Archives for posts with tag: landscape architecture

It’s my first time in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the Autumn – a new experience of a season, in a new place. New rhythms to adjust to, a new progression from lightness to dark to hone in on, a new pace of seasonal decay.

Biking to and from work today, at the twin magic hours of early-morning and pre-dusk – I deeply felt this juncture of my life of new seasonal rhythms, and felt it close, in the quality of light.

How beautiful it is here, on a sunny day in the Fall! A golden quality highlighted a deep blue in the sky, a deep green in the flora, crisp and warm.

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I had a neat experience of geognitive dissonance the weekend before last, when I visited by former city-of-residence Montreal, along with many many other people from Halifax.

On Sunday afternoon, I was delighted to find that the visionary producers of Pop Montreal, and local Mile-End public space advocates and super group RuePublique, planned the final day of the fantastic music and arts festival to coincide with Les Bons Voisins de St Viateur, the annual St Viateur Street fair. Providing all-afternoon free shows on the street, Pop Montreal also had its Puces Pop event in the basement of a church directly fronting the fair. The result was a constant flow of people throughout the day, enjoying the street-hangs, slowly filtering through the church doors to enjoy the dense display of crafts on offer.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the Black Street block party only one week earlier in Halifax, I was psyched to get a dose of some Montreal same-same but different. Though entirely different from the residential, leafy neighbourhood times of the Black Street block party, Mile End’s St. Viateur festival was Montreal’s gritty urban iteration of the same culture of the do it yourself, for yourself spirit, and take-back-the-streets attitude.

Several blocks were closed to cars, and the commercial high street yielded to small-job booths of crafters, free bike repair, and food stands by and for neighbours. Both Black and St Viateur festivals rejected corporate aesthetics, favouring the small scale and the scrappy. A successful intervention on the street was the laying of sod — inviting passersby to lie down in the middle of the street, reclining in repose, fulfilling the essence of the Montreal hang in an atypical mid-street locale. A characteristically grey but sunny autumnal day enveloped the hangs, and highlighted the beauty of St Viateur’s built form.

Scrappy DIY art-projects on St Viateur (courtesy of RuePublique Facebook group)

Midday I found myself on a picnic table in front of a brick building at the St Viateur street fest’s mid-point. I was in good company, joined by a few friends I’ve met in Halifax, laughing and reminiscing about nights’ passed. Contently, I looked around to marvel at the delightful street scene, quickly realizing that about 40 people surrounding me were from Halifax, or connected to the city in some way. I tuned into the sound beginning to pour from the nearby bandstand, and started to bopping my head to familiar tunes from Halifax’s Old and Weird. The picnic table, the closed off street, the brick buildings framing the scene, the people surrounding me, and the music narrating it all — the scene was an exact reproduction of SappyFest, an indie rock festival in Sackville New Brunswick, that similarly attracts droves from Halifax, only in this instance, it was several months later and several hundred kilometres further west.

Compare this Montreal Mile End street scene…

to a similar scene in Sackville, New Brunswick

A head-ache, it was – a veritable space-warp. Here was a social network I directly associate with a specific place – Halifax (and including Sackville, the Martime region, I guess) – transposed onto another city, a city that I associate with an entirely different social network to boot.

Pure geognitive dissonance.

Our HRM Alliance is hosting an All-Candidates Mayoral debate on Wednesday September 19 at the Lord Nelson Hotel in anticipation of the October 20 Municipal election.

It’s true that Halifax-the-City has a lot of untapped potential. It has unfortunately been the victim of corruption, political scandal and secrecy, and policies that continue to favour auto-oriented suburban development and generally developer-first policies.

Is voting in the hopeless state-of-our-contemporary-Canadian-democracy futile? Well, maybe… but you can’t deny the immediate nature of a Municipal election — the visceral voting process that has you as part of the conversation of Officially shaping-your-city. Provincial, Federal, these are abstract regional concepts… municipal politicians are the people that most closely effect issues that directly shape your life — things like public transportation! and liquor licenses! and development! and, other stuff directly experienced day to day!

