Archives for category: meta-urban

Every day this month, I’ve biked from central Malmö to Alnarp, as small rural community just outside the city and the home of SLU, the university I’m currently doing an exchange at.

The bike ride takes about 45 minutes, and in this short distance, I pass through many distinct landscapes: neighbourhoods within Malmö itself, a highway interchange zone, industrial Ärlov, a bird reserve, and rural fields, all before getting to Alnarp.

Despite being within biking distance, because of all these landscape changes, Alnarp feels very, very far away from Malmö. And phenomenologically, it is. As I’ve explored before in past posts, distance matters less than feeling in determining how “far away” a place is.

Like the short ferry ride between downtown Toronto and Toronto Island, whenever a change in material reality is experienced, places seem very far away, no matter how far the distance.

And on my bike ride from Malmö to Alnarp, I experience many changes in material reality.

The city drops out, and then I peddle through the land of highway interchanges. The bike path weaves up, down and through bridges and overpasses, floats over the expressway and in between unkempt shrubs. At night, hundred of rabbits scurry between the vegetation, lending this landscape an even more ethereal quality.

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The land of highway interchanges

Then, there is the land of the sea – the bike path borders a bird reserve, and the horizon extends infinitely. The smell oscillates from the salty murkiness of the coastline to an almost candy-like scent from the nearby garbage processing plant. The matted grasslands and water channels, the hawks, ducks, geese and crows flying around – this is a wholly distinct material reality where my thoughts expand as my breath shortens to keep up with small inclines.

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The land of the sea

Finally there is the land of the fields.  Naked patches of deep black soil envelop the bike path, and linear bands of trees, bent in the wind add directionality to this change in material reality.

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The land of the fields

I arrive at Alnarp tired, dazed and feeling distant. Despite this being the distance of roughly the distance of Toronto’s Ferry Terminal to Davenport Rd  and Dufferin (still very much in the city, and a commute I made often last I lived in Toronto), the many changes of material reality make Alnarp very much a distinct place, and my life in Southern Sweden is characterized by inhabiting many places at once, despite occupying the footprint of a tiny portion of the City of Toronto.

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Map comparing distances in Toronto and Malmö – the red line represents my bike ride, and the short distance that takes me through so many changes in material reality. 

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Newspapers

I love reading the local newspapers of the places I visit.

Every town, city and region is home to at least one hyper-local publication, and often many. Within their pages are articles about the area’s very specific issues, events and politics.

While I’m in these places, I’m enthralled with the content of their local publications. I read the editions from front to back, absorbing the essence of the place, discovering local landmarks, and visiting interesting places I read about.

News places

Sometimes I keep the newspapers as souvenirs of my travels. But a funny thing happens once I leave a place with its newspaper. When I look at it again, long after I’ve left, the newspaper no longer makes sense. Now that I’ve left the sphere of that geographic influence, I can’t wrap my head around learning the details of the articles, the listed events. My mind can’t commit itself to making sense of the text, putting words to reality. Far from its genus loci, the newspaper fades into nonsense.

News non places

The magnetic influence of place has the power to render things comprehensible.

On the other hand, no matter where I am, media from Toronto always makes sense.  I’m always able to interpret the places mentioned, issues, events and politics even if I’m very far away. We bring our home places with us in our heads.

 

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No, this isn’t a post about the Toronto Dreams Project (though I highly recommend visiting Adam Bunch’s fantastic blog about the lesser known histories embedded in Toronto’s geography).

This is about how Toronto – my home town, the city of my youth, the place that I’ve left and returned to over and over again –  often feels like a dream.

Let me explain –

Every night, I have vivid dreams.

I dream in places. But not fantastical places. Real places, where I’ve visited and lived. When I wake up from the dream, I know where I was, on the surface of the earth, where north was, where the sun set and rose.

I also dream of people – real people, who I’ve met throughout the years. And not just significant people in my life. Those who have played the most minor roles in my past appear as major players in my dreams.

When I sleep, all these place and people mix together so that my dream sequence involves elementary school, high school, summer camp, university dorm rooms and cafeterias, student apartments and street corners, lakes I’ve swam in and cities I’ve visited, all populated with a random assortment of people I’ve known and met and talked to.

When I’m awake and wandering around Toronto, there’s a high chance that I could run into anyone I’ve ever met in on the streets of the city. Someone from every stage of my life, and every place I’ve lived lives in Toronto. (That’s what happens when there are only three major cities in Canada to make a life and one speaks mostly French.)

So, like in my dreams, there’s a possibility in Toronto that anyone I’ve ever met might be on the bus, at the cafe, waiting for the streetcar or subway, biking down the street.

It’s because of this – among other reasons – that for me, Toronto has a dreamy quality.

 

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I had a meeting today at Jimmy’s Coffee in Toronto’s Kensington Market, a newish coffee joint in the former Roach-A-Rama space.

While considering the selection of pastries, muffins and sandwiches on offer, I recognized a very distinct bold hand-lettered signage, that I knew I’d seen before. The signs looked exactly like the ones at Java Blend, my favourite coffee shop in North End Halifax.

