Archives for posts with tag: psychogeography

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.

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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.

To whom it may concern at blogTO,

I am writing to offer my midtown Toronto expertise to blogTO’s readers, and am applying for your Eglinton West (International Market) assignment.

I am an avid urbanist, and a proud Torontonian. I studied Urban Geography at McGill, and am thrilled to have returned to my hometown to apply my studies to Toronto’s thriving urbanism. You should choose me for this assignment because you can expect high quality research and deep, easily accesible analysis in my writing.

Since returning from Montreal, I have been truly vibing off the city. I am excited at the opportunity to share my perspective of Toronto’s uniqueness to blogTO’s audience, especially a slice of Toronto that is central to my personal geography of the city.

I grew up at Bathurst and Eglinton; Eglinton West, always just beyond the Allen Expressway, offered an incredibly different flavour of Toronto to my small world as a child. An immensely genteel thoroughfare at Bathurst and Yonge, Eglinton west of the Allen changes dramatically, showcasing Toronto’s fascinating diversity.

As it’s a largely Jamaican community, I’ve often wondered why Eglinton west of the Allen has been pegged as the “International Market”. Perhaps its tight-knit community offers a  juxtaposition with its neighbouring areas, providing an archetypal example of Toronto’s international diversity within its urban form.

Though I now live in the Trinity Bellwoods area, I often return to Eglinton West, purposely taking the Dufferin 29 or the Ossington 63 buses north. I often allow myself a quick jaunt through the Eglinton West streetscape as I volunteer with Foodshare at schools in the area.

I am also intrigued at the arrival of the Eglinton LRT (fingers crossed), which is sure to profoundly transform the street. We often hear that Toronto’s true diversity is no longer found at its core, but rather in its suburbs. Eglinton West, as an inner city suburb, is sure to attract attention, as its accessibility increases and culture makers are priced out of downtown. Its urban form, though undoubtedly built for the car, preserves a comfortable pedestrian streetscape. Documenting Eglinton West at it’s cusp of major change would be a fascinating project for blogTO’s readers, and I am excited at the opportunity to dive into this topic.

I have experience as a contributor at Spacing Montreal and Atlantic, where I explored such topics as How My father Sees the Mile End, Natural Paths, and Guerilla Urban Design on Agricola. I also have my own urban affairs blog, which has proved to be an important ongoing writing and art project, giving me the opportunity to explore the cities I’ve lived in and visited, while continuing to craft my approach to urban affairs journalism. I am also excited for my upcoming internship with the Pop Up City this September where I will be writing blog posts for an international readership of more than 80 000.

Thank you for considering me for the Eglinton West assignment. I look forward to hearing from you soon,

Daniel

The Leslieville Cheese Market is located at 541 Queen West, just west of Augusta; this is very far from Leslieville, for those unfamiliar with Toronto geography.

A locus of place names is often the only thing we have to orient ourselves in an urban vernacular that repeats itself throughout a city.

Every area has it’s own version of a pizza shop, a corner store, a green grocer, a coffee shop. It’s the ties of these places’ names to their location that affirms their unique geography, their relative spatiality, and by extension confirms our relative spatiality in an often disorienting world.

Yes, there is indeed a Leslieville Cheese Market in Leslieville, also on Queen Street, however many kilometres east. I think it funny that they retained their name in their expansion to a different neighbourhood — it contradicts the need for a place to be anchored by its location that I explored in a previous post.

Perhaps this was the intended affect, but it’s as if the Leslieville Cheese Market on Queen West is an outpost of Leslieville itself. When you enter this shop, you are on Leslieville soil, like some embassy in a distant country.

I dig the effect this geognative dissonance (geography-induced cognitive dissonance) has on the streetscapes. It jumbles my linear notion of place and my interrupts my expectations of the seemingly inevitable connection between a place and its unique coordinates.

I suppose this can happen in other circumstances: visiting a North American style shopping plaza in Europe, or being in another’s home that has the exact same blueprint as your own.

Indeed, supposedly objective, relative space is less linear than it appears.

Being here is realizing that fundamental uniqueness of place.

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

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

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

Inspiration

Most North American cities have the same post-industrial elements: immense tracts of industrial wasteland, highways, designated green spaces and those middle-spaces along train tracks, on the sides of ravines, beside highways, that are extremely lush, green, and wild but are not officially parks.

