Archives for posts with tag: culture

This post originally appeared on the Jane’s Walk blog

Geomancy, Fortune Telling with Maps, is a practice I developed to invite consideration on how our lives are affected by Toronto’s landscape. It goes deep into place-based identity, inviting reflection on how topography, ecology, history, cardinal orientation, infrastructure and the grid affect our existence and well-being.

For example: The Don River affects a lot of Torontonians, the same way the train tracks we pass over and under every day, the highways we travel along, the city’s waterfront, its buried rivers, and all its hills, valleys and hydro corridors do.

The Don is Toronto’s central river. Its creeks and tributaries criss-cross most of the central city before reaching Toronto Bay, where its flow embraces the electrically charged density of downtown Toronto. It has been home to a distinctly exuberant kind of Toronto culture; the city’soldest neighbourhoods have long perched at the edge of its wide valley. The Don has been the site of most of Toronto’s industrial growth too, especially when we tried to straighten its meandering curves, channelizing it to become a working canal. Further upstream, the Don has been where utopian visions of the city like Don Mills andThorncliffe Park have been dreamed up and realized. Today, it’s again a major site of development, with the construction of the Pan Am Athletes Village and continued efforts to re-naturalize the river’s mouth.

Geomancy_Card.jpg

Image of Toronto’s watershed system by Daniel Rotsztain

I think when people talk about Toronto, they’re talking about the Don River. Yet many Torontonians have lived their entire lives along the Don without realizing it. The ways we commute, on bridges over the ravines that keep the geometry of the grid intact, or in subway tunnels deep below the surface of the city, make it easy to forget that the river even exists. But the worldview the inhabitants of central Toronto has been shaped by the wind, water, climate and electric spirit that is undeniably Don.

Compare this to the Humber—the river that flows through the west Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. Though arguably more important to the city’s history (the site of the First Nation’s route to Lakes Simcoe and Huron, and the first French forts), the Humber has resisted the same kind of industrial exploitation. Its energy is calmer, and reflects the culture and atmosphere of Etobicoke’s bucolic inner suburbs.

Geomancy reminds us that you can’t opt out of geography. The paths we trace with our feet in the city, the ways we get around, the watersheds we live in, affect our perspectives and world view. What parts of your city’s landscape affect you?

Daniel Rotsztain is a Toronto-based urban geographer. Check out hiswebsite and his Geomancy blog to learn more, and say hello onTwitter!

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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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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.

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.

I am excited to announce that I have applied to be a presenter at OCAD’s upcoming Urban Ecologies conference in Toronto this June.

My proposal is to do a presentation similar to the lecture I gave during Halifax’s Fuller Terrace Lecture Series’ 2011 season. There, for an evening of talks under the theme “The Nature of Things”, I spoke about the history of the concept of nature, and society’s entrenched nature-culture binary which works to obscure the questions that matter most in contemporary environmentalism: who are the winners and losers of humans’ inevitable impact on the planet.

Tree-Building

Clip from “Everything is Everything” – an animation/presentation about nature and cities.

For the lecture, I created a whimsical animation as an easily accessible version of the concepts of Urban Political Ecology – the body of literature that informed my undergraduate thesis, which in turn inspired the lecture. I used examples from Halifax to illustrate these concepts and relate them to the audience’s day-to-day experience of the city. Indeed, cities are places where the supposedly natural and non-natural come together most poignantly.

Halifax

Halifax, as animated for the presentation.

I present to you my proposal for the upcoming Urban Ecologies conference at OCAD. The base of the presentation will remain similar to that which was presented in Halifax – but the examples will be customized to my native Toronto, where instances of nature-culture are abundant: the Don Valley Brick Works, the system of ravines that run through the city, the “re-naturalization” of the Don River, and the Leslie Street spit.

Enjoy – and whether I am accepted or not, see you at the Urban Ecologies conference in June!

Daniel Rotsztain Presentation Written Abstract Proposal Daniel Rotsztain Visual

In my last year of my undergrad degree in geography, I was all excited to write a thesis based on some radical geographic theory: a body of literature called Urban Political Ecology.

But, because my prof adopted a baby, she couldn’t be my supervisor, and I didn’t end up writing my thesis. And i’m glad I didn’t — because if i did i would have spent a year wading through some pretty inaccessible academic jargon — prose, that through a body of technical language had seemed to lost its connection to the very subject matter it was dealing with.

And since i’m a pretty impressionable guy, after a year of research and study, I probably would have started speaking like this and lost my ability to genuinely engage with the content. But there was definitely some good stuff in there – so this post, first presented as a part of the Fuller Terrace Lecture Series, is inspired by what my thesis was going to be on, presented, in what I hope to be a more accessible, and poetic way.

