Archives for category: meta-urban

This post originally appeared on Volume

Ja Natuurlijk (Yes Naturally) is a collaborative art manifestation that is taking place at GEM,Fotomuseum and Gemeentemuseum in The Hague until August 18, 2013. Yes Naturally embraces the increasingly ambiguous space between our ideas of nature and society. The exhibit teases at this contemporary ambiguity, linking the diversity of works on display to two essential questions: What is natural? And who or what decides?

With Artistic Direction from Ine Gevers of Niet Normaal, Yes Naturally showcases international artists’ perspectives on the merging of natures and cultures, making its mission to “not distinguish between human[s], nature and technology.” Establishing at the outset that nature and culture are highly intertwined phenomena — more connected than discrete — the exhibit swiftly departs from old-school Western notions of society as wholly separate from nature, diving into a highly experimental realm between the fields of art and science. The viewer must quickly accept these basic principles –  that there is no such thing as artificial, that nature and culture are one in the same, that cities are ecosystems — or else be left out of the logic and insight provided by the exhibit.

Ja Natuurlijk

While the pieces that make up Yes Naturally range from the silly to the serious, they are all undeniably full of humour. Onslaughts of laughter are inevitable, and will lead to moments of clarity and a deep understanding that humanity and technology are indeed a part of, not apart from a broader terrestrial ecology. The jocularity of Yes Naturally brings with it hilarious and liberating cognizances.

While taking the traditional form of an art exhibit, Yes Naturally is more of a hybrid-species: an art-gallery meets science-museum meets fun-house. The exhibit is spread within the museum, with installations spilling over the walls and spread throughout the museums’ stately grounds. Visitors are first greeted to the exhibit by playful sculptures made from discarded plastic materials, adding colour to the museums’ ornamental pools. These large, floating artworks by Filipino artist-duo Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan are made up of thousands of waste materials that have been ritually transformed into fetishized objects made to protect species and places in nature.

Within the museum’s walls, Finnish artist Antti Laitinen’s video installation Bare Necessities is a humorous critique of the highly romanticized ideal of ‘going back to nature’. Laitinen takes this idea to its bitter end, and shares his experience of going into ‘the wild’ without supplies. Along with capturing humorous images of Laitinen, stark naked and struggling to make a fire, the videos include more solemn moments where the artist, staring blankly over the tree-topped horizon and into space considers the brutish and unforgiving reality of a life ‘back in nature’.

Bare Necessaties

Further into the exhibit, Bio-artist Egied Simons’ works are small aquatic ecosystems, complete with water, flora, and microscopic water-insects, and neatly contained within three aluminum boxes. The lids of the boxes reflect and magnify their contents, creating a luscious and fine grained pattern that looks like a romantic landscape painting when viewed from afar. Simons brings microscopic subject matter typically relegated to the realm of biology and life sciences to a wider audience. His work allows the viewer to gaze into the scientific/organic world of the micro, offering a powerful experience of the incredibly small beating hearts of snail embryos. With his highly contained ecosystems, Simons explores how science and magnification “makes the small tangible, instantly endowing it with significance and emotion”.

Egied Simons

Also making use of ‘living art’ but with a decidedly more political tone, Simon Starling’s Island of Weeds is a refuge for plants. Responding to the Scottish government’s regulation of the growth rhododendrons — introduced from Spain in 1763, and thus deemed a non-native species to be eradicated — Starling has constructed a safe asylum for the offender-organism. In doing so, Starling deconstructs the flawed concept of a ‘native’ plant species. In the context of a highly globalized world — where plant life need not yield to human-defined borders — Starling renders the Scottish government’s policy cruel and ridiculous.

Island of Weeds

While the humorous tones of the exhibit range from hopeful visions of the future, cynical critiques of the present, and appeals from social and environmental activists, Yes Naturally is above all an exercise in absurdity. Within this absurdity, its tricky and ambiguous subject matter is given room to breath, allowing its radical principles to be more readily accepted by its viewers. At the end of the exhibit, gazing over a sun-baked mass of plastic – a piece of the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch retrieved by Maarten vanden Eyed, the viewer is mentally prepared to accept  that plastic from this horrid pollution is natural, a sort of 21st century formation of coral. And while plankton are adapting to this new nature-culture rapidly, physically incorporating the plastic’s nutrients into their metabolism, so should we – conceptually.

Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

As the visit to Yes Naturally comes to an end, visitors get a chance for final reflections with Finnish artist Tea Mäkipää‘s Petrol Engine Memorial Park. Lining the museum’s western wall, abandoned, rusty cars have been ornamentally transformed into large garden beds. Set in the near future, the installation’s plaques playfully proclaim the end of the ‘age of oil’. The car-garden beds triumphantly embrace an unmentioned new world order, fanciful flowers and plants grow organically upwards, embracing the sky – the antithesis of a world of pollution, petrol and plastics. As today’s cars rumble by on the busy city streets, the viewer can contemplate how a change in the order of things — from petrol-economies to something more sustainable, perhaps — necessarily must grow out of the old world order. Shedding the skin of the petrol age, this new age will take up its refuse and trash as resource, and make new out of it.

Petrol Engine Memorial Park

Petrol Engine Memorial Park

Many more works make up Ja Natuurlijk (Yes Naturally), each exploring how culture and nature can reinforce each other and in the process creates conditions for a better world. The exhibition, at the GEM Museum for Contemporary Art, Fotomuseum and Gemeentemuseum, is open until August 18.

The program for Yes Naturally consists of several events and exhibitions at several locations in The Hague. Be sure to take a look at the agenda since there’s a lot to do, see and explore.


Click the map to enlarge it!

Readers, I have yielded to that irresistible urge to compare two cities – in a big way. 

I present to you a rough sketch of a comparison between the neighbourhoods of Toronto and Amsterdam, a mash up map that transposes Amsterdam neighbourhoods into the spatial configurations of Toronto, becoming a new city I like to call Torontodam.

Of course, certain liberties are taken – the comparability  isn’t perfect – but there is something to it: Toronto neighbourhoods seem to correspond quite well to their (urban geographer defined) Amsterdam counterparts.

The comparisons are based on geography, culture or a mix of the two.  For example, it works quite nicely that Amsterdam’s Indischebuurt, located in the city’s east, corresponds to Toronto’s Little India, also in the east.

If you are familiar with the two cities, please comment, and help improve the next draft. Some things to hash out: what should Cabbagetown be? Queen’s Park and the houses of Provincial Parliament? Cabbage town? What is Kensington Market — is there really no concentrated grungy neighbourhood in Amsterdam, no Camden Town (London) equivalent? So much to compare!

cloud map

It is common practice for people in the Netherlands to consult a cloud map – a map that shows the prediction for cloud coverage over the entire country for a 3 hour period.

Consulting the cloud map involves scrutinizing a simplified map of the Netherlands, as animated clouds swirl and cascade over the land and sea – typically in the northeasterly direction

This constant reference to the map of Netherlands contributes to the high degree of spatial literacy that exists in this country. People are aware of space here: how much space there is, the distance between things, and their relationships.

Spatial literacy translates to good urban planning practice, and probably stems from the relative lack of available land in the Netherlands. While in Canada Halifax continues to struggle establishing a green belt, in the Netherlands, the Ranstad has consciously conserved its “green heart” since the 1800s.

Spatial literacy manifests in the Netherlands in many other ways.

I feel it when I take the ferry to Amsterdam Noord, to my internship at the Pop Up City – from the waters of the IJ, I see the diverse elements that make up the urban environment, and their placement as stand alone objects, well places and related within a 3D plane.

I feel the spatial literacy when I can engage in a conversation about Amsterdam’s urban morphology with someone who has no relation to the field of urban planning or architecture.

I also feel it in the name of this country, and the language spoken here: ‘Nederland’ – a constant reference to geography, a rooted orientation in this world.

And I especially feel it when I look at the copious amount of maps and spatial analyses available from the municipal government.

And I feel it when people casually consult their cloud map, and absorb the entirety of the country in a single glance. A black dot with concentric rings marks where you are when you consult the map, and this simple graphic ties you, and space and everything together.

Spatial mind


On a slightly related note, If I were to design elements of a domestic train system, I would include a digital map in every train carriage that shows the progress of the route, and, when entering a destination station, would show a zoomed in map of the train entering the city.

This way, the rider could experience their journey outside of their direct experience of what is outside the window. Riders would feel greater connections to the places they are traveling through, and would feel more oriented and comfortable at their destination station.

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City


As an urbanist, how am I able to cope with the ‘organised chaos’ of co-creation, self-organisation, community-building, citizen power and social enterprises? This could easily be one of the questions posed by a participant of the Stadsklas (City Class).

Because that’s what we’re looking for: active, curious, cooperative and concerned urban professionals (designers, developers, researchers, curators, planners, etc.) that walk the borders of their own knowledge and want to transcend them with help from the Stadsklas. With the city as a classroom, the everyday urban reality as teaching materials, and the class as ‘Master’, we will actively search for solutions that you won’t find easily at your desk or in the books.