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Seeing a similar kind of hand-writing wasn’t too surprising. For the last few years, tall, thin block lettering has been popular, and it was no surprise to see this style in a self-aware and hip coffee shop in Kensington Market.

But things got stranger when I looked up to order my coffee and made eye contact with the very same barrista I had gotten to know at Java Blend.

Java Blend

For a moment, space was bent.

Everything around me – the smells, the sites of the hand lettered sign, the friendly face across the counter – the warm lighting and amber colour scheme – the harsh churn of blending beans – served to collapse my sense of space bringing distant geographies face-to-face and space-to-space.

I snapped out of my space-bent daze and realized the recognition was mutual. We chatted.

Turns out Kate had moved from Halifax to Toronto a few years ago, and yes, she hand-lettered the signs.

It was a particularly strong case of geognitive dissonance.

Geognitive dissonance occurs when a combination of senses temporarily transports you to another specific space on the surface of the earth. It’s when notions of linear space collapse, and you can feel the connection between two places separated by vast distances.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve felt before, and every now and then it sneaks up on my, collapsing my notions of contiguous geography. It makes far-away places, past-homes, feel here and now and comfortably close.

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In an effort to start a conversation with the proliferation of research occurring outside of the academy and facilitated by the internet, the University of Manchester and Hunter College created the Alternative Mode of Scholarship Competition.

Here was the call out:

In recognition of the increasingly diverse ways in which researchers disseminate their research, the UGSG Alternative Mode of Scholarship Competition Committee solicits submissions of blogs, videos and websites by an undergraduate or postgraduate student or group of students. The winner/s of the award will receive $200. Submissions should be in the form of a URL address plus no more than 300 words explaining how the submission contributes to an understanding of urban geography. 

I was especially excited to enter the contest, as research outside of academia is exactly how I define the activities of this blog. The internet has truly facilitated my emerging career, and has connected me with collaborators and like minded people world wide. The University of Manchester also happens to be the home of one of my favourite geography professors, Erik Swyngedouw, of the Urban Political Ecology literature.

Entering the competition was an opportunity to define my approach to blogging, and is one version of how perceive my contributions to Urban Geography, and its role in the world.

I didn’t win the scholarship, but I present to you my submission anyways. Enjoy.


 

My blog, TheUrbanGeographer.Wordpress.com, has been an invaluable venue to design my own research programme after the completion of my Undergraduate degree in Urban Geography at McGill University.

Using the blog, I have extended Swynedgedouw and Heynen’s theories of Urban Political Ecology(2003). Via art work, photography and writing, I have applied their theories to Toronto, a city that has an evocative relationship with its ecology.

One project that has emerged has been an exploration of Bioregionialism and its application to Toronto. Carolinia is a hypothetical post-national region that encapsulates the northern tip of the Eastern Deciduous forest, southern Ontario and Upstate New York. It is a region that shares watershed, commutershed, culture and ecology. I presented my research at the 2013 Urban Ecologies Conference, arguing that emphasizing Toronto’s ecology in its identity is an important step toward achieving social and environmental justice.

Though inspired by academic research, my blog has become a venue for crafting theories that are very accessible. The blog has also encouraged the use of visual aids (photographs, drawn maps, diagrams). Clarifying my writing and making it more accessible has lead to my writing for other blogs and magazines such as SpacingVolume and the Pop-Up City.

Perhaps the blog’s greatest strength, however, is that it exists within a network. My blog has connected me to other academics, planners, entrepreneurs and artists engaged in the topic of Urbanism. We are all working toward inclusive and sustainable city building. The blog has lead me to a number of employment opportunities including working on the establishment of a Greenbelt for Halifax.

I will continue to blog as my career grows and transforms. Whether I am engaged in academic, artistic, economic or political work, my blog is an invaluable and connected depository of my theories, thoughts and practice.

 

Amnesia 1

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Trees are also the holding-place for a community’s collective memories.

Amnesia

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Cities have different relationships with their memory.

Amsterdam holds its history close to its heart. Its famous canal belt is celebrated by Amsterdammers, and nothing can be built that deviates too much from the aesthetic of 17th century Dutch architecture.

Sometimes, cities can go too far with holding onto their memory, preserving their historic centres to the point they become essentially dead — frozen in time and preserved as museums of themselves. I’ve heard people speak about central Rome this way, and Bath in the UK.

And sometimes cities can go too far the other way — not paying credence to their history at all, leading to the demolition of beautiful and important buildings, and general disregard for history, culture and ecology.

At times, I think Toronto falls into this latter category.

In fact, I think Toronto has cultural amnesia. I’ve illustrated a few of my arguments in the comic above.

Do you agree?…. and what are other examples of Toronto having amnesia?

Exciting news, readers!

Your urban geographer received a 2013 TOmaps Awards from the TOmaps sub-Reddit!

CornishBin, the sub-Reddit’s fantastic moderator put together a list of the year’s best Toronto-inspired maps. The list includes “Best Animation”, “Prettiest breakdown of Toronto’s diversity” and “Best TTC-related map”, naming my map Torontodam “Best Mash-Up” (see below). The map transposes Amsterdam neighbourhoods onto Toronto, matching them based on corresponding geography and culture.

reddit 2013

The list showcases the best of the cornucopia of cartographic treasures that the TOmaps sub-Reddit showcases on a daily basis. A hearty congratulations to the other award winners, and a big thank you to CornishBin for being such a thorough curator of all things Map-TO.