Be even more part of the conversation, and participate in the Our HRM Alliance Mayoral Debate  — as the poster points out, questions will be taken from the audience, and, if you can’t make it, go ahead and tweet a question (#HRMAllianceDebate), or post one on Facebook and cross-your-fingers that it will be asked.

Our HRM Alliance is a fantastic organization comprised of over 40 urban, suburban and rural organization from across HRM, united in fighting for a more liveable, sustainable city.

Their efforts are valiant, and hope-inspiring: taking the enormous and somewhat ridiculous political entity known as the Halifax Regional Municipality, and transforming it instead into an opportunity for high quality, efficient, connected and sustainable regional governance with such issues as their incredibly succinct and no-doubt effective Greenbelt plan.

Plus, your Urban Geographer designed the poster for the event !

Inspired by one of the Our HRM Alliance’s Seven Solutions, and one especially pertinent to the location of the debate, Invest in Downtown and Growth Centresthe poster’s accompanying graphic and tag line “HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR CITY TO GROW” was designed to evoke reflection on the direction the city is heading, or could be heading. The green arrow is open to interpretation: after the election, and the new configuration of mayor and council, what will be this city’s official priorities? Social and ecological sustainability… or same-old same-old, i.e. money ?

UPDATE — Downtown Halifax didn’t like the original image… thought folks would confuse things and think the debate was exclusively about building height… sigh..I guess. Here’s the new design, complete with new illustration! A fractured HRM, unified by a strong core? Sure!

 

One more edit later, the final poster:

One of the things I miss most about Montreal is its parks.

Montrealers, with their unmistakable joy-of-life, live their lives publicly, in the city’s streets and laneways, and in its parks.

When I lived in Montreal, my local park was Jeanne-Mance: a beautiful green field stretching three long blocks, bordered by tall maples and elms, and framed by the mountain on its western edge. Parc Jeanne Mance offers a lot — wide parades, playgrounds, sports fields of every sort, perimeter paths for jogging and walking — but my favourite element of the park, hands down, is at its south-east end.

Here, at the corner of Duluth and Esplanade, is the loveliest of shady tree-groves. A desire line meanders in between woody perennials that provide equal parts back-rests and shady canopies. Here, under the immense and leafy growth, you can recline, quietly watch-people and be people-watched, and run into friends who are using the park as a shortcut from the Plateau to downtown. Stop and chats are as abundant as the old urban growth; picnics, instruments, naps and solo reading sessions common.

This is where I spent most of my time in summer-Montreal, where I began to sink my teeth into the magical intimacy a city can provide to someone open to it. Parc Jeanne Mance and its other-neighbourhood counterparts are the true gathering spaces of Montreal.

Halifax, my current city-of-residence on the other hand, has no such park — and as a result, no such park culture.

As a resident of the city’s North End, my park options are limited, and baby I can feel that park deficiency

That’s why I was delighted to attend this past weekend’s CKDU picnic, an outdoor bbq at the Commons hosted by Halifax’s campus radio station. It was an opportunity to enjoy the park in a way I hadn’t before — in a way that was distinctly more Montreal.

See, the Commons sort of sucks, in my opinion.

There is undeniable value in the refreshment it provides for the city. A great greenspace, no matter how it’s designed, provides invaluable pleasures and alleviences to the experience of urban living: we are all richer for breathing deeply and having access to spaces such as these.

But the landscape architecture of the Common hardly fosters the sort of gathering and straight-chills that Montreal equivalents harbour.

Halifax’s Common is barren. Save for the perimeter, which is indeed lined with beautiful old trees, there really is no nice place to sit. There actually is one, right in the middle of the North Common, however, nine times out of ten, it’s occupied by the punk-dog kids, and other parties — which is great, they’re great — but the space is so small, that trying to share it would those who are already there is sometimes uncomfortable.

