Archives for posts with tag: cities

Check out this quick sketch of a map I made of Toronto:

toronto depiction

It focuses on three dominant features of the city: Highways, Rivers and Trees.

Toronto’s 400 Series Highways, Ravines and River Valley landscapes define this city, and I celebrate them.

Let me know your thoughts about the map in the comments section below!

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We’ve all been there. Our coffee maker, printer, or blender brakes, and it costs way less to buy a new one then to go through all the trouble of fixing it. Responding to this incredibly wasteful phenomenon and the volume of raw materials and energy needed to produce and transport new goods, Martine Postma, an environmental activist in the Netherlands created the world’s first Repair Cafe.

The goals of the Repair Cafe are simple: reducing waste, maintaining and passing on knowledge about repairing, and strengthening community. Since the first Dutch Repair Cafe opened in 2009, this form of unconsumption has gained immense popularity, winning 2013 Radical Innovator of the year, and with Repair Cafes being started all over the world,  from Germany to the United States, from Latvia to Brazil and Italy. Now one is opening in Toronto with it’s first meeting May 25!

Repair Cafe

Repair Cafes are pop-up gathering places where you can bring your broken stuff — electronics, clothing, tools — to be repaired by a team of volunteer electricians, seamstresses, carpenters and other repair specialists. Tools and materials are made available to repair all sorts of goods that could otherwise be thrown away. Without fixed locations, Repair Cafes temporarily transform urban spaces into functional social gathering places, where the project’s social benefits are as appealing as its ecological mission. At the Repair Cafe, you can drink a coffee and get to know your neighbours as you wait your turn to consult with a repair-volunteer.

Repair Cafe

Interesting to note are Repair Cafe’s uniform design worldwide. Indeed, they are all centrally connected to the original Dutch Repair Cafe, a foundation that believes in the strength of a global repair movement. The central Repair Cafe offers a comprehensive information package, customized advice, posters and flyers, and publicity via their network. To get this support free of charge, an organization in another city must call its project the Repair Cafe, use the same logo, and constantly refer to the central Repair Cafe’s website — another explicit example ‘local’ grassroots initiatives to improve the city are actually part of a global urban culture, with identical projects stemming from wide-spread ideas made possible by the internet.

Repair Cafe

The design of the Repair Cafe is anything but stylish. Its use of the MS font Curlz maybe even contributes to an anti-hipster look. We find this an interesting and effective strategy for promoting the simplicity of the grass roots solutions that the Repair Cafe brings forth. The repair cafe isn’t about style: it’s a utilitarian, effective solution to overconsumption in the world, and doesn’t need a new-Artisan brand to argue that.

Repair Cafe

In a crisis economy, environmentally-minded city dwellers have the ability to bring forward a lot of innovation. In this case, innovation isn’t as much of making something entirely new, rather looking back to old ways when people used to fix things before throwing them away. But the Repair Cafe is anything but a purely nostalgic yearning for the simpler days that were. The fact is, we do not have the knowledge in North America and Europe to repair CD players manufactured in China. Recognizing this, and maintaining and passing on the repair knowledge we do have in Europe and North America demands a change of mentality, which is necessary to create a sustainable society. Repair Cafes encourage us to repair what we can, pass on this knowledge, and perhaps start consuming things only within the realm of our expertise. Is this another sign that manufacturing is returning to the post-industrial cities of North America and Europe? In any case, it’s evident, while sharing is the new owning, fixing is quickly becoming the new buying!

When I’m living in Halifax, I’ll often walk up and down Fuller Terrace. It’s a beautiful street in the city’s North End – one of my favourites –  and many friends live along its wood-sided, leafy sidewalks.

A house I pass on these walks features a nice landscape architecture feature. It’s something I’ve noticed in other places since, and one I’d like to share with you.

Grass grid

A concrete grid, that allows grass to grow through it.

Regular readers will get why I like this approach to designing surfaces: it is a thought provoking union between artificial concrete and natural grass — though of course, concrete is as natural as grass is human-influenced.

The concrete-grass grid reminds me of some thoughts I had while exploring Tempelhof park in Berlin.

tempelhof 1Formerly an airport, now a park.