We are looking for your most pressing questions that require unconventional approaches. If you would like to take part, describe your questions as concise as possible and send them to Francien van Westrenen ( before 25 April 2013. There is room for 16 participants and their questions. Selection takes place on the basis of diversity of participants and their outlined issues.


The Stadsklas is an initiative of Stroom Den Haag and will be launched during the exhibit United We which explores the concept of collectivity. Confirmed participants of the Stadsklas include Afaina de Jong (Afarai)Jelte BoeijengaWillemijn Lofvers and The Pop-Up City. Please visit for more information on the project (sorry, Dutch)!

The Stadsklas is made financially possible by the Creative Industries Fund (Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie).

Reblogged from

A Tunnel / A Mirror Facing A Mirror / A Goo.

Documenting the experience of space in Tokyo as the agglomeration approaches a moment of spatial singularity. What happens as our experience of discrete/categorised space dissolves and we enter a tunnel, an infinite regress or a functional goo? Writing and photographs by Cameron Allan McKean (contact Cameron in Tokyo). This blog is produced in collaboration with TOO MUCH: Magazine of Romantic Geography for the Dutch research collective MONNIK.

  1. Space is technology

    This blog is a place to deposit texts and images about the experience of an approaching spatial singularity in Tokyo. The experience of the home and work spaces being broken down further and further, stretched out across various sites in the city. Visualising space, not as the domain of architecture, design or urban planning, but as a form of techology.

    Tokyo has been chosen for field work as it is one of largest and densest cities in the world. It also forms the eastern beginning of the Tokaido Megalopolis, one of the largest unbroken stretches of urban development in the world. People residing in this belt are already living through a ‘Grey goo’ scenario, where, visually at least, the city seems to repeat itself every few hundred metres, for hundreds of kilometres. An infinite regression of tiles, roads, convenience stores and shrubs.

    These documents will explore all notions of the singularity extending out from one of the fathers of the singularity idea, mathematician and science fiction author Verner Vinge. The real goal is to see how this phenomenon is manifesting, and to capture the ways it is interfacing with the lived experience of Tokyo residents. If it is real, what does it mean for our ability to form meaningful categories about the spaces we live in? How do old terms like ‘living room’, ‘study’ and ‘dining room’ dissolve? How does the house itself dissolve? And how can we demarcate our individual selves once everything around us has been subsumed into the grey goo of the sprawl?

    The technological singularity was the idea that, according to Vinge “we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence,” and that “Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” Space itself is not sentient or intelligent, but the Tokaido Megalopolis seems to acts with selfish agency — sucking human resources from the hinterland and countryside, redirecting flows of information and goods towards itself (even when this redirection is costly, or damaging), encouraging focused policy and education directed at sustaining itself, and even separating groups from living together (groups that may threaten the spatial hegemony of the city) by encouraging single occupancy housing.

    If space is technology, what kind of machine is the Tokaido Belt?

    Tuesday, December 11, 2012

This poetic Tumblr post about the spatial singularity is part of the Still City Project: “The Still City Project investigates how we can move beyond the driving forces of our modern industrialized world; infinite economic growth, technologic progress and population growth. The project is a search for the ‘Still City’: an urban culture that is based on dynamics that are inclusive and sustainable. The ambition of the project is to find and make the images and stories we need to construct a post-growth urban society.” — read more

See also a city of continuously regenerating cells

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City

The urbanism blogosphere has been buzzing in anticipation of the release of SimCity 5. So we thought it would be a good opportunity to share with you another application that does a fun job of simulating urban design. is a digital mixing board for the urban environment. It invites its users to create, mix and mash a streetscape with a wide array of typical road elements, such as bike and vehicle lanes, medians, boulevards, sidewalks and trees.

Do you live along a busy four lane thoroughfare, and want to see what it would be like if you chopped off two lanes of traffic to add bike lanes? Give it a shot! StreetMix lets you experiment and envision possible configurations that would improve the liveability your city’s streets. You can also be a silly with it, and create streetscapes that may never see the light of day – like a five lane, unidirectional bike highway, surrounded by trees! (Okay, maybe this exists somewhere in the Netherlands…).


The application contributes to the conversation community designers are having about ‘rightsizing’ streets: re-purposing a street to fit the needs of its users best. The intuitive interface promotes a change in thinking about our streets from something that is permanent, to something that can be flexible and adaptable. Since we can easily change the configuration of a road on StreetMix, we can in turn, start to think of our real streets as similarly able to quickly adapt to meet the changing needs of its users.