Most of the Commons’ space is instead occupied by sports fields. It’s true, that on a sunny day the park’s baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and cricket pitches are completely full, a testament to the real demand for sport-space in the city. But it doesn’t make for good gathering, and in my opinion, is a real loss for the city, and a damn shame.

The fact that a giant pile of soil supporting a fresh layer of grass and vegetation recently freed from behind a chain link fence is now consistently used as a place for people to gather and sit is evidence of the need for Chills-space in the Common.

At the CKDU picnic, a temporary landscape architecture of tents, tables, vintage clothing stores, and music equipment transformed typically ephemeral “passing through” space at the edge of a soccer field, and marked it instead as a gathering space where people could comfortably hang in the presence of others and the lovely shade provided by a loose collections of tented canopies. The simple intervention in space introduced by the picnic transformed the park dramatically for the better.

I spent a whole bunch of hours at the CKDU picnic, soaking up the temporary Montreal-style park hang. I relished this Commons-hang, and ever-so-thoroughly enjoyed the chance encounters with passing friends who were using the Commons as a short cut between downtown and the North End. It made me sad to think how fleeting this use of the Common was going to be — gave me a glimpse of the sort of park the Commons could be with better design.

How easy it would be to plant a grove of trees in this small disused sliver of the Commons — what a lovely legacy that would be to the park-hangs of Halifax’s future.

Leading image by Chris Foster

// old routes

                    New frontiers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

walkable suburbanism1

Beyond Portland’s downtown, and mostly, in my experience, across the river on the city’s east side, I experienced a very pleasant form of suburbanism.

The cityscape in these parts is characterized by the archetypal suburban elements:  wide streets, stand alone retail plazas, and single family homes with lots of yard space.

The streets, however, were incredibly walkable, and due to Portland’s progressive approach to urban planning, accommodating to cyclists.

As I explored, it became evident that east-Portland is home to a unique urban form: walkable Suburbanism. Yes, the streets were wide, and cars quickly zoomed through them. Cars are not, however, the dominant form of transportation, the standard unit of planning. Ample room is given to pedestrian space, bicycle lanes are omnipresent, and on some streets, light rail takes up a portion of the roadway.

The archetypal suburban architecture also had a walkable spin: retail plazas and restaurants, usually found set back several hundred feet behind immense fields of parking, were rather directly fronted to the sidewalk. Parking, if present, was limited to a small strips in front of stores.

The neighbourhoods were characterized by detached homes, but the area retained its urban feel, with shops and parks nearby.

As developers become more constrained by the cost of goods and transportation and construction, let’s hope they finally heed to the calls of sustainably-minded urbanists. Grey-field sites, such as already developed suburban land, should increasingly becoming the focus of development.

This is the new frontier of urban planning: the densification of the suburbs. Suburbs are already serviced by water, electricity, and transportation, and can easily accomodate more people. Cities, as they are, have vast tracts of land that can support increases of population: we no longer need do to develop farms and forests on a city’s fringes.

Portland’s walkable suburbanism provides a good model for the densification of the suburbs, the real need being in suburbs that have been developed in the last 20 years.

As most of Portland was probably built in the 1950s, an era of suburban city-building that still had an ounce of dignity, its neighbourhoods are well connected, located in walking distance to commerce, and the streets, though wide, are certainly inhabitable. Portland, along with cities like Winnipeg, and inner-suburban Toronto, is lucky to inherit this built form. It is a great mix of the urban and suburban: it heeds to the desires of those who feel they need fresh air and space, but can also be serviced efficiently, is walkable and bike-able, and certainly fosters social relationships amongst neighbourhood fixtures and passersby.

As we densify the suburbs, let’s look to east-Portland for inspiration. Due to history and good conscience, the future is already there, and its thriving.

Several months ago, your Urban Geographer culture jammed his way through the streets and bathroom-stalls of Tall-ronto, QaRt coding  his and all his friends’ faces wherever and anywhere.

