Archives for posts with tag: urban

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City.

Note: Over the past few months, I have been doing an internship at the Pop-Up City, along being the mobi-aider for the Mobiation Project. Writing a post about the Mobi-01 for the Pop-Up City (along with the Mobiator’s presentation at the fantastic Pop-Up City Live event) represents a coming together of the extreme sides of my personality. Less of a spectrum, and more of a circle, the Mobiators and the Pop-Up Citizens share  foundational values of ad hoc, flexible urbanism.

Have you seen the Mobiators roaming around Amsterdam? It’s likely you’ve encountered urban nomads before, but you probably quickly shrugged them off as punks, hippies, architecture students or circus performers just doing their thing.

But the Mobiators are a team of DIY urban nomads that defy categorization. Over the past year they have been temporarily setting up their self-built, foldable, completely transportable and undeniably uncategorizable home, the Mobi-01 in playgroundsparks, music festivals and lake-side communities around the city. The Mobiators are working towards having their Mobi-01 off grid by summer’s end, with solar, crank and pedal powered electricity, a grey-water system and a bio-digester to process their waste.

The Mobiators

The Mobi-01 is the first manifestation of the broader Mobiation Project. As the ambitious undertaking of the world’s first Mobiators Geert, a carpenter, welder, designer and tattoo-artist and Moroney, a vegan-cookin’, artist, writer and eco-architect, the Mobiation Project is a reaction — to the broken global economy and the increasing degradation of the environment. Mobiation takes big political questions and brings them into a personal light, asking visitors to consider their engagement with others and the world around them. With creative autonomy, the Mobiators argue that we can “get rid of the bad stuff and maximize the good stuff”, and work toward a more sustainable, inclusive world.

The Mobiators

The Mobi-01 is a living example of a functional off-grid living environment. As an open house, it acts as a podium for education, providing a major source of inspiration to anyone who visits. The Mobi is also a space for hosting organized workshops, and its mere presence in a community has the potential to bring inspiration, motivation and creative-awakening to their neighbours.

And let’s talk about the urban nomadity thing. Is this even possible, in 2013, in Amsterdam? Where is there land to set up and camp out? On first survey, it seems an impossibility: Amsterdam is full to the brim, and every piece of land is accounted for. Ignoring this reality, the Mobiators look at the city in different light, and have successfully found spaces to temporarily inhabit and infiltrate.

The Mobiators

Perhaps we could say that the Mobiator’s city is the Pop-Up City. To the Mobiators, Amsterdam is a purely flexible place, outfitted with temporary urban spaces that invite ad hoc experimentation. The Mobiation Project proves that with a certain attitude, any city can be a Pop-Up City. A shift in perception has the ability transform any mundane space, from the most barren to the most bureaucratic, into a place to be popped into, a place for unexpected transformations, a place where the most creative, sustainable and appropriate activities can take place, emerge and fade away as needed.

The Mobiators

And that’s why we’re excited to be having the Mobiators on stage at The Pop-Up City Live, a night for urban innovators. So join us on Tuesday May 21st at the Brakke Grond in Amsterdam to hear from the Mobiators and be inspired about their project, and the possibilities for sustainable, nomadic city-living in the 21st century, along with an exciting program of crispy themes, multi-media formats, and inspiring guests that will celebrate the best of five years of The Pop-Up City!

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This post originally appeared on the Pop Up City

Urbanism and sustainability undeniably go hand in hand. What first comes to mind is the prototypical ‘Green City’ — a cityscape rich with parks, trees and productive vertical farms draped over high rises.

As cities are incredibly complex, so must be any sort of urban sustainability, which can come in many more forms than a ‘Green City’. With so much going on in an urban environment, there’s bound to be some excess energy flows. So why waste that energy, if you can turn it into something that’s better, fun, and productive? That’s what we call Parasite Urbanism — strategies and urban interventions that creatively make use of spaces or energies that otherwise would be neglected or would go to waste, contributing to a wider concept of urban sustainability. Let’s take a look at three of the best examples of urban parasites that we’ve highlighted on the Pop Up City. They all make use of a variety of otherwise neglected spaces or energy, launching them into places that are more useful, more productive and more fun!

