Archives for posts with tag: landscape architecture

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto 

To the delight of many, it was recently announced that the TORONTO sign in Nathan Phillips Square will remain in front of City Hall until its structural expiry date of 2016, when it will be replaced by a more sturdy set of letters.

Installed as part of the Pan Am Games, the sign is one of the most popular legacies of the event. It is a highly photogenic addition to City Hall, offering the perfect spot for selfies amongst the sign’s many Ts Rs and Os.

The old saying is that “life imitates art” — but with the immense popularity of the TORONTO sign, it might be more accurate to say that these days, “life imitates graphic design.”

The dominance of graphic design culture — researchers now estimate we’re exposed to5,000 ads per day, and the number of graphic designers in Canada has increased rapidly over the last few years — has reached its apotheosis in the 3D TORONTO sign. Photos of Nathan Phillips Square and City Hall now automatically take on the look and feel of a highly designed poster.

The TORONTO sign is part of a global trend of huge letters in prominent public space. It’s most direct precedent is the I amsterdam sign. Situated behind Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum since 2005, friends visiting the Netherlands are almost guaranteed to post photos of themselves climbing the iconic red and white letters. The ONLY LYON sign followed in 2010 and the BUDAPEST sign in 2014. It was only a matter of time that big font would come to Toronto.

I amsterdam

ONLY_LYON_Place_Bellecour

Budapest sign

This isn’t the first time art has affected landscape. Big, wooded parks with meandering pathways like High Park in Toronto, Central Park in Manhattan, and Mount Royal Park in Montreal, were all inspired by Romantic landscape paintings of the late 19th century. Spreading as a park format worldwide (most major North American cities have an equivalent), these pastoral parks are a reflection of what people in burgeoning industrial cities needed from their landscapes — and how they idealized them.

But the blending of graphic design and landscape architecture is evidence of a new kind of relationship we’ve developed with our civic spaces. No longer pastoral retreats à la High Park, with our smartphone cameras always close at hand, a landscape must be striking and photographable to make an impact. And giant, Instagram-able letters are the most effective way to communicate the core of most messages on social media — “I was here.”

Advertisements

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.

DSCF0297

I love boardwalks.

The kind of boardwalks I’m talking about are the long wood pathways that wind through forests, over swamps and across marshlands. They twist and turn through otherwise inprentrable landscapes, providing an intimate experience of the world without harming it.

IMG_0888Boardwalk on the way to Risser’s beach, South Shore, Nova Scotia

Humans are curious creatures and boardwalks support that curiosity. They encourage an investigation of ecosystems and animal habitats without trampling them.

If designed well, flora and fauna can pass beneath boardwalks and over them, further decreasing our impact on the landscape.

The pure naturalists out there might protest the limitations of a boardwalk. Putting a barrier between us and the landscape, how are we supposed to connect with it? It’s not easy to feel like you’re in the wild when you’re walking along a predetermined route through the woods.

DSCF0295

In my experience, the boardwalk provides an immensely intimate experience of ecology. My most recent boardwalk sojourn at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary brought me face to face with alligators, snakes, birds and majesty cypress trees.

And yes, the boardwalk’s a circuit, but given the recent history of the exploitation and destruction of most of the world’s habitats caused by human activity, I think it’s fair that most of us should stay back, and resist meddling with and trampling on the habitats of other plants and animals.

DSCF0430

A boardwalks also simplifies the experience of nature to be coherent. Unlike human activity, the rest of nature doesn’t have a centre point. Walking along a boardwalk provides an intelligible experience of nature.

Finally, boardwalks are accessible! They provide an intimate experience of natural landscapes to everyone, particularly wheelchairs users, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

Southwest Florida has an especially high number of boardwalks. The area’s everglades and swampy forests mean that boardwalks are one of the only ways to see the landscape while avoiding getting your feet wet.

DSCF0404
Corkscrew swamp sanctuary near Naples, Florida 

In Sackville, New Brunswick, a boardwalk dreamily winds its way through the Tantramar marsh. Over ponds and through thickets of grass and birch trees, the boardwalk’s 2 kilometres provide a thorough and highly satisfying experience of the elusive marsh lands.

IMG_0716

IMG_0728

Tantramar marsh boardwalk in Sackville, New Brunswick

But boardwalks don’t have to be limited to swampy lands – they can be built anywhere to heighten the experience of a place.