These liminal green spaces, not quite full parks, yet too big to just be borders between one part of the city and another, are fascinating to walk through, and using them as a link between urban neighbourhoods, industrial fringe-lands and official parks offers a simulating terrain for hiking. These areas are the epitome of post-industrial urban wilderness. Negotiating thick bush of wild weeds and trees, scaling desolate highway-scapes, climbing over fences and above blasted granite rock walls — these are the spots that urban-nature reveals itself and beckons its exploration.

I highly encourage a post-industrial city-hike to shift your perspective on the very attainable feeling of isolation and solitude, today exclusively associated with “untouched wilderness”, that exists in our urban environments. Though there are no official routes or paths, years of desire lines and natural paths make navigation intuitive, as your eyes follow the natural contours of the land, identifying paths that have been fostered by uncountable individuals in the past lead to wide and navigable routes through otherwise thick brush and hard steel and chain link fences.

I took an urban-nature industrial city-hike the other day with my brother. If you’re in Halifax, I highly recommend this route: follow Barrington north all the way to Seaview Park/Africville — veer toward the harbour and Mackay Bridge. Pause. Take in the splendour of the spectacular bridge as it stretches beyond conceivable perspective into the distance toward Dartmouth. Follow the coast negotiating natural paths, weeds, and rock faces until Seaview Park. Watch the dogs and the people interact. Catch a glimpse of the Bedford Basin — completely polluted, yet beautiful. Jump the north fence of Seaview park — run across the raging highway — hope and skip over the median, over changing car-currents, safely to the other side. Find a desire line, scale a cliff, up and over the train tracks, and through the public housing, depositing yourself back into a different kind of urban nature, the far more organized, neat-lines of North End Halifax suburban paradise. At this high point, atop the rock that is Halifax, enjoy 360 degree views of the eery beauty of this industrial urban-wasteland-wilderness.

As I continue to negotiate the paths and projects  that make up Halifax, and specifically, the North End, I have begun to formalize the structures that are defining my experiences in a screen-printed series of hyper-real, fictionalized, and semi-constructed street scenes.

I have adopted a style that is exploring the use of lines and lived-perspective in the definition and experience of urban space. I am attempting to adopt an “objective” architectural blue-print style, contrasted with warmth due to imperfections and a quality of familiarity

The above-photo is the first draft of the first print of the series: a sequence of four houses on Agricola south of Willow.

I look forward to sharing the rest of the series with you — keep posted!

Some venues allow for unique, place-specific experiences of music: venues where the characteristics of the city subtly creep into the overall ambience of a performance.

Like during a quiet section of a song, when the wooshing of cars can be heard passing in the streets below; or in-between songs, when the distinct chimes of a cross-walk carry through the walls, softly filling in the negative sound-space.

These are the rhythms and melodies of the city that can unexpectedly find their natural place in the experience of a concert, strongly anchoring that musical experience in a place — and in a life — your life, that day, that period of your life- in that city.

At these moments, we are reminded that the melody of the streets unconsciously play as active a role in the sounds of our being as the melodies of the songs we consciously choose to narrate our lives.

St Matthew’s United Church in Halifax offers a city-specific experience of live music — where the chimes of the nearby cross walks can be heard during quiet interludes and pauses in the music. 

Belleaire Terrace is Halifax’s closest equivalent to Montreal’s fairly common residential alleyways. Belleaire is a lovely, short street, characterized by quaint North End Halifax homes. On the west side, houses front very close to the street, and on the east, are the backyards of houses on Fuller Terrace. The result is a very cozy streetscape, framed by a wall of houses on your left, and the open, breezy backyards on your right. An intimate relationship is fostered with the homes on the east whose multitude of varied windows and doors remind you that this is a neighbourhood that is very much constantly surveyed by its residents. The Fuller backyards provide another layer of diversity to the variety of architectural styles on the east. There are examples of almost every kind of backyard on Fuller: garden patios, flexible asphalt, green lawns, and the one-or-two fantasy-junk backyards. In concert with the vernacular architecture of the homes, the backyards provide a varied, and engaging streetscape that keeps you interested as you walk along the pleasant road.

One block west, parallel to Bellaire, is the much more major Agricola Street. Agricola is a commercial thoroughfare that boasts a fairly diverse array of businesses and residences. Despite the stretch I am describing being exactly the same length as the entirety of Belleaire, I find it astonishing how much longer Agricola feels.