Softwalks, New York CitySoftwalks, New York City

1. New York City’s Softwalks

In New York City, over 6000 ‘scaffolding sheds’ cover the city’s sidewalks at any given point in time. Taking advantage of the shelter they provide, Softwalks is an initiative dedicated to improving the pedestrian experience in New York City, transforming these sheds from passing through spaces to pleasant places to relax, sit, and eat. Softwalks are a DIY urban parasite: packaged in a convenient kit to let people turn local scaffolding into their own temporary hangout spaces. Have a seat, hang around a counter table or enjoy the planters that’ve been attached to metal beams. All Softwalk elements are easily attached and removed when you want to continue your walk. Now that’s what we call pop-up!

Stairway Cinema, Auckland

2. Auckland’s Parasite Cinema

In Auckland, New Zealand, a small movie theater was constructed over an exterior stairwell as an extension to the rest of the building. This small parasite cinema was made by the architects of OH.NO.SUMO and uses the steps of a staircase as seats. Right on the side of a busy street, the theater has place for approximately seven people. This clever construction is made out of a timber frame covered with three layers of fabric that provide a waterproof exterior, and a real cinema-like experience. OH.NO.SUMO designed the cinema in response to the lack of social interaction happening at bus stops and launderettes on the corner, with people increasingly absorbed in their own world within their mobile phones. The program of the Stairway Cinema is curated online by the audience itself, making the project embedded in both the physical and digital worlds. The great thing about this parasite is that it sheds a different light on a common urban space, transforming an everyday spot into a place that can be used completely differently.

Pay-phone library, New York City

3. New York City’s Pay-Phone Libraries

Making use New York City’s ever present pay phones — a dying breed in the streets of of cities around the world, the Department of Urban Betterment took the parasite strategy to transform this a ‘problem’ into an opportunity. New York City has 13,659 pay phones spread throughout its streets — most of them are hardly used. This parasitic urban intervention is repurposing phone booths into communal libraries or book drops. Although we’ve seen several efforts to transform old phone booths into book shops, this project is interesting as it is a parasite that uses the existing construction while leaving the phone itself untouched and fully operable. Furthermore, the installation is easy to remove. The meaning of a pay phone might be lost to the new generation of smart phone users. Pay phones can be considered relics of a time in which shared public facilities were characterizing public spaces. With this miniature library, The Department of Urban Betterment uses a parasite strategy effectively to imagine a new public use for these intriguing artifacts.


Stadsklas

In a series of six articles we’re exploring new forms of urbanism where bottom-up, DIY and spontaneity are key. Become a new-style city-maker with the Stadsklas (City Class), an action-driven summer course in the Netherlands organized by Stroom, that gets you ready to tackle urban issues in the 21st century.

 

South Shore

I write to you from West Dublin, Nova Scotia.

West Dublin is where my brother’s lovely partner lives, and paints. I am staying here for the weekend, my last weekend in Nova Scotia, for a while.

While many of Nova Scotia’s rural regions, along with their industries, are dying and becoming retirement communities with an unstoppable urban-wards youth drain, the South Shore is blooming, flourishing with energy and creativity.

(This, I think, is in response to the rising cost of housing in Halifax’s North End — the traditional, inner city artist community. The middle class are again interested in living in the city centre, condominiums,  a sterile life style, and high rents: with things more expensive, there is less space for artists to engage in their non-money oriented art practice. Why are rents increasing so much in Halifax, a windy corner of the economy? Its city centre has been catapulted to a broader global economy, where it’s downtown and gentrifying neighbourhoods are put on the same level (as much as possible) with their counterparts in more economically successful. That plus foreign investment.)

From my visits to the Shore, and listening closely to anecdotes and descriptions of life here, it seems a novel social structure, a rural-urbanism has emerged.

From my city-boy perspective, I associate the rural with isolation. Doing it on your own, for your own. Driving vast distances to general stores that come with brief socializing and gossiping, but then back to your property and your isolation and your work.

