A ghost town, just not yet. Photo: Librado Romero/The New York Times

This morning, 39,000 runners converged on Staten Island to await the beginning of the New York City Marathon. Provided for their use were 1,660 portable toilets, of a total of 2,250 portable toilets deployed along the route of the marathon for runners, spectators, and staff. Says The New York Times:

Gathering and placing 2,250 portable toilets for a one-day event — and then removing them almost immediately — is a daunting task. The marathon represents the third-largest annual assemblage of portable toilets in the country, behind the Rose Bowl college football game and parade and the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. Placed side by side, the 4-foot-wide toilets would stretch 1.7 miles.

The size and scale of this landscape in relation to the amount of time it will exist is incredible. Once in place, the toilets are tied shut, reopened Sunday morning for the marathon, and removed 24 hours later, all for the temporary presence of a group of people larger than the population of the capital of Alaska

The twin and opposite of abandoned buildings, it seems, is temporarily populated spaces. The feeling of walking the fair grounds the day after the carnival has left town, or of sitting in a stadium hours after a football game has ended. These spaces aren’t really spaces at all, but spatial products, formed by and through the active presence of people. (There is a scale here, from temporary spaces formed by the temporary presence of people [e.g. traveling carnivals] to permanent spaces formed by the temporary presence of people [e.g. stadiums], but the rise and fall of use and presence is a key factor in the creation of a space.)

Abandoned buildings are manifestations of past social and economic capital, investments solidified, ideas made tangible. But ephemeral spaces are flitting, fleeting, more ethereal—spookier because the evidence of their existence is harder to hold, their impact on the environment more easily erased. What do we see, as we look back in time?

Or when we look forward: Buildings express a lasting intent, but portable toilets or carnival rides built onto tractor trailers speak of movement and of temporariness. Is it easier to become attached to ad hoc spaces, to value them for what they are, knowing that our interaction with them, our experience of them, will be necessarily limited by the passage of time? How do spaces we know will cease to exist change us, how we act and how we remember? How do we change when confronted by an end inherent?

[via The New York Times]