Archives for posts with tag: urban geography

My article exploring the decline (and reinvention) of Toronto’s convenience stores appeared in the May 21 edition of the Globe and Mail.

Because there’s no link to it, here’s a copy of the article downloaded from the newspaper’s digital-print edition.

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The article also beckoned my first letter to the editor! Happy they went easy on me, and interesting to hear convenience stores experienced decline much earlier than I thought. In a city, the only constant is change.

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As we approach the end of 2014, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on a very exciting and productive year as your Urban Geographer. I’ve grown a lot since this time last year. I had a short stint living on Toronto Island, and I’ve had the opportunity to create maps, host events, facilitate workshops and write about my love of place, architecture, urban planning and ecology!

Please join me in remembering some of the highlights from 2014.

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  • The year started with a bang, as I moved to Toronto Island with Chris Foster to participate in the pilot Work Exchange program at Artscape Gibraltar Point. The residency went extremely well. On top of getting a job at Artscape (a phenomenal organization in Toronto that is committed to creating good urban space), Chris was hired as Superintendent, and I was able to contribute to the Island community and AGP as an interpreter of its history (as tour guide),  and an ambassador of the building. I was extremely inspired by the Island and its history, and helped come up with a new design for AGP that referenced its history, but remained elegant and contemporary.

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  • My partner Natalie Amber and I began hosting the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series – a storytelling event taking place in overlooked and unconventional spaces across the city. On the heels of two incredibly successful events, we are excited to get the ball rolling on indoor lectures for the first and coldest months of 2015.

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Mobility Rings

  • After a widely embraced article for Torontoist, I began working as Communications Coordinator for Charlie’s Freewheels, an amazing organization that empowers youth from Regent and Moss Parks by teaching them how to build, maintain and ride their own bikes. The campaign has been a great opportunity to employ my skills as a geographer, planning, graphic designer and writer – and another attempt to master the elusive internet by trying to go viral. The campaign is still going on! Check out our indiegogo! (until January 6 2015)

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  • I spent the last few months of summer visiting and drawing every branch of the Toronto Public Library – a journey to all 6 corners of the city that taught me a lot about the social and architectural realities of my city. Get ready for its release in early January!

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  • I debuted Geomancy, my version of the ancient practice of fortune telling with maps, to receptive audiences at the Algonquin Island Christmas Boutique and Long Winter. People loved it, and I thoroughly enjoyed helping people gain geographic insights into their being. The project has generated a lot of interest, and will be appearing in unexpected places in 2015!

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  • Along with the ASEED map, I expanded my reach as a critical geographer, illustrating map-themed political cartoons to go alongside articles for the Dominion, a grassroots, alternative news outlet with a mission to go beyond mainstream coverage of political and environmental situations.

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Thank you to all my readers for your support over the years. While 2014 is almost behind us, 2015 promises to be incredibly exciting for my professional development, art and writing practices. Get ready for more Geomancy, the release of All the Libraries Toronto, and more editions of Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series. I also may be finally making it to grad school….maybe!

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In an effort to start a conversation with the proliferation of research occurring outside of the academy and facilitated by the internet, the University of Manchester and Hunter College created the Alternative Mode of Scholarship Competition.

Here was the call out:

In recognition of the increasingly diverse ways in which researchers disseminate their research, the UGSG Alternative Mode of Scholarship Competition Committee solicits submissions of blogs, videos and websites by an undergraduate or postgraduate student or group of students. The winner/s of the award will receive $200. Submissions should be in the form of a URL address plus no more than 300 words explaining how the submission contributes to an understanding of urban geography. 

I was especially excited to enter the contest, as research outside of academia is exactly how I define the activities of this blog. The internet has truly facilitated my emerging career, and has connected me with collaborators and like minded people world wide. The University of Manchester also happens to be the home of one of my favourite geography professors, Erik Swyngedouw, of the Urban Political Ecology literature.

Entering the competition was an opportunity to define my approach to blogging, and is one version of how perceive my contributions to Urban Geography, and its role in the world.

I didn’t win the scholarship, but I present to you my submission anyways. Enjoy.


 

My blog, TheUrbanGeographer.Wordpress.com, has been an invaluable venue to design my own research programme after the completion of my Undergraduate degree in Urban Geography at McGill University.