The South Shore’s rural-urbanism certainly has a lot of those rural characteristics. People who have moved out here seem to be attracted to the idea of “doing it for yourself”, and without the city, with its intense social pressures and collective, non-opt-outable culture, are doing just that. But the isolation has been stripped away, and instead, a lovely network of people exists here, and, however diffuse and spread out, it is strong. Rural-urbanism means isolation is a choice, & not a given.

It is beautiful out here, with its subtle Nova Scotian undulating loveliness. The rugged firs grip the coastline, and in this warm December, a vibrant green moss blankets the earth. The folk that have moved here are making beautiful things, at their own pace, on their own time.

It is refreshing to think about urbanism as a concept that can exist outside a city in the most literal sense. What does urban really mean? In the South Shore, urbanism is expressing itself differently: West Dublin and LaHave and Riverport and Lunenburg are places stringing together a wider rural-urban network.

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.

Spryfield

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?

South end

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.

Check out the map your Urban Geographer recently had published in the Dalhousie Gazette.

The map was featured in a November 16 story about some amazing adventures and places to explore all accessible by Metro Transit bus!

➷➷➷ ::: CHECK IT OUT::: ➷➷➷

And exhausted from the same ol’ commute on the 52 Crosstown to Burnside, I know where I’m headed on my next day off – a bus-based adventure on the 51 to Shannon Park!

DISCLAIMER::::THIS MAY NOT HAPPEN

Exciting news, dear readers!

All this while, as your Urban Geographer, I’ve been thinkin’ bout the urban landscape – it turns out I’ve been shaping the urban landscape too!

That’s right, loyal followers. I am excited to announce that in a to-be-determined future date, my photo will become Sackville, New Brunsick’s highway sign!

The highway sign currently looks like this (credit to google street view, as usual)  :::::::::::::::::::::

And will soon be transformed to this image, featured below (in low res), originally appearing in a post from last summer. The photo’s rights-to-use have been formally purchased by the Town of Sackville.

The photo is of bright August day in 2011, when Sackville’s main thoroughfare, Bridge Street was transformed to indie-rock paradise by the annual SappyFest. On a journalistic bend for an upcoming Spacing Atlantic article, I climbed the roof of Tidewater books for this sweet-summer aerial view.

I am grateful that the Town of Sackville got in touch with me to use the image – my respect to this special place deepens, my connection to it expands. I am also thoroughly happy to be an official, paid-Urban Geographer, and take with that the great responsibility it brings.

See you on the highway!

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. 

There’s a juncture in Toronto – in time and space.

It lies at an edge between the Distillery District, and the yet to be built West Donlands neighbourhood.

Last I was there, gazing east from a tight alley of the Distillery, there was nothingness – a chasm of sight and potential. The tight and built up form of the Distillery dramatically gave way to emptiness at Cherry Street, emphasizing the extreme juxtapositions possible in an urban environment – the logic, and on the other hand randomness of fate in the city, where a street, rational and straight, becomes the definite border between two distinct Places.

Knowing of the West Donlands neighbourhood and its scope, I would look at this gap at Tankhouse Alley and Cherry Street with a feeling of awe, aware of the inevitable explosion of city that will soon burst out of this empty chasm, blooming into a city, full and real.

From afar, I can’t tell but for dispatches from travelling friends, that the new neighbourhood to the East is already being built up;  the drama of the edge-space is becoming less intense. Soon, but for the obvious differences in ages of the buildings to the east and west of Cherry street, the rip will be sewed tightly shut – and the urban fabric will be expanded into a continuous expanse of city. With time, the border will become less distinct, fading into the linkages that will inevitably be forged between one side and the other.

Looking into the past by virtue of Google Street view has allowed me to capture this rift, compensating for my lack of photo-documentation when I should have…

UPDATE: Going through old photos, while I was bored today at the Archives, I discovered that I indeed captured this Distillery edge space last year, during my September Toronto stint! A cunning Urban Geographer never lets an intriguing cityscape go uncaptured:

The red-bricked path way tapers off into a chasm of nothingness – this tear in the urban fabric will soon be sewn, and a continuous cityscape will fill the current gap.

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

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

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