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Here’s to a mapful 2014!

i. the proclivity for like things to stay together

ii. the built form of a city  emerges relatively quickly. we are then forced to act/react/negotiate/make sense of the buildings for a long time

iii. all old people were once young and found themselves old. we are all faking it

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Carolinia_Map

Click map to enlarge

Methodology

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Why_Important

Hinterhearts

Amsterdam and Montreal

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By_Daniel_Rotsztain

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The above was presented at the exciting Urban Ecologies conference 2013, which wrapped up today. If you have any questions about Carolinia, please contact me

Cities and nature are on the mind in anticipation of this week’s exciting Urban Ecologies conference in Toronto. I am involved in the conference as a ‘Poster Presenter’,  presenting a new identity for Toronto as the largest city within its bioregion — Carolinia

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This short piece was inspired by Tom Robbins

Complexcity

The communities of academic urban planners and scientists have recently announced (though most of us knew it already) that cities are, indeed, organisms.

This means, among other things, that a city is a contiguous living system with a metabolism and a nucleus. A city is doing its best to achieve homeostasis. Some cities are better at this than others.

That’s right, readers, it has been confirmed. A city is as much of an organism as a microscopic plant cell, a blue-jay, or any one of your good friends.

But a city is the easiest of your friends to say goodbye to. A city doesn’t fumble a farewell by hugging too hard, or too soft. A city doesn’t have eyes to maintain contact with the moment you depart. A city doesn’t overextend itself by promising to see you again, by making unrealistic future plans.

When you leave a city, a city just is.

That’s assuming that as an organism, a city does not have consciousness. Or does it? If a city had consciousness, what would that feel like?

Leading image from the Complexcity Project

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City

This year, we’re marking five years of blogging on The Pop-Up City. To celebrate, we’ll be hosting The Pop-Up City Live on May 21st. The event is a great opportunity to celebrate the best of what blogging can do to shape the cities of the future. We’ll be reveling in what we’ve learnt from five years of pop-up, DIY, and bottom-up solutions for the cities of the future with exciting performances, guests, discussions, visuals and drinks.

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City blogging is a great tool to share ideas around the world toward better urban futures, but it’s also a potent tool for hyper-local community development. In the Netherlands, many community blogs have popped up and we’re excited to be inviting the founders of three Amsterdam community blogs, IlovenoordBoloBoost, and Nice Nieuw West, on stage to discuss the importance and potential of local blogging efforts.

Taking a look these examples from Amsterdam, we can see that community bloggers play a very important role in the city making process. They are the promoters, ambassadors and defenders of the neighbourhoods they represent, acting as the social sensors of their communities. With many of them representing gentrifying neighbourhoods in Amsterdam, these community blogs are also addressing an urban and social need for participation and inclusivity in formal planning initatives for all residents of these areas.

Ilovenoord

Ilovenoord

Amsterdam Noord, a short ferry trip across the IJ from the city-centre, is the frontier of gentrification in Amsterdam, home to a mix of hipster artists and immigrant communities. Ilovenoord features daily news and events about all the happenings in the neighbourhood. It could be said that the blog has been a catalyst for gentrification in the area, but it also has established an important forum for all locals to express their experiences/concerns regarding the development of the neighbourhood. The high visibility of the blog has meant that the opinions expressed on the site have reached the ears of the formal policy makers and have actually affected the decision-making process. For now, gentrification in Noord has become more inclusive, with greater initiatives in participatory planning.

BoloBoost

BoloBoost

Based in Bos en Lommer, or Bolo as its residents affectionately refer to it, BoloBoost is the ambassador of this neighbourhood in Amsterdam West. Peacefully tucked away from central Amsterdam, Bolo is home to 127 of the 189 nationalities that live in the city. Cheaper rents also attract many students and artists. BoloBoost has emerged as a central platform for residents of Bolo, highlighting events in the neighbourhood and places to live, work, shop and play. Established in 2011, BoloBoost arose from a feeling that the people who live in ’Bolo’ are living in a great neighbourhood, but it could be better and it “should avoid getting worse”. BoloBoost is also involved in community-event planning, such as the Bolobooze (a neighbourhood pub crawl).

Nice Nieuw-West

Nice Nieuw West

Nieuw-West is a large residential area comprised of many neighbourhoods with a centrally located park. Like the other Amsterdam blogs, Nice Nieuw West is a platform for the community, with events, markets and business listings highlighting hotspots in the neighbourhood. It is exhaustive in its coverage of the happenings in this relatively large part of the city. Nice Nieuw West actively seeks neighbourhood ambassadors  to contribute to its blog, another way it is actively ‘making community’ in this part of the city.

Join us on May 21st for The Pop-Up City Live to hear from the founders of these three community blogs in Amsterdam about their initiatives, their vision for community blogging, and their exciting future projects!

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// Negotiating space and time in London and Amsterdam :::::

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