Archives for posts with tag: urban ecology

islandcity

 

A sketch, for a future project

Toronto’s Island has provided your Urban Geographer with immense inspiration regarding Urban Ecology and its manifestation in Toronto.

It seems that this deeply wild Island has enabled an equivalently deep urbanity in the city across the Bay. To illustrate this: Chicago is a nearby Great Lakes city that does not have an island. Its water front integrates nature and the city very well. In Toronto on the other hand, we have a waterfront that is a great concrete barrier to the lake, remedied by an extremely natural beach a few kilometres further south.

Of course, the spaces aren’t pure. There’s a little city in the Island and a little Island in the city. (There’s also a little Island in all Torontonians, and a little Toronto in all Islanders).

Remarkably, the geography of the Islands and Toronto provides a clear illustration of this phenomenon. Like Yin and Yang, the Island and the City encapsulate every degree of the panoramic view of the harbour. The airport represents that bit of urbanity on the Island, and the Skydome’s grass that little bit of wild in the city.

This is the beginnings of a greater body of work, but for now, let me present to you this screenshot I took from Google Earth.

yin yang_draft 1

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This post originally appeared on Volume

Ja Natuurlijk (Yes Naturally) is a collaborative art manifestation that is taking place at GEM,Fotomuseum and Gemeentemuseum in The Hague until August 18, 2013. Yes Naturally embraces the increasingly ambiguous space between our ideas of nature and society. The exhibit teases at this contemporary ambiguity, linking the diversity of works on display to two essential questions: What is natural? And who or what decides?

With Artistic Direction from Ine Gevers of Niet Normaal, Yes Naturally showcases international artists’ perspectives on the merging of natures and cultures, making its mission to “not distinguish between human[s], nature and technology.” Establishing at the outset that nature and culture are highly intertwined phenomena — more connected than discrete — the exhibit swiftly departs from old-school Western notions of society as wholly separate from nature, diving into a highly experimental realm between the fields of art and science. The viewer must quickly accept these basic principles –  that there is no such thing as artificial, that nature and culture are one in the same, that cities are ecosystems — or else be left out of the logic and insight provided by the exhibit.

Ja Natuurlijk

While the pieces that make up Yes Naturally range from the silly to the serious, they are all undeniably full of humour. Onslaughts of laughter are inevitable, and will lead to moments of clarity and a deep understanding that humanity and technology are indeed a part of, not apart from a broader terrestrial ecology. The jocularity of Yes Naturally brings with it hilarious and liberating cognizances.

While taking the traditional form of an art exhibit, Yes Naturally is more of a hybrid-species: an art-gallery meets science-museum meets fun-house. The exhibit is spread within the museum, with installations spilling over the walls and spread throughout the museums’ stately grounds. Visitors are first greeted to the exhibit by playful sculptures made from discarded plastic materials, adding colour to the museums’ ornamental pools. These large, floating artworks by Filipino artist-duo Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan are made up of thousands of waste materials that have been ritually transformed into fetishized objects made to protect species and places in nature.

Within the museum’s walls, Finnish artist Antti Laitinen’s video installation Bare Necessities is a humorous critique of the highly romanticized ideal of ‘going back to nature’. Laitinen takes this idea to its bitter end, and shares his experience of going into ‘the wild’ without supplies. Along with capturing humorous images of Laitinen, stark naked and struggling to make a fire, the videos include more solemn moments where the artist, staring blankly over the tree-topped horizon and into space considers the brutish and unforgiving reality of a life ‘back in nature’.

Bare Necessaties

Further into the exhibit, Bio-artist Egied Simons’ works are small aquatic ecosystems, complete with water, flora, and microscopic water-insects, and neatly contained within three aluminum boxes. The lids of the boxes reflect and magnify their contents, creating a luscious and fine grained pattern that looks like a romantic landscape painting when viewed from afar. Simons brings microscopic subject matter typically relegated to the realm of biology and life sciences to a wider audience. His work allows the viewer to gaze into the scientific/organic world of the micro, offering a powerful experience of the incredibly small beating hearts of snail embryos. With his highly contained ecosystems, Simons explores how science and magnification “makes the small tangible, instantly endowing it with significance and emotion”.

Egied Simons

Also making use of ‘living art’ but with a decidedly more political tone, Simon Starling’s Island of Weeds is a refuge for plants. Responding to the Scottish government’s regulation of the growth rhododendrons — introduced from Spain in 1763, and thus deemed a non-native species to be eradicated — Starling has constructed a safe asylum for the offender-organism. In doing so, Starling deconstructs the flawed concept of a ‘native’ plant species. In the context of a highly globalized world — where plant life need not yield to human-defined borders — Starling renders the Scottish government’s policy cruel and ridiculous.