Using the blog, I have extended Swynedgedouw and Heynen’s theories of Urban Political Ecology(2003). Via art work, photography and writing, I have applied their theories to Toronto, a city that has an evocative relationship with its ecology.

One project that has emerged has been an exploration of Bioregionialism and its application to Toronto. Carolinia is a hypothetical post-national region that encapsulates the northern tip of the Eastern Deciduous forest, southern Ontario and Upstate New York. It is a region that shares watershed, commutershed, culture and ecology. I presented my research at the 2013 Urban Ecologies Conference, arguing that emphasizing Toronto’s ecology in its identity is an important step toward achieving social and environmental justice.

Though inspired by academic research, my blog has become a venue for crafting theories that are very accessible. The blog has also encouraged the use of visual aids (photographs, drawn maps, diagrams). Clarifying my writing and making it more accessible has lead to my writing for other blogs and magazines such as SpacingVolume and the Pop-Up City.

Perhaps the blog’s greatest strength, however, is that it exists within a network. My blog has connected me to other academics, planners, entrepreneurs and artists engaged in the topic of Urbanism. We are all working toward inclusive and sustainable city building. The blog has lead me to a number of employment opportunities including working on the establishment of a Greenbelt for Halifax.

I will continue to blog as my career grows and transforms. Whether I am engaged in academic, artistic, economic or political work, my blog is an invaluable and connected depository of my theories, thoughts and practice.

 

Holland-motion

I know it may be hard to conceptualize, but try and imagine the provinces of North and South Holland — the Randstad specifically — as one big city.

the ranstadThe complex dotted-and-linked towns and cities of the Randstad

I know it’s hard to conceptualize when looking at a map: a highly complex and widely spread system of independent-seeming towns, cities, farms and transportation in between — the Randstad alone has an area of 8 287 square kilometres (about 4000 of which are urban).

But functionally North and South Holland is one big city. And with that comes a lot of motion:

A first example of Holland-mobility is that many people from the Netherlands that I’ve encountered have personal geographies that consist of a lot of movement between the cities of North and South Holland (the sort of movement you associate with the United States and the American Dream).

Of those I’ve spoken with, many of their grandparents are from one city, their parents grew up in another, they were born in that town, but now live elsewhere.

These common stories of intra-provincial migration contribute to a blurry sense of place-based identity, and soft declarations of one-point-of-origin as where they’re “from”: a confusion that ultimately leads to a Holland-wide identity, and the allegiance to the Randstad as a whole as the basis for identity, rather than an individual town or city.

Another point of Holland motion: people travel from in between cities near and farther away, to live, work and socialize on a daily basis. My fellow interns at Golfstromen themselves live in Utrecht and Zandvoort. A friend’s colleagues similarly travel from major regional cities — cities with their own employment — to work in Amsterdam.

And a final meditation on Holland Motion —
Lining the bike paths of Amsterdam are the constant appearance of way-finding signs directing you to far-flung Haarlem, Almere, Den Haag, and Utrecht — cities that are relatively quite far away. But these cities, appearing on the streets, inhabit your consciousness as you negotiate the local geography of Amsterdam. Being constantly reminded that they and are within biking distance — indeed that they exist! — wraps their being into the being of Amsterdam, tightly weaving Holland together as a series of neighbourhood-cities within a greater regional metropolis.

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This May, I look forward to “following the signs”, that is, choosing a city that I see a  bike way-finding sign for, and biking there without consulting a map — to experience Amsterdam, the city I choose to bike to, and the spaces and tight relations in between.

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Dear readers,

The Urban Geographer has been through a lot of development since its humble first post in January 2011. Since then, I have used this space as a platform for observations, theories, landscape architecture exercises and political activism, and am grateful for your readership and loyalty through the convoluted and through the clear.

I have detected a shift in the blog, toward a more focused and less rough approach to communicating ideas. I sense a wider audience emerging and an ability to use this blog as a tool and catalyst for greater projects.

I would like to formally mark this growth, this evolution and shift with a brand new banner!

The new banner is sleeker, more colourful and trendy. Yes, it’s still a skyline — easy and over used urban imagery — but, I’m just so gosh-darn attracted to it as a symbol of the urban. In the imageability of a city, the skyline is one of the most important symbols. This is especially true in my home-city of Toronto (Tall-ronto), which is experiencing the largest rate of highrise construction in North America.