Since StreetMix limits the amount of elements you can put on your street it is a realistic simulation: streets can’t accommodate the needs of every type of user, and some sacrifices need to be made in their design. Easy access to cross-section diagrams previously limited to professionals also means that citizens are empowered to become the civil engineers and architects of the city.

As StreetMix was developed in five hours at a Code for America hackathon, it is still a work in progress, but it already demonstrates its potential impact on community planning and design. In the spirit of open-sourcing, StreetMix invites people to comment on the application, and suggest elements that should be included in its next version — edible boulevards, anyone?

toronto bruge

The Torontobrug is one of many bridges that span over the Amstel river. Literally, “Toronto-bridge”, it is named after the historical partnership and alliance between the two cities.

Incidentally, as you may know, Toronto and Amsterdam are both very important to my routes.

It comes as no surprise to me that the Torontoburg is one of the ugliest of the Amsterdam’s river crossings. It is a modernist, concrete mass, lacking the gezelligheid of the quaint, people sized bridges along the rest of the river (and indeed of the entire city). Instead, like many pieces  of Toronto, it is an auto-oriented, 4 lane thoroughfare, that, though it includes bike lanes, lacks that delightful Amsterdam coziness. Because of this, the Torontobrug feels as though it is quite literally a piece of Toronto infrastructure inserted into central Amsterdam.

But, like Toronto, it is intriguing in its immensity, and I enjoy exploring it: passing over and beneath it while walking and by bike. It is nice to have a piece of my home here.

amsterdam bruge

There is also I’ve discovered, an Amsterdam Bridge in Toronto. From the pictures of it, it looks as though Dutch design has similarly made its way into Toronto.

When I go back to Toronto, I look forward to visiting the Amsterdam Bridge to experience how a piece of Amsterdam feels from afar.


Your Urban Geographer has taken the liberty to making the connection between Toronto and the Torontobrug even strongerBy QaRt coding the Torontobrug sign, there is now even more of an aesthetic and deep link between the bridge and it’s namesake city.





I spend a lot of time, especially these days interning at the Pop-Up City, reading blogs about cities, planning, architecture and design.

This post is dedicated to those statements that I see constantly repeated in the urbanism blogosphere. They are repeated so much that they are taken for granted, and for fact.

I invite us to challenge the simplicity of a phrase used too much. We all rely on a certain economy of thought, but vagueness when it comes to argument is good to avoid. I know the blogosphere isn’t the place for thorough referencing and citation (I am also rely on these statements) but, let’s be active and look for a bigger story that could be behind these apparently pre-known ideas in urbanism.

Cross-posted from the Pop-Up City

Many companies and organizations have taken advantage of a crowdsourcing model to gauge public opinion on a wide range of questions. Now, the government is doing it. Last April, residents of Helsinki were given the opportunity to use a pop-up touch screen to “Like” a proposal for a government funded Guggenheim museum in their city (unlike Facebook, the screens also featured a ‘Dislike’ button, giving the opposition an opportunity to be heard as well.)

The campaign came from advertising agency HeyDay, as part of an award winning media strategy. Working with outdoor advertising giant JCDecaux, HeyDay set up two booths featuring touch screens close to the site where the Guggenheim was proposing to develop a Helsinki branch of its museum. The voting stations proved to be a popular way for people to engage with an important civic issue. On the first day of opening, the booths registered several thousand votes with the dislikes 35% higher than the likes.

Facebook democracy in Helsinki

But, even with a one second delay to dissuade double-voting, the Helsinki touch screens had no way of stopping users from repeatedly casting a vote to skew the results. As a result, the votes were not binding,  but the outcome could have potentially boosted the winning side’s argument. Even if the votes weren’t official, the visibility and playfulness of the touch screens encouraged people to engage with an important civic issue. Also, a government’s adoption of Facebook-style referendums marks a huge shift in the way we interact with the state.

It’s also interesting that HeyDay chose to place the touch screens near the proposed site of the museum. The vote could have easily taken place online, with no physical “on-site” component. The pop up touch screens show that even with the ability to have conversations and make decisions on the internet, the physical location of the museum remained a very important element of the decision: place matters!

In the end, the Guggenheim plan was rejected by Helsinki’s municipal government. Does this mark the end of starchitecture in the face of crowdsourced urbanism?