But instead of calling it was going to be the many-subtitled name of my thesis:

Urban Political Ecology:

The Politics of Urban Nature and Urban Metabolism:

Urban Agriculture in Montreal:

The Politics of Food, Nature and Community

I’m going to go ahead and call it:

Even though it often doesn’t feel like it, it’s important to remember that cities are natural things.

Our popular culture has a very specific definition of the word natural, and, as a result, we tend to think of cities as the polar opposite of nature: which is to mean nature as pristine, untouched, isolated wilderness.

But, human activity cannot be viewed as external to the earth’s ecosystem, and cities are the natural outgrowths, physical manifestations of human energy and culture.

Put simply, cities are built out of natural elements from the earth, transformed through socially mediated processes into resources like building material and electricity.

As we can see from this brief history, there is nothing unnatural about halifax —

The city, atop a rock

which used to be covered in a natural forest of trees

the trees felled by human activity

and made into lumber

a forest of houses sprouted where there used to be a forest of trees,

houses built out of the wood of those trees

and though from farther away — the cranes that were erected

and the buildings of glass, concrete and steel that followed,

they too are built out of natural elements from the earth, used as building materials by humans.

Though spring-time is still far off in Montreal, the snow is rapidly melting from the warmer day-time temperatures.

The silent streets and muffled city of deep-winter are stirring.

The sound of water – dripping, rushing, splashing – grows louder.

Though this is the city – concrete and man-made – we are not disconnected from the cycles of nature. The street-side rivers flow through the forest of buildings and traffic lights. We are agents within an urban nature.

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“As a state of mind, true wilderness exists only in the great sprawling cities” – Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia

As I first experienced sometime last August, the vibrant Portuguese community that currently occupies the formerly Jewish south-west of Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood periodically holds Saint Celebrations — street parades that shut down St Urbain between Mont Royal and Duluth.

The effect of shutting down the street proved to be incredibly pleasant. St Urbain is a largely  residential street north of Sherbrooke. Due to the fact that it is a one way thoroughfare that crosses the entire island, extending from the city’s Northern highways, through the residential Mile End and Plateau neighbourhoods, past the industrial area and highway overpass south of Rene Lesveque and, finally ending at Old Montreal, the street is effectively a highway. I live directly on St Urbain at Duluth, in a walk up, my bedroom window on the street, so I know intimately how busy St Urbain can be. Traffic zooms by at all hours of the day, at incredibly high speeds; if the vehicle is lucky to not be stopped by any red lights, St Urbain presents itself as a chute, sending cars zooming southwards.

St Urbain is not the most pleasant street. Though it boasts an incredibly large and beautiful stock of classic Montreal duplexes and triplexes, with the requisite local businesses sprinkled in between, the extremely high speed traffic detracts from the aesthetics of one of the city’s most important streets.

But when the street was closed to accommodate the Portuguese parade, I experienced a different kind of St Urbain. The kind of street that must have been the one Mordecai Richler spoke of so dearly. Gone were the constant wooshes of passing traffic. Rather, silence rued the day. The sound of birds, the summer breeze, the chit chat of passersby, the voices of my friends directly beside me, these were the sounds of the city restored to an otherwise inner-city highway, frozen to accommodate a different kind of traffic.

And then I looked up, and was delighted to see the windows and balconies that line the street populated by curious onlookers, children and adults, watching the parade, delighting in experiencing a St Urbain not characterized by the typical unassociated traffic, flinging across the island at an unbelievable speed from where-ever to some place, but rather, their neighbours, partaking in a cultural activity that evoked the participation not just of those in the parade, but the entire citizenry of the street.

This wonderful experience of St Urbain made me think what limiting the traffic would do to the street. If Montreal were to make it a two way street, which I think must have been its original usage, the pleasant calm that I temporarily experienced would endure permanently. The same happens, I suppose, in Sao Paulo, when every Sunday they close down the central highway that eviscerates the city’s core, handing it back over to the residents of the city, especially those who dwell in highrises that line the expressway. In Sao Paulo, on such a day, the usual racket associated with a superhighway stops completely, and is replaced by the chatter of an impromptu and inherently ephemeral market-esque streetscape.

I don’t expect St Urbain will ever be converted to a two-way street. Frankly, beyond these pleasantries thought up by a naive, idyllic urbanist, there is no need to restore quiet to St Urbain. I imagine that the street is a necessary north-south thoroughfare, accommodating a noticeably immense amount of traffic’s journey across the island. And it’s better than the alternative: a real highway, cutting up the unique Plateau urban landscape (see: autoroute Decarie).

I suppose that I’ll just have to enjoy the wonders of a temporarily closed St Urbain as they come and go.