north-south. This created a “natural” area where numerous games of stickball, footbal and other street games were held. On the run to first lies the neighborhood bodega. Along the path home was a two storey frame house with a large porch. Behind home plate was a house best described as a Swiss Chalet. Our bedroom window was the outfield skybox where we could observe what was going on in the outdoor forum. A Fourth of July treat were the massive demonstrations of fireworks that we thought as kids rivaled the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks.

Alas, the triangle is gone, revised by modern traffic shaping into just an ordinary straight street that would have run into the house. And alas, the house is gone, being gobbled up by a much more utilitarian building. Yet, the area is still used as a walking area called an eruv by the Hasidic community of Borough Park, and the memory remains. Perhaps that is what those Olympic medals set out to represent – continuing to be an open area surrounded by — yet a part of — the whole world.

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