A telltale feature of the urban environment is its use of vertical space.
Interacting with walls was a major part of our childhood. Walls presented
impenetrable limits, sharply defining the physical boundaries of our play.
They encased windows, portals into our world, which let neighborhood residents
keep an eye on our street activities, or act as spectators to particularly
engaging games. Nice sociological constructs, but hey basically to us, walls
were an important part of the field.
The key thing about a wall was that if you threw a ball against it, it would
bounce back. This obviously provided all kinds of opportunities. For handball
and related sport, the bounce's what counts. For other games it meant not
only did you get a backdrop to contain the ball, but you didn' t need a
Some walls, like handball courts, were built just for fun. Some, like the
sides of supermarkets were probably constructed for other purposes, but if
they were adjacent to a parking lot, they could easily be incorporated into
our noble pursuits. Alleys and back entrances to tenement buildings often had
decent walls and walk space that could be used for our games. Apartment
building presented a tougher challenge, however, there'd usually be some
section, maybe by the laundry room, where there were window gaps for a plate
and enough open space to run and catch the ball.
Good walls could be found on the sides of stores, schools, churches,
apartments, factories, or in other words, potentially anywhere, and if it was
a good wall, we just figured it was there for playing. No building was too
sacred or inherently "untouchable." Of course, the building's inhabitants,
owners or the cops often had other views on this subject. Many of our
childhood recollections revolve around hopping fences (another urban vertical
space) to escape someone chasing us for playing on an off-limit wall.