I can’t quite explain why Agricola (red in map above) feels significantly longer than Belleaire (blue) – but it certainly does. Perhaps it is because the streetscape is much more desolate (though desolate is a dramatic word – Agricola is a fairly nice urban street) than leafy and diverse Belleaire Terrace. Or perhaps it is because McCully and May Streets cut up Agricola whereas Belleaire is continuous? Perhaps it relates to Jan Gehl’s recommendation for “vertically articulated”urban horizontal planes in designing cities for people, not cars;  do the repeated vertical lines of the eastern house facades and western backyard gates provoke a speeding up of the experience of distance, and make walking a long distance feel quicker than it is?

The reasons as to why the experience of space is so different on these streets aside, I am writing this post to again appreciate that space is indeed an extremely flexible and varied experience, and that equivalent objective space often does not correlate to the subjective experience of space. And isn’t a city is exactly that ? — an extremely rich and complex place that has objective dimensions, but in its essence is experienced differently by different people, at different times of the day, the year, different seasons, different stages of life.

I ride and walk these Montreal streets. Four years of memories scream out from every street, every corner, of facade, every park.

Cities are vessels for layers and layers of memories.

A meditation on those private ones that make a place significant.

Granted, the “world’s longest street” is apparently Yonge Street in Toronto, but besides that I have noticed a very big difference in the naming of steets in Montreal and Toronto. Especially in central Montreal, many minor residential streets maintains their same name despite repeatedly stopping and starting due to hikes in the grid system, highways and train overpasses or parks. As a result, you can still be on Durocher, Hutchison, St Urbain, St Laurent, St Denis and countless other streets all the way across the island, from Rene Lesveque (and often farther south) to the Island’s north shore.

In Toronto, the names of minor residential streets are less consistent. A slight hike in the grid system often means a new name, and certainly the complete stop of a street for a park results in the name of a street’s inevitable death.

I really enjoy the effect of Montreal’s consistent system of street names. The train and highway overpasses that stretch east-west create a great disconnect between the Mile End, Outremont and the neighbourhoods to the north, as one can only traverse North to the South  in this area of the city on a few select streets (or else risk getting a ticket for illegally crossing the train tracks). The consistency of the street names counteracts that – Hutichison remains “the same street” despite the major divide caused by the overpasses.

The consistency of the street names remind you that any place in the city is by it’s nature connected with the rest of the city. It means that even though I’m in a completely foreign and distant neighbourhood, I can recognize where I am and feel connected to it. Good on Montreal for doing that. Perhaps this would aid Montrealers with what Kevin Lynch called the “imageability” of a city: citizen’s abilities to make sense of their city, which he identifies as existentially crucial and improveable by means of certain design feautres. Montreal’s long, consisted street names would result in people feeling more connected to a larger area, and enable easy orientation in an otherwise unknown neighbourhood).

As for the reason that Montreal chose to keep it’s street names consistent where as Toronto didn’t, I often speculate it’s another case of the cities’ English versus French heritage. Looking to the capital city’s of their mother countries, London’s major and famous thoroughfares are often extremely short, contrasted to Paris’  axial boulevards that stretch for miles maintaining the same names.

     

London above, Paris below. The streets in London are curved, compared to the broad, straight boulevards that bisect Paris.

The European roots of the consistency of Montreal streets versus Toronto’s inconsistencies are also reflected in UK versus France park design. The French favour geometric consistency and symmetry, whereas English parks are more chaotic in their attempt to replicate the nature. This can be seen in the parks in the map above. The English garden has chaotic paths that depart from the main trail, the French park is linear and rigid. This reveals elements of their view on nature, and how human’s relate to concepts such as “Wilderness”.

Many branches of contemporary human geography seem to be in a conundrum. Maps and models of reality continue to be produced in immense quantities, conclusions are made that the maps and models are ineffective since they fail to capture certain non-quantifiable elements of reality, yet these maps and models continue to be made. In response to the relatively-made-up quality I have noticed in efforts to quantify geographic phenomena, for my GIS (Geographic Information Systems, essentially computerized maps), final project I decided to instead explore cognitive geography – something that could never be rendered accurately on a computer – with the intention of creating beautiful maps that evoked questions and stimulated reflection, rather than tricking myself into thinking that the maps I made were accurate or representative of reality.

Here are some of my final maps. They don’t really mean anything…but the idea that we all have a different city in our heads, yet can function perfectly well with each other is a lovely thought.