Formerly a Nazi-era airport, Tempelhof has since been transformed into a gigantic park in the middle of the city. The defunct-runway provides an immense open space with site lines that run undisrupted along the city’s horizon. It provides quite a contrast to Berlin’s otherwise densely populated landscapes.

Templhof

Templehof

Now that Tempelhof airport is a park, some of its features have transformed to reflect that.

Beyond the obvious appearance of park goers and picnic benches, I noticed a more subtle transformation: the runway’s asphalt is slowly yielding to wild plants. When it functioned as an airport, the tarmac would have been tirelessly kept weed free. Now, the asphalt is slowly incorporating itself into a non-monocultural system. Grass is spreading over concrete, much like the above mentioned concrete-grass grid – which I think is quite a nice landscape architecture feature.

Halifax

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

Enjoy:::::

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:

Tree-Building

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:

Halifax

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:

Nature

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

Complex

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:

Same-Same

I read a lot of online blogs and magazines about cities. This post is part of a new series of quote-shares from my internet travels: 

▶▶ URBAN GEOGRAPHER QUOTE-SHARE  ◁◁

url

As you’ve read before, my undergrad thesis at McGill University was to focus on urban agriculture, using the concepts of Urban Political Ecology. UPE is a post-structuralist, Marxist body of literature that seeks to unfix the false dichotomy of nature and culture in order to understand the power structures that determine the winners and losers of our inevitable impact on the planet.

As your Urban Geographer, I have continued to research, write about and explore this artificial nature-society binary. Through my activities, projects and art I have sought to offer poignant examples where the constructed borders of nature and society meet. Cities, as you can imagine, offer infinite examples of such.

As I have recently applied to be a speaker at OCAD’s 2013 Urban Ecologies conference, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share some quotes that will clarify the project of Urban Political Ecology to you, my readers, but also to me! I found these quote boxes on Understanding Social Science – a useful blog that puts otherwise esoteric concepts into clear, accessible language.

Enjoy::::

main-idea-1

main-idea-2

main-idea-3



capitalism

Montreal versus Toronto comparisons are a common conversation I have with people who have been to both cities. It’s also something I have a lot on my mind, as I grew up in Toronto and spent some formative years living in Montreal (and am now back in Toronto — for a bit).

The cities are incredibly different — fundamentally so, especially considering that they are only five hours away from each other (which is considered very close in Canada, for all you European readers). Yes, they are both North American cities, former colonial economic outposts of European countries, and are based on a grid, but the cities that have grown around these shared circumstances are completely different.

I could write an extensive list outlining the differences from my own musings and the many conversations I’ve had with families, friends and strangers (this is a hot topic for those taking rideshares between the two cities), from the most nuanced to the most banal, from the most material to the most philosophical, but these will be topics for other posts.

For now, I’d like to sum up the differences in an elegant analogy that makes use of the cities’ prominent geographic features that my mom used earlier today, an analogy that eloquently describes a lot of my thoughts about these two very-different  yet-similar and thus-irresistibly-comparable places.

Montreal has its mountain, a raised point in the heart of the city; and,

Toronto has its ravines, forested valleys that lie below the street level and are spread throughout the city.

Montreal is easy to read: it is not challenging to find out “where-to-be” to have a good time out with others. Its culture, much like its mountain is centralized, pronounced, prominent and unmistakable.

Toronto is more difficult: one must know where-to-go to find the “good” spots. Much like its ravines, its culture is diffused, sprawling, mysterious and hard-to-find. It’s iconic skyline leads visitors to assuming that this is all Toronto’s got: what’s on the surface, without ever looking below.

So when you visit Toronto: as I say to anyone, “give it a chance”. It is a booming, exciting city, as any city of three million inevitably is. But its articulation, its manifestation of the “good life” is less marked, visible then in Montreal.

So get out there, climb that mountain —
but also explore those ravines.

Yesterday, I used Toronto’s version of the popular Montreal bikeshare, Bixi for the first time.

The experience was fun: riding through the very un-cyclist friendly streets of Toronto on a very progressive, efficient mode of transportation. It was like a puzzle piece not fitting properly into its spot.

The experience of riding a Bixi is not like riding a normal road bike. It has a unique frame, which results in a broad steering capacity They also boast a wide, comfortable seat, and gear shifters of a design distinct to Bixi bikes. The bikes have a certain sound and rhythm distinct to them; the internal chain clicking away, the sound of the gears shifting.