>> Brief notes and impressions on Rotterdam after my first visit to the city last evening.


Rotterdam is a digital city.

Since it was flattened by bombs in World War Two, Rotterdam lost the constraints of history that often come with a heritage built environment, giving space for the emergence of a highly experimental city.

Whereas Amsterdam is analog, Rotterdam expresses the essence of 21st century digital urbanism.


The Erasmusbruge spans over the Maas


Building a new home in Rotterdam. Netherlands

In Rotterdam, striking structures that betray their origins in digital architectural software are layered over 1960 modernist apartment buildings and retail strips. Enormous buildings make post-modern statements about space and identity. Digital clocks and screens are common, adding noiseless flashing light to the city’s electric aura.

Rotterdam 3

I visited Rotterdam last night, and experienced a version of the city that I felt to be quite honest: a grey February day gave way to a blustery, snowy evening – the perfect backdrop for a city of futurist metal, steel, and concrete. I was in Rotterdam for a party at the Drijvend Paviljoen – a series of 3 geodesic domes that were lit-up with neon colours and emitting a low electric hum, muted house music that could be heard from outside.

Comparing Amsterdam and Rotterdam is as irresistible as doing the same with Toronto and Montreal. In the Netherlands, these two cities went two very different ways, expressing extremely different elements of the Dutch psyche.

Amsterdam was the capital of design and progressive urban planning at a time when prevailing technology was analog, and so the city is characterized by the physical and mechanical: canal networks, rope pulley systems to ease moving furniture, manual signs announcing the times of the next tram (the mechanism spins hypnotically when the sign changes), and public analog clocks.


Manual tram signs in Amsterdam

Given Rotterdam’s history, it has had a very different experience of design and planning. I’ve heard that more and more of Dutch culture comes out of Rotterdam, and I get it. Rotterdam is the city of the now: a thoroughly digital urbanism. Despite Rotterdam’s extreme digitization however, it holds remnants of analog Dutch design. As in Amsterdam, the crosswalks in Rotterdam tick mechanically, building up to a rapid clicking that audibly signals it’s time to cross.


In Dutch, the word for garden is tuin. I had a suspicion that tuin was etymologically related to the English word town.

With a little research, I discovered that town comes from the Old English tun: an “enclosure, garden, field, yard; farm, manor; homestead, dwelling house, mansion”, which later referred to a “group of houses, village, farm”. Town, does indeed have the same proto-Germanic origins as its Dutch counterpart.

Dutch cities are surrounded by tuins – extensive allotment gardens that range from the simple to the elaborate. Passing through the country on a train, it’s common to see structures of every shape and complexity, “garden sheds”, populating the tuins quite densely. The tuins on the outskirts are their own sorts of towns – each with its own culture, but each neatly organized around a microcosm of canals and roadways.  

It’s certainly a nice thought, that town and garden have the same etymological roots. Perhaps this thought can inspire/invigorate contemporary efforts of biomimicry, and the use of permaculture principles in urban planning.


I am pleased to present to you a sampling of clips/animated GIFs from my presentation Everything is Everything (Urban Political Ecology: Politicizing Urban Natures). The animation is based on a body of academic literature and my thesis work at McGill University. It is a playful visualization that is multi-disciplinary, informed by history, philosophy, geography, ecology and geology.

I am continuing to develop the presentation, and am currently expanding it by animating poignant examples of urban-nature from my native Toronto. The examples there are abundant, and the results will be inevitably whimsical.

I will keep you updated with my process, but for now enjoy clips from Everything is Everything as presented at the 2011 Fuller Terrace Lecture Series‘ evening of talks themed “The Nature of Things


Though trees and modernist buildings seem diametrically opposed, they are both the result of the processing of material from the earth. Both their designs are repetitive, and logically follow from basic units:


Our cities are built on top of and out of the earth. The quintessential wood paneled houses of Halifax are made from the trees that used to cover the Peninsula. The glass and steel that compose the city’s skyscrapers, though from farther away, are too the result of natural processes:


As human populations (i.e. western imperial societies) grew and spread over the surface of the planet, so did their systems of reason and rationality. At first, Nature was conceived as terrifying, something to be revered and despised. But as untouched Nature began to become scarce, receding in the face of increased population and technology, it became something to be desired, enjoyed, conserved. Nature is a fluid concept:


The world is complex, and it’s often hard to draw a line between where the natural ends and the artificial begins:


Like the bees, we gain our energy from fruits and vegetables, which stem from flowers. The bees use their energy to build their hives, and we, our cities: