Archives for posts with tag: psychogeography

Newspapers

I love reading the local newspapers of the places I visit.

Every town, city and region is home to at least one hyper-local publication, and often many. Within their pages are articles about the area’s very specific issues, events and politics.

While I’m in these places, I’m enthralled with the content of their local publications. I read the editions from front to back, absorbing the essence of the place, discovering local landmarks, and visiting interesting places I read about.

News places

Sometimes I keep the newspapers as souvenirs of my travels. But a funny thing happens once I leave a place with its newspaper. When I look at it again, long after I’ve left, the newspaper no longer makes sense. Now that I’ve left the sphere of that geographic influence, I can’t wrap my head around learning the details of the articles, the listed events. My mind can’t commit itself to making sense of the text, putting words to reality. Far from its genus loci, the newspaper fades into nonsense.

News non places

The magnetic influence of place has the power to render things comprehensible.

On the other hand, no matter where I am, media from Toronto always makes sense.  I’m always able to interpret the places mentioned, issues, events and politics even if I’m very far away. We bring our home places with us in our heads.

 

Advertisements

IMG_9421

No, this isn’t a post about the Toronto Dreams Project (though I highly recommend visiting Adam Bunch’s fantastic blog about the lesser known histories embedded in Toronto’s geography).

This is about how Toronto – my home town, the city of my youth, the place that I’ve left and returned to over and over again –  often feels like a dream.

Let me explain –

Every night, I have vivid dreams.

I dream in places. But not fantastical places. Real places, where I’ve visited and lived. When I wake up from the dream, I know where I was, on the surface of the earth, where north was, where the sun set and rose.

I also dream of people – real people, who I’ve met throughout the years. And not just significant people in my life. Those who have played the most minor roles in my past appear as major players in my dreams.

When I sleep, all these place and people mix together so that my dream sequence involves elementary school, high school, summer camp, university dorm rooms and cafeterias, student apartments and street corners, lakes I’ve swam in and cities I’ve visited, all populated with a random assortment of people I’ve known and met and talked to.

When I’m awake and wandering around Toronto, there’s a high chance that I could run into anyone I’ve ever met in on the streets of the city. Someone from every stage of my life, and every place I’ve lived lives in Toronto. (That’s what happens when there are only three major cities in Canada to make a life and one speaks mostly French.)

So, like in my dreams, there’s a possibility in Toronto that anyone I’ve ever met might be on the bus, at the cafe, waiting for the streetcar or subway, biking down the street.

It’s because of this – among other reasons – that for me, Toronto has a dreamy quality.

 

IMG_6977

Downtown Guelph has many coffee shops – more than its population would seem to be able to support.

Cafes on offer include local mega-chain Planet Bean, hyperlocal one-of-a-kind Red Brick, and the more of a restaurant Cornerstone.

There’s also the Common.

The Common is a small Toronto chain that has been slowly expanding from the original Dufferin Grove location to Bloor Street in Bloordale and the Annex. Their recent, and most ambitious, expansion to Guelph might be due to the large concentrations of ex- and sometimes-Torontonians in the city, looking for a piece of home while away.

The Common in Guelph is a carbon copy of its Toronto counterparts: whitewashed walls, blond wood, minimal furnishings yet eclectic and warm, a simple menu of espresso-based coffees and few baked goods.

The other day, I went to the Common in Guelph to study. I overheard a group of people talking about Toronto intersections, “Spadina and Dundas”, “Gerard and University”. I looked over to the next table and saw someone reading the latest edition of NOW magazine.

IMG_6974

“Where am I?” I thought.

I looked out the window, and despite what I saw, heard, and felt, there was Guelph – its hills, its limestone buildings, its city hall.

IMG_6975

The Common in Guelph – a major case of Geognitive Dissosance.

401 north

All my life in Toronto, the 401 has been north of where I’ve lived.

But now, in Guelph, the 401 is south of where I live.

Yet the 401 has endured as north in my mind. I often find myself looking at maps of Guelph, completely disoriented as to where I am, all because I’ve flipped the map in my mind so that 401 is squarely north, where it’s always been.

I am so surprised that this highway — which I often perceive as the bane of my existence — would play such a prominent role in my understanding of geography.

But it undeniably is.

It’s going to take a long time for me to adjust to the 401 being south. Maybe I never will. The 16 lane wide concrete and metal belt stretching laterally across Southern Ontario and through Toronto will prove hard to shift in my mental landscape.

As I continue to negotiate my identity – Am I from Guelph? Am I from Toronto? Am I spending too much time in Toronto when I should be embracing Guelph? – I’ll take thinking of the 401 as south as a sign that my internal geography has shifted.

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto 

Last month, I joined a Lost Rivers walk within the PATH system.

Typically engaged with tracing the routes of buried creeks within Toronto’s topography, the Lost Rivers PATH walk was unique in its investigation of a part of the city so thoroughly urbanized that finding traces of what came before seems absurd.

In its third year of hosting the PATHology and Geology walk, Lost Rivers has once again invited a reconsideration of Toronto’s urbanized core. Our goal was finding proxies for — and true instances of — nature within the world’s largest network of underground pathways.

JohnWilson 1

Lead by geologist John Wilson, our group learned about the origins of the stone that clads the interior spaces and exterior facades of Toronto’s largest skyscrapers. Stopping to appreciate nature-inspired art along the way, we also found evidence of one of the many streams that used to flow through the centre of the city.

It turns out that most of the stone cladding in Toronto comes from very far away. Despite being just south of the Canadian Shield, Toronto’s skyscrapers are covered in stones from further afield, like red granite from Sweden (Scotiabank Plaza), travertine from Italy (the lobby of the TD Centre) and marble from Kashmir (the tunnel west of Scotiabank).

John Wilson 2

Thinking about the sheer volume of stone mined from the earth, shipped across the planet and reconstituted as Torontonian skyscrapers, it’s easy to appreciate that our modern city is a geologic force as strong as those that created the Scarborough Bluffs and carved the ravines.

Sometimes, the geologic forces of urbanization are more subtle. When the initial construction of the Bay-Adelaide centre was delayed indefinitely in the early 1990s, the city was left with a 6-storey stump and an unfulfilled order of 35,000 tons of Norwegian granite. Without the 44-storey tower to be clad, the city was awash in free flowing Scandinavian stone that has since settled into hundreds of tables and floors in downtown Toronto.

Beneath the city covered in layers of stone from elsewhere, there are indeed remnants of historical watercourses. Though most of the waterways in downtown Toronto have been eradicated due to extreme excavation for infrastructure and subterranean parking levels, a proxy for one of the Market Streams that used to flow south east through the city does exist. 

A map of Toronto from 1817 shows many streams running through what is now downtown. From oldtorontomaps.blogspot.ca

marketstreams

In the corridor between the Royal Bank Building and Brookfield Place, the stone below our feet was showing signs of water absorption. This would have been where Newgate Creek emptied into Lake Ontario.

Signs of groundwater in the stone between Union Station and Brookfield Place could be the last signs of Newgate Creek

Though dry to the touch, the off-coloured stone might be a sign of the groundwater that would have replaced the creek. Standing underground, surrounded by concrete, it’s powerful to feel this rare assertion of the landscape beneath Toronto — a sign of the city before the glass, steel and international stone of today’s internationally constituted metropolis.

Check out Lost Rivers‘ website for upcoming walks.
The idea that Toronto is a geologic force was inspired by Geologic City: A Field Guide to the GeoArchitecture of New York City by Friends of the Pleistocene and Smudge Studios

Here

As you may know by now, I’m spending some time in Naples, Florida.

A lot of other Torontonians are here too, escaping the North-East cold for the sunshine and warmth of Florida’s coasts.

I’ve noticed that, when a group of Torontonians gather in Florida & refer to Toronto, they say “here”. But “here” is Naples, Florida. Toronto is, by most measures, “there”.

This geographic conversational blip has further convinced me that “here” is a state of mind. “Here” exists in the psycho-geographic space between us. Perhaps it’s a little geognative dissonance. But it’s enough to prove that “here” may be there. It may be everywhere.

CGielen-7A

Photo by Christopher Gielen via Fast Company

I’ve heard a rumour that beyond Toronto’s downtown core there is limitless and soulless sprawl.

I’ve also heard that South West Florida is one big suburb — highways, gated communities, big box stores and all.

Sure, there’s a veil of misguided, anti-social and environmentally detrimental human-built infrastructure that characterizes these places.

But, I urge you, to look beyond the illusion of sameness perpetuated by our circuited experience.

There’s magic there, past the highways and the malls.

Don’t accept the myth of the bland. The apocryphal accounts of suburban monotony.

Resist homogeneity and find the magic that’s everywhere.

DSCF0327The mangrove swamps beyond the highways and strip malls of Naples FloridaDSCF9826

The Don River Dam, just north of Finch and east of Dufferin — embedded within a landscape of sprawl

Currently reading Unruly Places by Alistair Bonnett – highly recommended. 

I began thinking of Amsterdam as a watery place when I was living there last year.

The following is a simpler manifestation of the thoughts that form the basis of this piece – thoughts that had my head spinning as I biked along the city’s waterways. 


 

watery 2

No one told me that Amsterdam was built on the bottom of the ocean floor. I had to piece it together myself – and I only realized after a few months of wandering around.

With canals, constant rain and a maritime tradition, I knew that Amsterdam was a watery place. But I didn’t quite expect a city at the bottom of the sea.

My first clues were in the dialect. Dutch is a water based language. The next tip-off was, despite being several kilometres inland, the presence of salty air.

It finally became obvious when I started paying attention to city construction crews. They would unravel interwoven brick roads to reveal the sand just beneath the surface of the city. When an entire road is repaved in Amsterdam, a beach appears between the two sides of the street.

Taking advantage of these exposed patches, I would put my hand on the ocean floor and feel the sand. I found sea shells there, under the streets.

In Amsterdam, there is sand everywhere. Piles of sand sit along the canals. A fine layer of sand covers the streets and sidewalks.

Along the bigger canals, I would watch long flat boats, carting piles of sand along the country’s internal waterways.

I hear a lot about Dutch land reclamation projects making land where there was once water.

When it rains in Amsterdam, it feels like the process is being reversed. Hovering above the sea floor, water reclaims the land and air above it.

watery 1


This piece will be appearing in the forthcoming issue of Hey Now, a small batch magazine published in Wychwood Heights, Toronto, Ontario 

// Two strong aural memories

IMG_8804

i. Morning on a mid-spring Sunday in Toronto. The city is relatively empty and a street car makes its way north on Bathurst. The distinct hum of the street car’s motion is set against a back drop of almost silence — but of course there are other sounds. The rustling of trees’ leaves, collectively heaving in one direction & then the other, a rattling and whooshing of the city’s canopy as a single entity. The faint city sounds of car doors closing and people shuffling are sharp above the rustling trees but blurred beneath the street car’s hum.

amsterdam back lock bike

ii. Biking in Amsterdam, also mid-Spring, though the day of the week doesn’t matter as much. The jangling of my keys as they bang against my bike’s frame, hanging out of the back wheel’s lock. I cycle over a loose brick on the road, and hear its clack as my weight pushes it up. It clangs back down. A tram’s hesitant bell clucks soon after; it whirs by.

IJburg

IJburg is Amsterdam’s newest neighbourhood.

Though the Netherlands is known for its land reclamation projects, IJburg is built on soil and sand that has been transported and piled up along the Eastern banks of the IJ (pronounced like eye), the major waterway that runs between North and Central Amsterdam and eventually to the North Sea.

IJburg2

IJburg

As it is the focus of much current development in Amsterdam, IJburg is home to some very experimental (/cutting-edge/progressive) architecture and urban design. A lot of it comes from the schools of urban planning and architecture that are viewed as best practice today: the avoidance of single developers and monotonous housing projects with little architectural variance, and the championing of mixed-use, diverse and walkable settlements — the tenets of contemporary urbanism toward the realization of a “livable city”.

One way these lofty ideals are being achieved is the allowance for people to design their own houses.  As peoples’ preferences are unsurprisingly varied, there is a lot of diversity in housing-form. Classical Amsterdam Canal-houses are set alongside dramatic post-Modern homes. (For example, an entirely yellow facade, articulated by small windows on the upper floors). The result is a highly varied and engaging streetscape and a whole-hearted departure from the traditionally homogenous suburb.

IJburg3

A starkly yellow facade, alongside less extreme post-modern homes

IJburg4

Urban Planning, a relatively new, and constantly self-justifying discipline has yet to fully heal its reputation from the misguided and heavy-handed plans that defined the field in the 1960s. The success or failure of IJburg, and the urban plan that is guiding its growth, will make a strong statement about the legitimacy of the theories of Urban Planning — and indeed of the entire discipline – today.

Grey

I visited IJburg on a grey March day. The cold wind blew fiercely, making biking difficult, especially on the bridges between the neighbourhoods and islands of Indischebuurt and Zeeburg along the way.

That despite the weather, I felt good in IJburg, is a real testament to the quality of this housing project. A good place feels good in the shimmering days of mid-Summer, but also on the greyest, coldest Winter afternoons.

As a place of urban experimentation, IJburg inspired a lot of thought. Here are some notes on the neighbourhood that I jotted down while exploring earlier today.

☉IJburg is a strong skeleton for a city. But because it is intensely planned, it unavoidably feels that way. People react negatively to places that feel over-planned: spaces that are sterile and uninspiring. With time, however, the messy urbanism that makes cities spontaneous, dynamic and desirable will find its way into IJburg. Once the buildings and infrastructure begin to decay, and the neighbourhood is truly lived in, this has the potential to be an exciting part of the city. IJburg is healthy bones.

☉(Another related possibility is that if there were an economic collapse, and developers/the city became no longer able to continue with its development, informal ways of engaging with urban space becoming the norm, IJburg would provide a good setting for creativity & experimentation)

☉The newest parts of IJburg, those developments at its edge that are mostly vacant or are in the process of being constructed also feel full of potential. Unlike that ghostly feeling you get from the newest phase of a gated community in Florida or empty towers in resort condominiums built for time-share users, the emptiness of the newest parts of IJburg feel like they will soon be home to a busy and well-used city. The potential-energy in IJburg is palatable.

☉IJburg is built strongly in the tradition of a early 20th century North American urbanism. It is cozy, and people-sized, but is makes space for car use. The scale reminded me of Rosemount or the Plateau in Montreal.

☉Rather than thinking of IJburg as an extension of central Amsterdam, it might be better to conceptualize it as its own world: a nearby, highly connected village. IJburg’s communications with Amsterdam are strong. The 26-Tram runs every 6 minutes mid-day, and commuters are invited to bring their bikes on board (the only tram in the city to allow this). At €1.95 per trip, the ride is affordable. The 26 also takes an interesting journey through the city from its Eastern edge to the centre. More of a commuter-train, the tram’s route is equipped with level railroad crossings that stop traffic until it passes. This makes the journey to Centraal Station quite fast.

IJburg5

Toward the end of my exploring, I found a part of IJburg that has not been built on yet. It is a heap of sand that protrudes out into the IJ. It is a wild, desertous dune-scape, that, though empty now, feels alive with the city that will grow over it. I walked to the edge of the sandy peninsula and stood, facing the water and the wind. I thought to myself: the Netherlands is a present place. Not too caught up in its history, it embraces and is playful with growth and change.

The RAI  //

                         A night walk, a photo-essay

THE RAI 1

 

 

THE RAI 1

 

 

 

THE RAI 2

 

 

THE RAI 3

 

 

 

THE RAI 4

 

 

THE RAI 5

 

 

THE RAI 6 SMALL

THE RAI 7

THE RAI 9

The Amsterdam RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre  or RAI for short, is a complex of conference and exhibition halls in the Zuidas business district of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. – Wikipedia

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.