As a result, it was a strange experience of riding a bike in the streets of Toronto, a bike I had grown to know in Montreal and sensually associate with that city’s streets. When I closed my eyes, the feel of the bike, its rhythm, its feel as it meanders through the streets all made me feel as though it was just another breezy day on some Plateau street in early Autumn. But then, suddenly, I hit a street car track and opened my eyes, remembering that I was far away from the Bixis of Montreal, a small biker on the wide streets of Queen and Spadina in the heart of Toronto.

See also same-space different-place

Inspired by Mark Lakeman’s Chronology of City Repair, I have embarked on a continuous project of finding moments where the all encompassing grid has started to dissolve.

The grid is imposed on messy nature-culture. It is a rational, simplistic, controlling structure stemming from power. It is not what a city wants to be and, if it weren’t for constant maintenance, would inevitably dissolve.

So go out, and explore, find the moments where the grid is dissolving! Streets that are closed to traffic permanently. Large planters and outward-jutting sidewalks that break the linear flow of vehicular traffic. Come back and see some examples I’ve found too.

Being here is realizing that fundamental uniqueness of place.

Being here is that very particular weather at this time of year; The voice of Metro Morning on the Radio.

The Sound of Streetcars scraping against their metal tracks. The Sound of the Subway wooshing underground as you bike north, past chirping intersections;  the stale scent of the TTC.

Being here is knowing that Here is always — the constant clockwork of place that is fundamentally tied to some space, somewhere.

Inspiration

Jack Bishop uses an incredibly romantic, thick brush stroke style, evoking quaint rural landscape paintings of the 20th century, to represent the dominant suburban landscapes that define contemporary Canada. By using a style that abstracts reality, he is able to incredibly honestly engage with the state of affairs of the settings of our lives. Whereas the 20th century romantic landscapes that he is evoking evaded the reality of a dreary industrial transformation of the country, his paintings subvert that style and interrogate the landscapes that define our times.

There is a distinct quality to a row of houses that sit directly on a park in a dense urban core. Though they do not differ at-all architecturally from their regular-street counterparts, it’s the very situation of these houses that creates feelings of fleeting breeziness, of opportunity. These houses are concrete openness.

The houses open to Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto

Concrete openness toward Parc Jeanne Mance, in Montreal

Openness in Halifax, at the Windsor Parkette, just west of the Common

The sense of vision is most important in cities today.

In our modern time, the age of high-speed communication, cities are the venues of incredibly dense networks of activity and information. The number of messages that one perceives as they negotiate the streets and paths of a city via car, bicycle or by foot are countless: from explicit advertisements to city logos embedded in the infrastructure; from the way people dress to the facades of strange and familiar buildings.

Our sense of vision both enables and prevents city-induced confusion. The city must be abstracted to be understood. Visible simplification of the complicated-city to simple, readable signifiers, facilitates otherwise overwhelming urbanity.

We could never perceive and know everything that exists in the city — there’s simply too much of it, and not enough time or reason. In a small town, a store, building or person can be made sense of in their entirety, because they stand unique. In the semiotics of the city, signifiers emerge naturally so that some sense can be made of a teeming, highly and densely populated urban place.

In a passive state-of-mind, the many houses and apartments one passes in a city remain two-dimensional facades, with minor features of architecture and quality simplified to tell a story about the contents inside. Houses and apartments are categorized into types, so that in our economy of thought, we can quickly understand these objects and pass them by without constant scrutiny.

People too are visually simplified into signifiers. The shape of a passing person becomes simply that, a passing person — with little thought about their personal history or intent.

My bike lock broke recently, and it no longer locks properly. But I continue to use it, even in extremely crowded city-spaces, because within the complexities of a city, a bike lock loses its meaning and becomes simplified as a signifier. When somebody happens upon my bike, and sees a black U-Lock in it’s typical spot, the fact that so many bikes exist in the same configuration means that it’s automatic message is: “Locked” — even if it is not locked at all.

So what do we do to counter-act the inevitable modern malaise that occurs from a world of so many sensory stimulations that we must simplify everything into symbols? We must be inquisitive, forge meaningful relationships, be forever interested in the urban space that surrounds us. Dig deeper, make communities, and get past the compartmentalization, the visual simplification of the modern city, modern life itself.