Archives for category: urban-geographer works

Guelph

Exciting news, readers!

Your Urban Geographer is expanding his experience of Southern Ontario and setting up shop in Guelph.

Guelph is a lovely little city just down the road from Toronto (the road happens to be the 401…), and is the perfect environment to pursue a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Guelph. That’s right, friends – this urban geographer is no longer just a passionate observer of the city – he’s going to be making city too!

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know this city slowly from afar, visiting for music festivals or to just spend time with friends. From afar, I’ve developed a few ideas and speculations about Guelph that I’d like to note before getting into the nitty gritty of its culture, ecology, history, geology etc.

Guelph has strong connections to its agricultural hinterland. Since its inception, the city has identified as an agricultural centre, and the University of Guelph started as the University of Toronto’s agricultural college, splintering as an independent institution only 50 years ago.

You can take a city bus to the countryside in Guelph. You can bike to farms in under 10 minutes. Guelph has resisted the sprawl typical of Southern Ontario cities, and has only recently given in to density, with its residential suburbs in its south end. Even though it was designated by the Ontario government as a growth centre which lead to the south end’s suburbs, the sprawl is twice as dense as typical Ontario developments. The city also fought passionately against a Wal-Mart opening up – which it inevitably did, but the battle is evident of a populace who understands the limits of growth, the need for density and the value of preserving a distinction between town and country.

Guelph’s nickname is the Royal City – but I think it should be the Rural City – a city that has, not always perfectly – found the balance between urban and rural – two human settlement patterns that depend on each other anyway.

Guelph is a 10 minute drive north of the 401, and I think this separation has been critical to its positive development — not awash with a sea of cars coming through the 401, the “inconvenience” of the 8 km between Guelph and the highway has made all the difference.

Guelph is vital – its a small Ontario city where people are interested in each other. Its ecology is alive – built at the confluence of the Eromosa and Speed Rivers – tributaries of the Grand River which run into Lake Eerie. The rivers move fast and the air is clean and refreshed by its moving waters.

My favourite view of Guelph so far is from the high lands south of the Eramosa River, looking north toward the city centre. It is a verdant, lush city, humid in the late summer heat. But instead of the ubiquitous glass condo tower, the only thing that rises from the green is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate – a grand cathedral that centres Guelph as would a church in a small city in France or Germany.

I’m interested in my relationship to Toronto as I study in Guelph. I will go back often – as your Toronto-based Urban Geographer I naturally have lots to do there with forthcoming projects and articles.

I am excited to avoid driving to Toronto as much as possible. I have romantic notions of taking the train — a GO line runs to Guelph, but for now its a commuter train that only leaves twice in the morning, coming back twice in the evening. It stops just short of Guelph in in Aberfoyle at the other times of the day due to conflicts with the CN/CP schedule, the industrial owner of the stretch of track. This short-stopped service is holding Guelph back from the urban energy of Toronto and the southern Ontario mega region. Maybe this is a good thing.

If not the train, the GO bus does excellent service between downtown Guelph and Union Station in Toronto, or between the University of Guelph and York University. With the pending York subway extension, this might be a pretty good option!

I am excited to feel Toronto as an insider/outsider – to understand the city in a regional context. To feel the dynamism of its urban energy as something I’m not used to. I wonder what details I’ll pick up – what difference I will notice. How it will feel to enter the city from the west.

I look forward to updating you on my insights of Southern Ontario and its many cities. I hope you enjoy this slightly new perspective as your Urban Geographer.

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As we approach the end of 2014, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on a very exciting and productive year as your Urban Geographer. I’ve grown a lot since this time last year. I had a short stint living on Toronto Island, and I’ve had the opportunity to create maps, host events, facilitate workshops and write about my love of place, architecture, urban planning and ecology!

Please join me in remembering some of the highlights from 2014.

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  • The year started with a bang, as I moved to Toronto Island with Chris Foster to participate in the pilot Work Exchange program at Artscape Gibraltar Point. The residency went extremely well. On top of getting a job at Artscape (a phenomenal organization in Toronto that is committed to creating good urban space), Chris was hired as Superintendent, and I was able to contribute to the Island community and AGP as an interpreter of its history (as tour guide),  and an ambassador of the building. I was extremely inspired by the Island and its history, and helped come up with a new design for AGP that referenced its history, but remained elegant and contemporary.