In Toronto, there’s a boardwalk through the ravines of Sherwood Forest. There’s also one that, inexplicably, crosses through a park near my house at Davenport and Dufferin. Despite its absurdity, the boardwalk provides a unique perspective to an otherwise ordinary green space.

In Blythewood the Path is an Elevated Wooden Walkway 016Sherwood Forest in Toronto

DuffDav

Absurd boardwalk through a park near Dufferin and Davenport 

But perhaps the most ultimate urban boardwalk is Manhattan’s High Line. Twisting and turning over the meatpacking district, the High Line travels over New York City without disturbing it. Flanuers can enjoy an intimate and unique experience of the city, getting to places they could otherwise not access. The novelty of floating above and through the city on the world’s largest urban boardwalk has been enough to make the High Line known throughout the world.

IMG_0371

DSCF9208

As many of my readers may know by now, I spent a glorious week of August as a participant artist in the White Rabbit Residency.

Along the shores of the other-worldly Bay of Fundy (where you can experience the highest tides in the world), I joined 16 artists – including my brother, cartoonist and graphic designer, Jonathan – in a week of supportive, nurturing, and inspired creation, responding to the beautiful landscape of Red Clay. The residency focuses on the process of creation, culminating in the White Rabbit Celebration, where visitors come to celebrate the end of the residency in a festival of art and music. Along with illustrating the festival’s map, I spent the week working on my project, Framing Red Clay.

DSCF9231

I initially proposed spending the week wandering around the grounds and creating frames out of found materials, to direct wanderers toward views of specific landscapes. I would comment on the landscape based on the frames’ shape, position and materiality, frames made out of materials ranging from the most natural to the most human-made. I was excited to frame dynamic scenes that would change based on the time of day viewed — especially those views of the swift transformations of the intertidal zone.

But when I got to Red Clay, it was the August super-moon — and high above the Bay, the full moon sat and slowly moved across the sky. The fullness of the moon illuminated the entire landscape, and, I couldn’t look away.

DSCF9236_2

I promptly adapted my project to a project of chasing, and framing the moon. Building on the vertical ladder tradition initiated by Andrew Maize the previous year, I constructed a ten foot ladder and erected it straight out of the ground, on a spot that affords the best views of the bay — where I initially viewed the moon in its fullness.

Learning from brilliant Red Clay veterans how to sustainably harvest spruce, and latch with rope, I built a small frame with a handle, and hung it on the top of the ladder. Passersby were tacitly invited to climb the ladder. Once at the top, they intuitively grabbed the frame, and began viewing the world from enjoyably high vantage. When the half moon rose on August 17, we gathered around the ladder to enjoy the experience of framing the moon as it hovered across the bay. Ironically, from this high vantage, I ended up framing Red Clay, as I initially intended to.

DSCF9202

As my artist statement in the White Rabbit program put it:

I came to Red Clay with the intention of framing the landscape, but I couldn’t stop looking at the moon, so I tried to frame the Moon. I ended up framing Red Clay. 

It was a pleasure to participate in White Rabbit 2014, and I congratulate my fellow artists-in-residence. Framing Red Clay was a wonderful manifestation of my art practice, emphasizing process but with a physical and interactive end product.

See you at White Rabbit 2015!

Sept 19 Mayoral Debate poster

I designed a series of posters for Our HRM Alliance’s three councillor candidate debates during the 2012 HRM municipal election. The posters are meant to evoke the reality that each district is an essential part of the greater whole.

Spryfield

You may notice that the districts appear rather large: there are only 16 of them, down from formerly 23. The Nova Scotia Utility Review Board (the seemingly true decision makers in this town) decided last year that 23 districts was too many, and to be more efficient, the number would be widdled down to 16. Less people to argue, right?

South end

Also see the September 19 Mayoral debate poster.

As part of the Dalhousie Gazette‘s fantastic Other Gazette, my brother and I have been taking a variety of Halifax landmarks and transforming them into things they kind of look like.

The feature inevitably grew out of one of our favourite teen pass-times, “Everything is Everything”, a drawing game that involves turning a circle with four spokes into anything your opponent challenges. “Everything is Everything” was also the title of the Fuller Lecture I gave in the summer of 2011.