Some thoughts since then:

QR codes are on the wane — I think. Already there is technology that allows one to scan an image, any image, and that is enough to link online, to a website. We’re there already, folks — one step closer to the Internet-Reality, a total World-Wide-Web-geography, heading toward a future where the city blends into the internet, without anyone even realizin’… yet the QR code persists as an icon of these transitional days. Perhaps we aren’t ready to accept that anything, everything? might somehow trigger the internet. Another case of cultural inertia. Perhaps those black and white pixels are a source of comfort in this time of great transformation — they keep it real, somehow, contained — it’s okay, because only the old fashioned pixelated thing will lead us to the internet — the internet is kept at bay, right?

Another thought:

QR codes seem to be incredibly popular in Toronto, but not in other cities. Case in point: Halifax. Another one? NYC including Brooklyn.

Well, those are the only cities I’ve been to since my 2012 Toronto-times.

But it does indeed seem odd that not even New York would have QR-fever. It looks like we’ve got e a place-specific technology fetish, and readers, I’m not at all surprised with where it’s located. What with Toronto being the city of Now — the economic frontier of the Western World — it’s no longer  that old 20th century maxim, “I’m headin’ West baby” only the fresh new “I’m goin’ West but no further than Tall-ronto” kind of economy frontier. It only makes sense that such a current technology, you know, the one that links physical reality with the internet could be squarely found in the gridded streets of T-o-r-o-n-t-o.

Also!

The internet has leaked several QaRt Code spottings my way. They’ve come my way by way of my formal online social networks which leads me to the conclusion that many people have snapped photos of  (or simply talked about) those devilish smiling pixelated faces and shared them with their friends. 

Here are some of the spottin’s I’ve spotted:

From facebook:

And another, from facebook:

And here’s one… from Twitter !

 
 
 
And one more… from Facebook
 
 
 
 
(Leading photo is from my brother’s facebook…)
 
 
Hi fam,
I’m well in New York — staying with a friend, Sasha, in a neighbourhood called Bushwick in Brooklyn. Very cool spot — Mexican/hipster populations — kids playing in fire hydrants to avoid muggy weather — wood sided town-houses a la halifax? — people hanging on the sidewalk with plastic fold out tables and bbqs — nice street art.
Going to Natural History Museum today to sketch elephants. Then to Long Island City (?).
Back in Halifax tomorrow, after a stop at artisan market and brief considerations of whether I should stay in Montreal (prob won’t).
Love,
Daniel

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!

City Repair’s grid-dissolving, community building philosophy has found its way across the continent, to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Portland organization focuses on re-purposing urban space through design to facilitate “neighbourliness” and a community-directed sense of place. Painting an intersection is a revolutionizing activity that transforms an intersection from a place to pass people linearly, to a place to gather, meet and make connections.

Mark Lakeman, of City Repair and Communitecture provides a lovely accompanying narrative to explain an intersection painting. He describes the history of the humanuty as the slow spread of imperialism over a world characterized by formerly village lifestyles. Left to our own devices, our former villager-selves would design our living space with dwellings organized around a series of gathering spaces; clusters of shelter with plenty of paths weaving through public places. As imperial power concentrated in centres such as Rome, it spread its authoritarianism, and imposed the Roman Grid over the village life-style. The grid is a major tool of imperialism — it organizes space efficiently, allows for accountability and ease of censuses, it provides good and efficient circulation for the transportation of goods, people, and military services, and it lacks in its design places where people can gather, make connections, and plot to overthrow the imperial power that runs the course of its life.

This is especially true in North America, where over seemingly “blank” landscapes, imperial French, British, Spanish and Dutch powers imposed grids often without provisions for public space.

Lakeman proposes that we return to our village lifestyle, find our inner-villagers, and “dissolve” the ubiquitous grid at every opportunity we can get. Instead of passing each other at an intersection, let’s instead make it a place to meet.

Halifax’s first painted intersection is truly exciting. In a lecture describing his efforts with City Repair, Lakeman references the fact that after the first intersection painting, other Portland neighbourhoods were inspired, and intersection paintings popped up around the city, independently. The movement is now international, and, with the advent of communications technology, good ideas such as these can easily spread across continents to other coasts and other contexts.

I’m excited to experience my first intersection painting. It won’t solve all the problems associated with anonymity and social isolation in cities — but it’s a positive step, and an incredible advance toward bottom up, community-based urban planning: toward an urban sustainability that incorporates the social and environmental, a new city culture that embraces local connections.

Plus — I’ll be selling delicious date-almond smoothies there with my mom — for only $3 a glass.

See you there. 

I’ve written a lot recently about the concept of geognitive dissonance: geography-induced cognitive dissonance. These are moments when the supposed linearity of space gets warped, and you experience a non-contiguous geography. Times when your senses mix, and vision defers to more subtle, powerful experiences of taste, touch, smell that break at the seams of our notion of objective space. Basically, geognitive dissonance is when you’re in one place, but something causes you to feel like you’re in another place, a place you’ve been before and know quite well.

I realize that I’ve inadvertently written about geognitive dissonance many times without naming it as such.

I’ve written about how the sweet-stale subway scent in Berlin transported me to Toronto’s TTC;

I wrote about closing my eyes on Toronto BIXIs, and feeling as if I were on a bike I got to know in Montreal;

I explored the proliferation of heterogenous big box architecture, and how it served to emphasize the difference of context in a pharmacy of the exact same layout in Montreal versus Halifax.

Though there isn’t a post about it, today with my dad, I biked a former rail path that has since been converted into a bike trail in Nova Scotia, and when I closed my eyes, felt I was in Toronto’s belt line – the same soft gravel crunching under moving wheels, the same sense of enclosure between the trees on each bank, the same light filtering through the leaves.

This is a powerful concept, I think.

It demonstrates that reality is not linear. That our world can never be known fully as objective, and that our senses have transformative, transport-ative properties. Vision and observation only go so far to explain the relationships in this world, as I, for one, experience geognitive dissonance quite often. Perhaps daily.

I know reality through a nuanced, deeply entrenched personal geography, and that personal geography is located squarely in the realm of my senses, altering my perceptions and the spatial locations of vantage points that I interpet the world from.

I’m a gardener too —

— slowly accumulating knowledge, tips and tricks each summer of urban agricultural experience. A garden is a wonderful thing. It provides an incredibly calm environment to absorb the wisdom of horticulture, philosophize, sit quietly and think about the world and us and eternity.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about beans and their trellises these days.

I love what they say about the relationship between people and the rest of the world, the rest of nature.

We plant bean seeds and then we build trellises that will soon support them. Trellises are often made of thin string or twine, and can be built in many ways. The beans need a trellis — they rely on having something to grow up-on to thrive, to ensure they don’t suffocate themselves, to give room to the flowers and eventual beans that pop out periodically from the vine.

String-trellises give a gardener an opportunity to trace the route that the beans will grow up-on; the beans will inevitably follow that route. Unrolling a ball of twine and building a trellis is determining the shape of the future plant.

Like a magic finger tracing lines in the air, we point at the sky and lead the future bean-vines upwards.

An “artificial” infrastructure is the frontier of a living system, and, is not apart from that living system.

Are the cities we build for ourselves not similar?  We pave a path, and life inevitably follows. We trace a route over the hills and into the sky, and a city sprouts.

I guess this is an opportunity to meditate on the quality of roads — traced-then-fulfilled life-paths, in an era of premeditated urban plans. Living in Halifax makes this especially pertinent, where new roadways are typically of the highway and subdivision varieties.

A street is a necessity to a thriving, diverse eco-city-system. When we build them, let’s take this into consideration, and hope — know, almost — for the best, that good streams of life-force will follow.