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  • My partner Natalie Amber and I began hosting the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series – a storytelling event taking place in overlooked and unconventional spaces across the city. On the heels of two incredibly successful events, we are excited to get the ball rolling on indoor lectures for the first and coldest months of 2015.

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  • After a widely embraced article for Torontoist, I began working as Communications Coordinator for Charlie’s Freewheels, an amazing organization that empowers youth from Regent and Moss Parks by teaching them how to build, maintain and ride their own bikes. The campaign has been a great opportunity to employ my skills as a geographer, planning, graphic designer and writer – and another attempt to master the elusive internet by trying to go viral. The campaign is still going on! Check out our indiegogo! (until January 6 2015)

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  • I spent the last few months of summer visiting and drawing every branch of the Toronto Public Library – a journey to all 6 corners of the city that taught me a lot about the social and architectural realities of my city. Get ready for its release in early January!

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  • I debuted Geomancy, my version of the ancient practice of fortune telling with maps, to receptive audiences at the Algonquin Island Christmas Boutique and Long Winter. People loved it, and I thoroughly enjoyed helping people gain geographic insights into their being. The project has generated a lot of interest, and will be appearing in unexpected places in 2015!

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  • Along with the ASEED map, I expanded my reach as a critical geographer, illustrating map-themed political cartoons to go alongside articles for the Dominion, a grassroots, alternative news outlet with a mission to go beyond mainstream coverage of political and environmental situations.

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Thank you to all my readers for your support over the years. While 2014 is almost behind us, 2015 promises to be incredibly exciting for my professional development, art and writing practices. Get ready for more Geomancy, the release of All the Libraries Toronto, and more editions of Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series. I also may be finally making it to grad school….maybe!

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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.

 

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Image: George Kelly of Toronto Life

Toronto Life picked up on a Spacing Toronto post I did about TTC’s 192 Airport Rocket, an express bus service to Pearson Airport that leaves from Kipling Station.

I am happy that Toronto Life agreed with me: this bus is not promoted well by the TTC, and is not widely known as a viable transportation option to the Airport.

Kipling planeA simple change to the subway map would make all the difference…

Thanks to Toronto Life’s megaphone, the idea has generated many comments, on Toronto Life’s website and its Facebook page. The general consensus seems to be that this service should be better promoted.

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Many commenters, however, are offended by the notion that this bus would be called “secret”.

When you’re in a group, I understand that it’s hard to appreciate that there are others with different experiences and knowledge bases. Those that commented “this was a secret?” form a portion of Toronto’s populace — the Insiders — who are tech savvy enough to find the bus on google maps, not to mention participate in online debates!

In any case, the word is out. And that’s great, because more people using the bus means more pressure for better transit.

Well, not new — but updated.

As I’ve begun writing for Spacing Toronto, I think it’s the perfect occasion to update and streamline my previously-known-as Urban Geographer’s Manifesto. 

Though stated more simply, these Principles are inspired by my experiences in academia, activism, the job market, art and travelling. They represent my guiding principles as I negotiate the world.

Please enjoy this new version of  

Principles

  • a city can’t be planned; its cultures, however, can be positively guided
  • urban design includes any space-changing activity people do to their city
  • we are all urban designers, planners, and architects. we all have an ability to shape our cities
  • cities are natural; they are a critical part of the earth’s ecosystem
    taxes and by-laws are a city’s dna
  • cities should be planned for people, not cars
  • this blog is a way to share my love for cities, and to promote happy city living

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Exciting news, readers.

With experience writing for its counterpart blogs in Montreal and Halifax, it was inevitable. Your Urban Geographer has begun contributing to Spacing Toronto!

Spacing Toronto is the original Spacing blog and most closely associated with the fantastic work of the writers, artists and editors of the quarterly Spacing Magazine.

As you probably know by now, I grew up in Toronto, and feel a deep connection with this city, its history and geography. I look forward to sharing my observations, comments and responses to Toronto’s endlessly fantastic cityscape with Spacing Toronto’s wide readership.

Look out for my first post on the Spacing Toronto blog tomorrow!

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A teaser for my poster-presentation at the upcoming Urban Ecologies conference. Read more below.

Dear readers,

This post finds my back in my home-town Toronto, after a relatively short, but very enriching period of time in Amsterdam. I have many (20ish) essays and observational posts about Amsterdam that will be coming out as a series over the summer. Time and space will bring my mind clarity, and I will be able to engage with the subject matter, explicitly as it relates to Toronto (as my point of view is inescapable, and Toronto is a very important point of comparison for my projects, past present future).