Look-a-likes may be an exercise in exaggerations – but in a world where the fractal nature of the universe is relatively common knowledge, is it so farfetched to suggest the Halifax peninsula looks like a silly mermaid?

There’s some wood scaffolding that’s been up across the street from my house in Halifax for almost two years now. Everytime I pass it I’m amazed it’s been up so long. Whether due to laziness, or forgetfulness, whatever that scaffolding was intended for is a project that has long passed.

Everytime I look at the scaffolding across the street, I’m reminded of an excellent exhibit I saw a few years ago at Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture.  “Actions: What you can do with your city” was an exhibit in 2009 that demonstrated creative, often subversive, ways to meaningfully engage with your city despite laws and conventions that are un-inclusive or non-sensical.

One particularly memorable display told a story of a man in Seville who wanted to add a balcony to his apartment. Frustrated with the city’s strict heritage laws that prevented additions, he vandalized his own apartment in the dead of night. The next day, under the guise of removing the graffiti, he set up scaffolding – and never took it down, finally having a balcony to enjoy the sun on.

Though the scaffolding across the street probably wasn’t put up as a rogue balcony, it has been a presence in my life and has invited me to meaningfully engage with it.

Earlier this fall, a party we hosted in our apartment spilt out onto the street. The happy dancers climbed the scaffolding’s three levels, and danced and hoola-hooped on it til early morning.

The picture above is inspired by the scaffolding and that dance-filled night: It is a mash-up of a photo I took of the scaffolding and figures directly taken from Night Gatheringa beautiful watercolour painting by Rebecca Roher (her work, indeed inspired the whole image…and she was one of the dancing hoola-hoopers that night).


Cross-posted from Spacing Atlantic

HALIFAX – For those who haven’t been scrutinizing the urban landscape for the last few years, the appearance of a centuries’-old house, stilted and shunted to the edge of the parking lot across from the Trident Cafe, must be a mighty strange site.

Having survived the demolition of the neighbouring Victoria Apartments in 2009, the Morris House has since found refuge on an adjacent parcel of land.

Spacing Atlantic reported extensively on the loss of the Victoria Apartments, a beautiful heritage property that has connections with the Morris family, the first and only Chief Surveyors of Nova Scotia. In its later years, the Apartments were a hub for musicians and artists and one of the last vestiges of affordable housing in the city’s South End.

An emotional affair, crowds gathered to share the Victoria Apartments’ final moments.

The historic Morris House, the second oldest wood structure in HRM, seems to have been dormant in the years since its rescue from the bulldozer. But appearances are deceiving, and over the last three years a buzz of activity has been surrounding the Morris House, its preservation and its future.

Since they saved the house in 2009, a Joint Action Committee comprised of the Ecology Action CentreHeritage Trust of Nova ScotiaMetro Transit Non Profit Housing Association, and the ARK have been busy preparing for the Morris House’s next life.

It took some time, but the donation of a lot at the south west corner of Creighton and Charles Streets in the North End secured the Morris House’s fate. When it’s moved in early 2013, the Morris House will be expanded and developed as (energy efficient) affordable housing  for nine young adults.

A rendering of the Morris House’s new home, at Creighton and Charles Streets, with an addition still in the design phase

The project is a beautiful mix of elements that would make any local urbanist melt: the preservation of the city’s heritage built environment, the marriage of old and new architectural styles, adaptive reuse of recycled building materials, the provision of affordable housing, and the monumental filling of one of Halifax’s infamous vacant lots.

It’s no wonder the Morris House has been the subject of countless academic and art projects. (Its allure most recently attracted Anna Sprague, who surrounded the house with whimsical white balloons for Nocturne 2012.) Since it was rescued in 2009, the sight of the lonely house has embodied a powerful energy, it’s back turned to the street it used to be an intimate part of.

There’s something captivating about the persistence of the Morris House, its insistence that it continue to be a conspicuous member of the cast of characters that make up Halifax’s built environment. There will also be something magical about witnessing the historic house sail three kilometers through the streets of Halifax when it is moved to its new home in the North End early next year.

With these qualities, the Morris House project is capable of catalyzing a deep conversation about affordable housing and inclusivity in Halifax, a conversation we desperately need to have. The project is also a dramatic testament to the idea that the “greenest building is the one still standing”.

