Archives for posts with tag: agricola

One thing that I really learnt on my last-Autumn travels to north-west Europe was that cities are inescapably market-places.

That is their primary function and social purpose, manifested in their built form. They are gathering spots where people can exchange goods and services. We can look at the history of cities, and in their DNA see that the world’s biggest are river- or ocean-side ports, a phenomenon geographers refer to as “break and bulk points”.  Modern cities are often at the shores of rivers of a different sort: highways and traffic corridors, where routes between several major cities converge.

Of course, the magical elements of unpredictable urbanity follow from market-cities, but these are only happy coincidences. A city is about dollars and cents. There is no town without a money-town. $ $ $ and all that.

This sort of irked me on my travels. I grew frustrated that the only thing I could do in each European city I visited was buy things and food, essentially. This is probably an obvious fact to most — but my romantic notions of the city and urbanity fogged the economic realities of the places I visited. I grew tired of only interacting with people over dollar exchanges — it felt inauthentic, ungenuine, not conducive to real connections.

The Really Really Free Market is perhaps a solution to the modern $$$-City.

It can be stripped down to its tagline: “No money. No barter. No trade. Try a new economic model: sharing!”

And, according to its organizers, it is “basically, its a bazaar, a celebration, and a community space for sharing- where people bring what they have to give, and take what they need. Kind of like a potluck, but for goods, services, skills, ideas, smiles”.

I love this concept.

There is an idea circulating these days that there is in fact abundance in the world, and it’s the political/social/economic structures that cause inequality and poverty, not a lack of resources.

Simply put, there is no real need to buy everything. There are so many goods and services lying fallow in our city’s neighbourhoods — there just needs to be a place, a system, to activate this surplus, and re-distribute that abundance.

The third iteration of the Really Free Market in Halifax (following successful stints at the Khyber and George Dixon Centre), is planned for August 12, from 11am to 3pm at the Bloomfield Centre. It’s great that it’s become a semi-regular thing, but, for this “revolutionary” economic model (i.e., sharing) to really change the way we interact with our cities — making them less of a money-market, and more of a social gathering place — is to make this a regular thing, dedicate space to it, rely on it more and more while buying less and less. We already have channels of communication that are facilitating this movement: craigslist and kijiji free sections, free-cycle websites – this is great, and we can build on it: such as a city officially accepting this economic model into its planning, its bureaucracy and systems.

It’s a fantastic idea that will undoubtedly spread throughout the world as we face the realities of depleting resources and the inevitable consequences  of years of social-environmental neglect.

Plus — I designed the flyer for the event ! I based the type on the beautiful, old and rusty Bloomfield Centre sign, and the building featured on the front is the iconic view of the Centre from Agricola and Bloomfield streets.


See you there!

August 15, 2012,  UPDATE!

Turns out, there’s now a weekly Really Really Free Market, in Toronto! Every first Saturday of the month, at Campbell Park, in Toronto’s west-end. This is surely the first steps toward permanent Free city infrastructure.

See you there, when I’m there!

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cross posted from Spacing Atlantic

This summer across the country, the idea that vegetables can and should be grown in the city continues to gain momentum. Urban agriculture is a lot of things, but as a formal movement promotes local, sustainable food systems, renewed inner-city social and physical health, and a shift toward people-oriented urbanism. Inner city food production has obvious impacts on the urban landscape, creating pleasant productive spaces in otherwise unproductive, sterile land.

Halifax has many lovely gardens, many of which can be found on the Halifax Garden Network’s user-generated map. You can, of course, engage in urban gardening in a variety of ways, ranging from formalized municipal allotments, to semi-private community gardens, to straight up guerilla gardens.

The nexus of do-it-yourself city planning and urban agriculture, guerilla gardening is a reminder of the possibility and importance of informal urban design. With the eye of a guerilla gardener, a quick scan of any street in Halifax presents many plots of public and private land that have the potential to be reclaimed and transformed from barren, asphalt spaces into beautiful urban places.

On my regular bike trips to the Far North End, I have noticed the slow cultivation of an otherwise barren lot at Agricola and Bilby. Though I haven’t met them, it seems that an individual or a group of people have taken it upon themselves to transform what was (as some quick Google Street View investigative work revealed) an extremely desolate corner, into a lovely urban space.

 Many vegetables and flowers have been planted, and thoughtfully labelled to educate curious onlookers about the varieties of species grown there. Though the changes are few, the introduction of a variety of vegetation and DIY landscape architecture imbues a formerly neglected, barren corner into a space that is obviously cared for, and as a result, has become a beautiful place to be.

It’s not news that official urban planning in Halifax often leaves much to be desired. A history of decisions that have favoured developers and promoted car culture, Halifax has a notorious knack for destroying communities in the name of potential economic development and urban renewal. With the potential widening of Bayers road on the horizon, it’s obvious that official planning in Halifax, for now, will continue along its historically misguided footsteps, while the rest of the world experiments in progressive, community-oriented urban design.

Guerilla gardens, like the one at Agricola and Bilby, are one of the many ways that we can take shaping-the-city into our own hands. As the summer roars on and the gardening season reaches its peak, let us celebrate these fantastic guerilla gardens, reminders that we do not have to be the passive recipients of top-down city plans, but that we can be, and are, active agents in our cityscape.

Belleaire Terrace is Halifax’s closest equivalent to Montreal’s fairly common residential alleyways. Belleaire is a lovely, short street, characterized by quaint North End Halifax homes. On the west side, houses front very close to the street, and on the east, are the backyards of houses on Fuller Terrace. The result is a very cozy streetscape, framed by a wall of houses on your left, and the open, breezy backyards on your right. An intimate relationship is fostered with the homes on the east whose multitude of varied windows and doors remind you that this is a neighbourhood that is very much constantly surveyed by its residents. The Fuller backyards provide another layer of diversity to the variety of architectural styles on the east. There are examples of almost every kind of backyard on Fuller: garden patios, flexible asphalt, green lawns, and the one-or-two fantasy-junk backyards. In concert with the vernacular architecture of the homes, the backyards provide a varied, and engaging streetscape that keeps you interested as you walk along the pleasant road.

One block west, parallel to Bellaire, is the much more major Agricola Street. Agricola is a commercial thoroughfare that boasts a fairly diverse array of businesses and residences. Despite the stretch I am describing being exactly the same length as the entirety of Belleaire, I find it astonishing how much longer Agricola feels.

I can’t quite explain why Agricola (red in map above) feels significantly longer than Belleaire (blue) – but it certainly does. Perhaps it is because the streetscape is much more desolate (though desolate is a dramatic word – Agricola is a fairly nice urban street) than leafy and diverse Belleaire Terrace. Or perhaps it is because McCully and May Streets cut up Agricola whereas Belleaire is continuous? Perhaps it relates to Jan Gehl’s recommendation for “vertically articulated”urban horizontal planes in designing cities for people, not cars;  do the repeated vertical lines of the eastern house facades and western backyard gates provoke a speeding up of the experience of distance, and make walking a long distance feel quicker than it is?

The reasons as to why the experience of space is so different on these streets aside, I am writing this post to again appreciate that space is indeed an extremely flexible and varied experience, and that equivalent objective space often does not correlate to the subjective experience of space. And isn’t a city is exactly that ? — an extremely rich and complex place that has objective dimensions, but in its essence is experienced differently by different people, at different times of the day, the year, different seasons, different stages of life.