Island of Weeds

While the humorous tones of the exhibit range from hopeful visions of the future, cynical critiques of the present, and appeals from social and environmental activists, Yes Naturally is above all an exercise in absurdity. Within this absurdity, its tricky and ambiguous subject matter is given room to breath, allowing its radical principles to be more readily accepted by its viewers. At the end of the exhibit, gazing over a sun-baked mass of plastic – a piece of the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch retrieved by Maarten vanden Eyed, the viewer is mentally prepared to accept  that plastic from this horrid pollution is natural, a sort of 21st century formation of coral. And while plankton are adapting to this new nature-culture rapidly, physically incorporating the plastic’s nutrients into their metabolism, so should we – conceptually.

Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch

As the visit to Yes Naturally comes to an end, visitors get a chance for final reflections with Finnish artist Tea Mäkipää‘s Petrol Engine Memorial Park. Lining the museum’s western wall, abandoned, rusty cars have been ornamentally transformed into large garden beds. Set in the near future, the installation’s plaques playfully proclaim the end of the ‘age of oil’. The car-garden beds triumphantly embrace an unmentioned new world order, fanciful flowers and plants grow organically upwards, embracing the sky – the antithesis of a world of pollution, petrol and plastics. As today’s cars rumble by on the busy city streets, the viewer can contemplate how a change in the order of things — from petrol-economies to something more sustainable, perhaps — necessarily must grow out of the old world order. Shedding the skin of the petrol age, this new age will take up its refuse and trash as resource, and make new out of it.

Petrol Engine Memorial Park

Petrol Engine Memorial Park

Many more works make up Ja Natuurlijk (Yes Naturally), each exploring how culture and nature can reinforce each other and in the process creates conditions for a better world. The exhibition, at the GEM Museum for Contemporary Art, Fotomuseum and Gemeentemuseum, is open until August 18.

The program for Yes Naturally consists of several events and exhibitions at several locations in The Hague. Be sure to take a look at the agenda since there’s a lot to do, see and explore.

urban ecologies conference 2

Exciting news, dear readers!

Your Urban Geographer is taking his urban theorizing out of the blogosphere and into the world at OCAD University’s Urban Ecologies Conference this June! Yes, a spring-time return to my beloved Toronto is near.

As a “Poster Presenter”, I will be creating a whimsical and interactive experience featuring a series of animations/GIFs that I have been developing since my 2011 Fuller Lecture. You can read my proposal to the Urban Ecologies Conference here.

Halifax

Nature

Clips from my 2011 Fuller Lecture – “Everything is Everything”

The broad theme of the presentation will be the accessible expression of the theories of Urban Political Ecology. Though the sub-field is a highly convoluted, academic, jargony time, at it’s heart is the philosophical, deeply poetic and very important concept that humans are not separate from the ecology that surrounds them. Urban systems are natural systems, and if we shift our thought, we can build them to be more agreeable with their surrounding non-human ecosystems, and never hostile. We can also begin to address the social injustices that occur as a result of our inevitable impact on the planet, rather than focusing on conservation (which treats nature as something other to us – a commodity – to be exploited).

Ecology is urbanization, and urbanization is ecology” said Michael Hough, an important nature-culture landscape architect. He is the author of Cities and Natural Processa book that will figure prominently in my research for the presentation.

So, readers, I look forward to this project and sharing it with you! I am excited to think broadly about nature-culture and urban ecology while focusing on specific examples from my personal geographies in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.

See you at the Urban Ecologies Conference in June!

Halifax

I am pleased to present to you a sampling of clips/animated GIFs from my presentation Everything is Everything (Urban Political Ecology: Politicizing Urban Natures). The animation is based on a body of academic literature and my thesis work at McGill University. It is a playful visualization that is multi-disciplinary, informed by history, philosophy, geography, ecology and geology.

I am continuing to develop the presentation, and am currently expanding it by animating poignant examples of urban-nature from my native Toronto. The examples there are abundant, and the results will be inevitably whimsical.

I will keep you updated with my process, but for now enjoy clips from Everything is Everything as presented at the 2011 Fuller Terrace Lecture Series‘ evening of talks themed “The Nature of Things

Enjoy:::::

Though trees and modernist buildings seem diametrically opposed, they are both the result of the processing of material from the earth. Both their designs are repetitive, and logically follow from basic units:

Tree-Building

Our cities are built on top of and out of the earth. The quintessential wood paneled houses of Halifax are made from the trees that used to cover the Peninsula. The glass and steel that compose the city’s skyscrapers, though from farther away, are too the result of natural processes:

Halifax

As human populations (i.e. western imperial societies) grew and spread over the surface of the planet, so did their systems of reason and rationality. At first, Nature was conceived as terrifying, something to be revered and despised. But as untouched Nature began to become scarce, receding in the face of increased population and technology, it became something to be desired, enjoyed, conserved. Nature is a fluid concept:

Nature

The world is complex, and it’s often hard to draw a line between where the natural ends and the artificial begins:

Complex

Like the bees, we gain our energy from fruits and vegetables, which stem from flowers. The bees use their energy to build their hives, and we, our cities:

Same-Same

I read a lot of online blogs and magazines about cities. This post is part of a new series of quote-shares from my internet travels: 

▶▶ URBAN GEOGRAPHER QUOTE-SHARE  ◁◁

url

As you’ve read before, my undergrad thesis at McGill University was to focus on urban agriculture, using the concepts of Urban Political Ecology. UPE is a post-structuralist, Marxist body of literature that seeks to unfix the false dichotomy of nature and culture in order to understand the power structures that determine the winners and losers of our inevitable impact on the planet.

As your Urban Geographer, I have continued to research, write about and explore this artificial nature-society binary. Through my activities, projects and art I have sought to offer poignant examples where the constructed borders of nature and society meet. Cities, as you can imagine, offer infinite examples of such.

As I have recently applied to be a speaker at OCAD’s 2013 Urban Ecologies conference, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share some quotes that will clarify the project of Urban Political Ecology to you, my readers, but also to me! I found these quote boxes on Understanding Social Science – a useful blog that puts otherwise esoteric concepts into clear, accessible language.

Enjoy::::

main-idea-1

main-idea-2

main-idea-3



capitalism

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

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

Tree-Building

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

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

Halifax

Halifax, as animated for the presentation.

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

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

Daniel Rotsztain Presentation Written Abstract Proposal Daniel Rotsztain Visual

Montreal versus Toronto comparisons are a common conversation I have with people who have been to both cities. It’s also something I have a lot on my mind, as I grew up in Toronto and spent some formative years living in Montreal (and am now back in Toronto — for a bit).

The cities are incredibly different — fundamentally so, especially considering that they are only five hours away from each other (which is considered very close in Canada, for all you European readers). Yes, they are both North American cities, former colonial economic outposts of European countries, and are based on a grid, but the cities that have grown around these shared circumstances are completely different.

I could write an extensive list outlining the differences from my own musings and the many conversations I’ve had with families, friends and strangers (this is a hot topic for those taking rideshares between the two cities), from the most nuanced to the most banal, from the most material to the most philosophical, but these will be topics for other posts.

For now, I’d like to sum up the differences in an elegant analogy that makes use of the cities’ prominent geographic features that my mom used earlier today, an analogy that eloquently describes a lot of my thoughts about these two very-different  yet-similar and thus-irresistibly-comparable places.

Montreal has its mountain, a raised point in the heart of the city; and,

Toronto has its ravines, forested valleys that lie below the street level and are spread throughout the city.

Montreal is easy to read: it is not challenging to find out “where-to-be” to have a good time out with others. Its culture, much like its mountain is centralized, pronounced, prominent and unmistakable.

Toronto is more difficult: one must know where-to-go to find the “good” spots. Much like its ravines, its culture is diffused, sprawling, mysterious and hard-to-find. It’s iconic skyline leads visitors to assuming that this is all Toronto’s got: what’s on the surface, without ever looking below.

So when you visit Toronto: as I say to anyone, “give it a chance”. It is a booming, exciting city, as any city of three million inevitably is. But its articulation, its manifestation of the “good life” is less marked, visible then in Montreal.

So get out there, climb that mountain —
but also explore those ravines.

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

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

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

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

Urban Political Ecology:

The Politics of Urban Nature and Urban Metabolism:

Urban Agriculture in Montreal:

The Politics of Food, Nature and Community

I’m going to go ahead and call it:

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

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

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

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

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

The city, atop a rock

which used to be covered in a natural forest of trees

the trees felled by human activity

and made into lumber

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

houses built out of the wood of those trees

and though from farther away — the cranes that were erected

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s always interesting to see a newly developed tract of urban land as it slowly adapts to its surroundings.

A new park, with it’s freshly painted playground equipment and benches, it’s young, small trees, it’s neat pathways that still very much follow the original design, stands out against the established structures and green spaces that surround it.

The new Artbarns-Wychwood Park in Toronto, opened in the summer of 2009, has yet to be woven into the surrounding urban landscape

But slowly, over time, the trees grow, the benches and equipment get rusty and overused, the paths meander through the now roughly cut grass and wild urban flora to better accommodate pedestrian needs. With each step from the old city into the new park a certain amount of dust and earth is dragged back and forth, blurring the boundaries. The park is gently woven into the city.

Hillcrest park, just down the street, is integrated into its surroundings, the trees mature, the paths well worn, the park is woven into the city