And speaking of Tall-ronto, you might have noticed that I’ve dropped the Montreal and Halifax skylines from the banner. This is not because these places are no longer important to me — they areMy heart remains in Halifax, my beginnings as an urbanist are firmly Montrealais — but my travels have brought me to many cities, and the lessons I’ve learnt from them are fundamentally incorporated into my approach as an Urban Geographer – so, to simplify things, I’ve chosen to focus on the Toronto skyline. It is, after all, as city of the now – and, not to mention, I will be returning there this June to present at the Urban Ecologies conference, and reckon I’ll be setting up some sort of a nest there for an undetermined period of time…

And, for the sake of history, let’s look at the evolution of the Urban Geographer banners:

The first banner (January, 2011) was a rough, pixelated and sloppy mashing of the Toronto and Montreal skylines – cities that then formed the basis of my urban experiences at that time.

The second banner (July, 2011) was a much more elegant, hand drawn skyline that also included Halifax, as I had just moved there for the first time.

Readers will be happy to know that the tagline of the blog “let’s read the city, together!” remains unchanged. The project of urban literacy remains central to the motivations of The Urban Geographer.

See also Banner Archive (July, 2011)

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The Torontobrug is one of many bridges that span over the Amstel river. Literally, “Toronto-bridge”, it is named after the historical partnership and alliance between the two cities.

Incidentally, as you may know, Toronto and Amsterdam are both very important to my routes.

It comes as no surprise to me that the Torontoburg is one of the ugliest of the Amsterdam’s river crossings. It is a modernist, concrete mass, lacking the gezelligheid of the quaint, people sized bridges along the rest of the river (and indeed of the entire city). Instead, like many pieces  of Toronto, it is an auto-oriented, 4 lane thoroughfare, that, though it includes bike lanes, lacks that delightful Amsterdam coziness. Because of this, the Torontobrug feels as though it is quite literally a piece of Toronto infrastructure inserted into central Amsterdam.

But, like Toronto, it is intriguing in its immensity, and I enjoy exploring it: passing over and beneath it while walking and by bike. It is nice to have a piece of my home here.

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There is also I’ve discovered, an Amsterdam Bridge in Toronto. From the pictures of it, it looks as though Dutch design has similarly made its way into Toronto.

When I go back to Toronto, I look forward to visiting the Amsterdam Bridge to experience how a piece of Amsterdam feels from afar.

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Your Urban Geographer has taken the liberty to making the connection between Toronto and the Torontobrug even strongerBy QaRt coding the Torontobrug sign, there is now even more of an aesthetic and deep link between the bridge and it’s namesake city.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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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:

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Looking at a map, Toronto and Barcelona are much the same shape.

Cities, sprawling over flat plains, contained by two rivers: one to the east, the other to the west. A hook like protrusion (the Port Lands and Islands in Toronto, Barceloneta in Barcelona) into a large body of water to the south.

torontoToronto, and its subway

Travelling around Barcelona recently, I couldn’t help but think of home every time I looked at a map.

barcelonaBarcelona, and its extensive metro

There are differences of course, given that they are not the same place. Barcelona is contained by a mountain range to its north. The mountain range cups the city and keeps it dense. Toronto has no such boundary and sprawls northward indefinitely. Indeed, a northern boundary had to be artificially created, with Ontario’s Greenbelt.

The on-paper cartographic similarity of Toronto and Barcelona had me day dreaming of a Toronto with more developed transportation infrastructure.

The skeleton of Barcelona’s metro is reminiscent of Toronto’s – a large U line that loops north to central-south and back up again. A line that cuts east to west. There are even small off shoot lines in the periphery a la the Scarborough RT and Sheppard line. Barcelona’s subway system, however, is extensively developed and covers the entire city in ways Toronto could never dream of. Another case of cartographic-deficiency was the coverage of Barcelona’s “Bicing” service vs Toronto’s Bixis. The equivalent to Toronto’s Bixi’s, Barcelona’s “Bicing” city-bikes cover the entire city at a very high frequency.

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Toronto’s limited Bixi range

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Versus Barcelona’s extensive Bicing network

The comparison is somewhat absurd, but this is what was going through my head every time I consulted a map of Barcelona. I thought, naturally, of home.

Sept 19 Mayoral Debate poster

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

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

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Also see the September 19 Mayoral debate poster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cross-posted from Spacing Atlantic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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