Commemorating the Street Community’s Lives


The “People’s Garden Terrace” built by our team alongside with the Street Community of the Canterbury Street Lot

“All who pass from this life possess a sacred dignity intrinsic to their membership among the human family; and all consequently deserve to be reposed in dignity and remembered with honour and love.” – Picture the Homeless (1999).

Throughout history, memorialization, meaning the act of building a monument in memory of someone that passed away, was most commonly exclusive to the elite and only practiced in the highest societal classes. Nowadays, it is considered a fundamental human right and universal need for both the deceased and those who are grieving. While religions may perform different rituals, they all serve to commemorate those who have left us. Yet, in many cases, people’s lives are not honoured properly because of their status in society.

Memorial spaces convey many important aspects in order to guarantee its success. Scholars Gurler and Ozer (2015) explain how the dimensions, utility, and social interaction related to a memorial space affect its positive effects and its urban identity. Gurler and Ozer (2015) define a “memory place” as an open public space that is connected to its environment and people’s daily activities. On the other hand, they explain how “memorials” are perceived as monuments with an enclosed space separated from urban life and, therefore, do not have the same positive effect on social memory and urban identity. The reason behind memorials’ failure often has plenty to do with complex designs where communities cannot connect with the history behind the memorial or interact within itself in a natural and comforting way.

Nowadays, for a memorial to succeed and have an impact on the community in which it is placed, it should be designed for use as a place for social gatherings. In her book, Structures of Memory: Understanding Urban Change in Berlin and Beyond, Jennifer Jordan, explains how collective memory shapes the urban landscape at the intersection of four specific factors: land use, land ownership, the resonance of the site’s meaning with a broader public, and the presence of someone willing to lobby on behalf of memorialization. There are few places where historic events or tragedies have taken place where they are remembered at the exact place where they happened and form an essential part of the daily dynamics of its community.

Thinking about memory places as spaces where mourning is not the primary objective may seem odd; however, memorials that provide social interactions attract more people and offer a better understanding of the history being memorialized.

One of the most prominent examples of this train of thought can be appreciated in the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial. The space’s main focus is to commemorate the lives of the 184 people that died during the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. It has a simple yet elegant design that shows the year of birth and time of death of each person that was involved in the attack in an easy to grasp way that possesses a natural mobility for its visitors. What turns this memorial into a memory place is a design that provides seating for visitors. Its cantilevered benches allow people to mourn their families and friends as well as a place to gather and appreciate the memorial’s and its surrounding’s simplicity and beauty.

On the other hand, the “Teardrop” memorial in New Jersey is one recent example of a forgotten memorial (Craven, 2013) that fails at attempting this alternative memorial approach. Donated by the Russian Government in 2006, the “Teardrop” memorial commemorates the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, Twin Towers in September 2001 (see image below). Regardless of the magnitude of its symbolism and its beautiful simplicity, this memorial is little known given the fact that it is not placed in a highly transited location as well as its lack of the community’s interaction factor.



The “Teardrop” memorial in New Jersey

Memorials as an opportunity for social interactions rather than just as a memorial of historical events can be appreciated in contemporary memorials or memory places. Instead of gigantic structures commemorating a person or an event, cities have filled their streets with human-scale-size structures that help the visitors connect and interact with the history behind the space. This concept is conveyed in the “Berlin wall memorial” where its pieces are exhibited in a fashion where visitors can walk around and interact with the installation, allowing them to experience the history that cannot be expressed in words (see image below). Nowadays, Modern memorials are not about how big or astonishing a structure can be, but about how the public from all social strata interact with them and how it makes them feel, giving its history a more personal and strong effect on those who wander through them.



Berlin Wall memorial




Craven, J. (2012). On the trail of New York’s lost Teardrop: John Craven tracks down a forgotten monument to the 9/11 victims. Mail Online. Retrieved 13 December 2015, from
Gurler, E., & Ozer, B. (2015). The Effects of Public Memorials on Social Memory and Urban Identity. Retrieved from,. (2015). Design Elements | Pentagon Memorial Fund. Retrieved from
Picture The Homeless,. (2015). Potter’s Field – Picture The Homeless. Retrieved from,. (2015). To the Struggle Against World Terrorism, A Monument Created by Zurab Tsereteli as a gift to the American people. Retrieved 5 October 2015, from