In efforts to raise funds for moving the house, an Indiegogo campaign has been set up. The house is scheduled to move in early January. 2013. Check out the Morris House website for updates and more information.

Check out the map your Urban Geographer recently had published in the Dalhousie Gazette.

The map was featured in a November 16 story about some amazing adventures and places to explore all accessible by Metro Transit bus!

➷➷➷ ::: CHECK IT OUT::: ➷➷➷

And exhausted from the same ol’ commute on the 52 Crosstown to Burnside, I know where I’m headed on my next day off – a bus-based adventure on the 51 to Shannon Park!

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!

In mid-July, my brother and I wandered through the streets of Halifax in search of the Linden – a beautiful tree that blossoms for a few precious weeks in midsummer.

I had previously known the tree only by its scent – a subtle but intoxicating sweetness that accompanies long, shimmering days in the heat of summer.

We were harvesting the Linden’s flower in bulk to dry for tea. Linden flower tea is a potent sedative that regulates blood pressure, helps with digestion and eases anxiety. We were especially keen to haul in a large harvest to meet our needs for the Evolve Tea Hive  later that month.

With black shopping bags, my brother and I headed North by-bike to search for the tree. He had made note of some Lindens in the area in his previous days’ travels, and those would be our starting points.

As I’m of the city, I’m not usually aware of the species of trees in the urban forest. With a quick description of the Linden tree and its characteristics from my brother (who was enrolled in a year-long class in herbalism at the time), my senses quickly shifted from a typical city-vocabulary of sidewalks and pavement, to one rooted in the world of the Linden tree.

Wildcrafting our way North, the logic of the Linden suddenly became the city’s dominant organizing principle. Halifax’s streets started making more sense to me based on their orientation to the sun, the age of their vegetation’s growth. It became increasingly easy to spot where a Linden tree would be – in full bloom it is a golden bouquet, its scent hard to miss.

Biking farther North to the Hydrostone neighbourhood, the warm July wind and delicious Linden aroma fueled my brother and I, keeping us happy and motivated.

Once we hit Duffus Street, the Linden trees stopped appearing. We had found a Halifax tree line:  once fashionable, the Linden tree had fallen out of favour in the planting of Halifax’s relatively newer northern suburbs, and was absent from their landscapes.

On this cold November evening, it warms me to think of this sweet time had with my brother last July; guided by the delicious golden currents of the Linden flower, this is when I learned to read the city from the trees’ perspective.

Leading image is a silkscreen print by your Urban Geographer of the Linden flower – it grows an extra leaf with it’s blossom that is essential to its potency when harvested. 

There’s a juncture in Toronto – in time and space.

It lies at an edge between the Distillery District, and the yet to be built West Donlands neighbourhood.

Last I was there, gazing east from a tight alley of the Distillery, there was nothingness – a chasm of sight and potential. The tight and built up form of the Distillery dramatically gave way to emptiness at Cherry Street, emphasizing the extreme juxtapositions possible in an urban environment – the logic, and on the other hand randomness of fate in the city, where a street, rational and straight, becomes the definite border between two distinct Places.

Knowing of the West Donlands neighbourhood and its scope, I would look at this gap at Tankhouse Alley and Cherry Street with a feeling of awe, aware of the inevitable explosion of city that will soon burst out of this empty chasm, blooming into a city, full and real.

From afar, I can’t tell but for dispatches from travelling friends, that the new neighbourhood to the East is already being built up;  the drama of the edge-space is becoming less intense. Soon, but for the obvious differences in ages of the buildings to the east and west of Cherry street, the rip will be sewed tightly shut – and the urban fabric will be expanded into a continuous expanse of city. With time, the border will become less distinct, fading into the linkages that will inevitably be forged between one side and the other.

Looking into the past by virtue of Google Street view has allowed me to capture this rift, compensating for my lack of photo-documentation when I should have…

UPDATE: Going through old photos, while I was bored today at the Archives, I discovered that I indeed captured this Distillery edge space last year, during my September Toronto stint! A cunning Urban Geographer never lets an intriguing cityscape go uncaptured:

The red-bricked path way tapers off into a chasm of nothingness – this tear in the urban fabric will soon be sewn, and a continuous cityscape will fill the current gap.