Last I spoke with you, I was curious about the 30 hour bus ride I was to be embarking on between Amsterdam and Rome.  Here are answers to some of those questions:

  • Who will be the other passengers?

A combination of Italian folks, young budget travellers, and people from Ghana (!?). I was the only person who was on the bus all the way from Amsterdam to Rome.

  • Will it be a double-decker bus?

It was not a double decker bus, to my chagrin. The view from the regular windows was nevertheless spectacular.

  • How many towns will we be stopping in? For how long?

We stopped in Den Haag, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, a highway rest stop in Luxembourg, Metz, Nancy, Strasbourg, the border of Switzerland, Milan, Bologna, and Rome. I had never heard of Metz or Nancy, and I was happy to experience them honestly. The stops were long enough for me to get off the bus, and “be” in the places.

  • Will we be driving under, or over the Swiss Alps?

A combination. Between the tunnels you are, indeed, nestled in the mountains.

  • Will it be dark outside while we’re driving through the Alps?

The deepness of night began to fade slowly in the middle of the Alps. The outlines of the mountains against the increasingly blue sky was spectacular. Sun rise came, revealing the full blown mountain landscape. I was thrilled. After several months in the Netherlands, the landscape was incredibly novel, and I almost couldn’t process how small the villages looked, stunted by the mountain ranges behind them.

  • Will Italy be hot?

It was hot. I also now understand the link between the font Times New Roman and the city of Rome.

  • Will i know when i’m in a different country?

I didn’t sleep much, and watched each country become the other — marked by signs.

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I am excited to be back in Toronto. There is so much going on here, and its Tall-rontoness is not limited to the downtown core. In fact, I have not been south of Bloor St since my return, perhaps revealing the truth of the suburban nature of my life-paths here.

My suburban adventures most recently brought me to #NYC (also known as North York Centre). I am amazed by the hustle of this place. It is a real Place. There is energy, and it feels good. The city that is being built is of a wholly different nature than downtown Toronto. This is no-B.S., anti-nostalgic, 21st century urbanism. The scale is undeniably huge, but it is a city, nonetheless. The scale reminded me of Manitoba, and honesty. I think the heart and soul of present-day Toronto exists here, without any filers of nostalgia or envy induced by other cities. The question is, however, will the independent survive here? There have been essays written  before about the importance of preserving the non-chain retail that remains along Yonge Street. The pressure of rent must be spectacular — will there be any semblance of place-rooted business here in 10 years? Let’s hope area’s community groups are successful in their efforts.

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Yonge and Sheppard – actually a nice place

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This little store front doesn’t stand a chance to a proposed condo development. Or does it?

My time finds me now working on my presentation for the Urban Ecologies Conference next week. I have created a studio in the attic of my parents house, high in the canopy of Toronto’s special forest ecology. I am arguing that Toronto is in Carolinia, its bioregion, and that we need to include this in the story of the city to make it a better place. That’s the short-version. The longer is to come in a future post.

Until then,

Your Urban Geographer.

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Dear readers,

The Urban Geographer has been through a lot of development since its humble first post in January 2011. Since then, I have used this space as a platform for observations, theories, landscape architecture exercises and political activism, and am grateful for your readership and loyalty through the convoluted and through the clear.

I have detected a shift in the blog, toward a more focused and less rough approach to communicating ideas. I sense a wider audience emerging and an ability to use this blog as a tool and catalyst for greater projects.

I would like to formally mark this growth, this evolution and shift with a brand new banner!

The new banner is sleeker, more colourful and trendy. Yes, it’s still a skyline — easy and over used urban imagery — but, I’m just so gosh-darn attracted to it as a symbol of the urban. In the imageability of a city, the skyline is one of the most important symbols. This is especially true in my home-city of Toronto (Tall-ronto), which is experiencing the largest rate of highrise construction in North America.

And speaking of Tall-ronto, you might have noticed that I’ve dropped the Montreal and Halifax skylines from the banner. This is not because these places are no longer important to me — they areMy heart remains in Halifax, my beginnings as an urbanist are firmly Montrealais — but my travels have brought me to many cities, and the lessons I’ve learnt from them are fundamentally incorporated into my approach as an Urban Geographer – so, to simplify things, I’ve chosen to focus on the Toronto skyline. It is, after all, as city of the now – and, not to mention, I will be returning there this June to present at the Urban Ecologies conference, and reckon I’ll be setting up some sort of a nest there for an undetermined period of time…

And, for the sake of history, let’s look at the evolution of the Urban Geographer banners:

The first banner (January, 2011) was a rough, pixelated and sloppy mashing of the Toronto and Montreal skylines – cities that then formed the basis of my urban experiences at that time.

The second banner (July, 2011) was a much more elegant, hand drawn skyline that also included Halifax, as I had just moved there for the first time.

Readers will be happy to know that the tagline of the blog “let’s read the city, together!” remains unchanged. The project of urban literacy remains central to the motivations of The Urban Geographer.

See also Banner Archive (July, 2011)

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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.

Readers,

Your Urban Geographer is now based in Amsterdam: living in and thinking about the vastly urbanized Netherlands. There is no wilderness in the Netherlands. Rural areas are carefully managed and occupy a small space between one city and another, especially in the Ranstad (the Dutch conurbation consisting of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague, Utrecht and the towns, suburbs and farms in between – they function as one huge city).

Beyond walking with my head up, alert and vibing, I will be up to a number of projects that might peak your interests in urban geography. They’ve certainly peaked mine.

❍ I am interning at Golfstromen, an urban design/marketing/creative firm based in Amsterdam Noord. They are the folks responsible for the blog the Pop-Up City, and I will be writing for them, and researching some projects. I also will, hopefully, design and implement some sort of “urban intervention” with a fellow intern and interaction designer. More on that later… For now, expect cross posting from the Pop-Up City about various projects, books and creative works that use urban space in some novel way.

❍ I am also, possibly, going to be “interning” with the Mobiators. Their Mobiation project involves a house that can fold-up into itself, becoming a small box. The Moby 1 is currently situated in a small park in Watergraafsmeer, a small suburb just outside of Amsterdam. The structure is lovely, equipped with large windows, an elevated bed, a wood stove, and three cute dogs. Calanne and Geert are inspiring, honest, and creative folk, who I look forward to helping out.

❍ Straight-vibing. Amsterdam is a beautiful, pleasant city. A lot of thought has gone into the design of this place, and I look forward to simply experiencing it. Dutch design may not be as efficient as German or Japanase, but it has a certain humanity to it, a cozy familiarity that is easy to get used to. I have already biked around a large part of this city, experiencing it at cycle-speed. I live in Rivierenbuurt in the Zuid (south), and must travel through the entire city to work in Amsterdam Noord, which is just across the IJ from Centraal Station. I have to take a quick ferry to get to North – and it is a whole different world up there. 10 minutes from bustling Central Amsterdam, it is quiet, rural-feeling, in a post industrial way. My internship is located in a building full of architects and designers, and I look forward to exploring the creative scene in Amsterdam from this vantage point. Biking through Rivierenbuurt is also quite lovely: it is built with an approchable grandiose-ness. Its monotonous form undulates gracefully as it repeats itself. It is best experienced by bike: slicing through the repetitive architecture creates a lovely swelling effect.

I feel fortunate to have these two ways of experiencing this city: the fancy design and marketing world of Golfstromen, and the anti-capitalist, DIY ethos of the Mobiators.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts about Amsterdam with you, readers, formally through the Pop-Up City, and informally through posts on the Urban Geographer.

DISCLAIMER::::THIS MAY NOT HAPPEN

Exciting news, dear readers!

All this while, as your Urban Geographer, I’ve been thinkin’ bout the urban landscape – it turns out I’ve been shaping the urban landscape too!

That’s right, loyal followers. I am excited to announce that in a to-be-determined future date, my photo will become Sackville, New Brunsick’s highway sign!

The highway sign currently looks like this (credit to google street view, as usual)  :::::::::::::::::::::

And will soon be transformed to this image, featured below (in low res), originally appearing in a post from last summer. The photo’s rights-to-use have been formally purchased by the Town of Sackville.

The photo is of bright August day in 2011, when Sackville’s main thoroughfare, Bridge Street was transformed to indie-rock paradise by the annual SappyFest. On a journalistic bend for an upcoming Spacing Atlantic article, I climbed the roof of Tidewater books for this sweet-summer aerial view.

I am grateful that the Town of Sackville got in touch with me to use the image – my respect to this special place deepens, my connection to it expands. I am also thoroughly happy to be an official, paid-Urban Geographer, and take with that the great responsibility it brings.

See you on the highway!