Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

17
Jun
11

A friend doing awesome work

Hey folks,
Just wanted to use the blog to give a shoutout to my friend Hadas Parush who’s now working for the Winnipeg Free Press. A few of her photos are going to be in The Art of Swap (that is, when it finally gets published)

04
Jun
11

Soon To Be Picturesque [your input here]

Well, the grand mystery of my health and ailments continues to confuse me. Having to put aside planned overseas field research and suddenly question the feasibility of future career plans which had previously seemed like a sure thing due to sudden medical problems has been bad enough. Still being uncertain is maddening.

Things that I’m loving include New Orleans’s Hypothetical Development Organization, a group whose raison d’etre involves imagining new futures for dilapidated or vacant buildings. What is it about New Orleans that`s managed to bring together street artists, graphic designers, urban planners and activists, architects, and other creatively-minded folks togetherÉ I’ve got a few projects on the go right now, and something of this sort being done for a number of Ottawa’s dilapidated landmarks (hello, City Centre building!)or dwindling downtown parking lots would be a neat idea. Good art of any kind should bring people together and get them talking about things they otherwise might not get to…and we’re at the cusp of an era where a lot of urban ‘ways of life’ are about to change considerably. Letting creativity run amok for the sake of getting people thinking about urban futures…that`s something I`m all for.

01
Mar
11

It’s been a while

It’s been a while since I last brought you anything new. Unfortunately, my health has not been good at all in the last few months and this has forced me to step away from both school and creative projects. At this point a whole lot of things are on hold.

15
Oct
10

Burning Man and some urban planning thoughts

The term ‘Black Rock Desert’ is somewhat of a misnomer. A desert is a hostile, harsh ecosystem wherelife of some sort has managed to adapt and thrive under the sun’s harsh glare and blistering heat. There are no sand dunes and no cacti out in the alkali flats, just cloudless brilliant blue skies and endless clouds of harsh dust that stings your eyes and leaves your lips hardened and chapped. The alkali flats themselves are ringed by a small mountain range that seemed deceptively close and looked, in the morning and afternoon, like something out of a Lawren Harris painting. I had vowed to bring in no more gear than I could carry on my back and in my arms, and so I arrived in a dust storm and freak rain-shower with some one hundred and twenty pounds of, well, stuff. George Carlin famously said that a house is a place for your stuff and stuff is the collected array of things that slowly but surely fill up your house…and a small 7-by-four foot tent would be housing my stuff for the next eight days. Most of this- eighty pounds- was water.

Pictures do not do Burning Man justice. I’ve heard someone say that trying to describe Burning Man to someone who has not been there is like trying to describe the colour red to someone who has never before seen colours. Burning Man, in a way, reminded me of what it is like to walk around wide-eyed and in wonder of everything around one’s self and I’ve done my best to try and take that feeling back home with me. Besides being a research assignment, it was also a meditative exercise. When I left Reno, Nevada there were two major hurricanes in the Atlantic south of Bermuda threatening the U.S. east coast, the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall was being commemorated, and talking heads on the major American news networks were chattering on about the NYC Islamic Center controversy and the upcoming Congressional and Senate elections. Being in a total communications technology blackout for eight days gave me a chance to think about urbanism, street art and life in general with only my surroundings for inspiration.

to be continued with more from Burning Man and some thoughts on what I’ve been reading recently and the current state of our cities. New streetart update coming soon… and for you Canadians out there, this awesome book is out in bookstores tomorrow! This is definitely on my reading list this month.

21
Sep
10

McGill Cyclist and Pedestrian Forum this week

McGill Reporter Article
“A McGill forum to discuss issues arising from these changes, co-sponsored by SSMU and University Services, will be held Thursday, Sept. 23, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Ballroom of the Student Centre on McTavish St. The event will give participants a chance to air their views on where McGill’s mobility priorities should be focused in the weeks and months ahead and how different members of the community can reconcile what are sometimes competing needs.

It happens that Sept. 23 is “Bicycle Day” in Montreal – part of a week-long series of events aimed at encouraging public transit use and other alternatives to the automobile – a happenstance forum organizers thought was ideal as the backdrop for their event.”

19
Sep
10

Burning Man, Part Three

At its widest, Black Rock City is close to two miles wide. It is located out on the inhospitable Black Rock Desert, an alkaline lake bed eleven miles north of the small town of Gerlach and 120 miles northeast of Reno. As an urban planner in training, I’ve come to learn to care about the facts and figures. Then again, by going to Burning Man you’re heading out into a desert environment where you have to care about the important numbers- namely a 30 degree celsius differential between night and day temperatures and a recommended intake of 1-1.5 gallons of water daily.

As an urban planner in training and someone who has been wanting to attend Burning Man for several years running, I found this year’s theme of The Life of the City too enticing to resist. If there is one thing that has always amazed me about Burning Man, it’s the degree to which it seems to showcase the most incredible aspects of human creativity. (Even before attending, I’ve compared it to what would happen if one gave LSD to MacGyver, and that description seemed the most accurate one once I settled in there). Ever since I found myself working on the post-Katrina relief and reconstruction effort in New Orleans, I’ve found myself interested in post-disaster situations and the possibilites for improvement therein. Burning Man seemed like it would present a challenging situation in terms of water conservation and management, and so I decided that documenting innovative methods of DIY water management and use would be one of my goals out in the desert. It could have a practical and useful application in terms of a reapplication to temporary settlements elsewhere in the world…after all, Black Rock City is one of the world’s largest self-contained temporary camps. And if all else fails, when one is heading out into a Hunter S. Thompsonesque fantasy world for eight days it’s good to have a project to keep one’s self grounded.

Reno, the fourth-largest city in Nevada, is a curious entity. The Truckee River, which flows through the heart of Reno’s downtown, is surrounded by a gorgeous linear park which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding hills. Yet the city itself seems an interlinked web of strip malls, a giant, sprawling construction where the only buildings higher than five storeys are the hotels of the casino district. I arrived in Reno in the early morning of August 30th, and the city reminded me of so many others I’d passed through in Greyhound rides through the American South. Yet, on the other hand it seemed different- more pristine, friendly and welcoming. The first association that entered my mind was with Birmingham, Alabama’s downtown core, where nothing seems to have been built since the 1970s and the city’s Modernist concrete office towers all bear a similar shade of dusty brown. However, in Birmingham the streets give off a distinct feeling of repressed, deep-seated anger and frustration.

The second image to enter my mind was Vegas. Years ago, I sat on a smoky North York bar patio in the late hours of the night with a beer in hand listening to a tattooed late-20s former Las Vegas resident tell stories of robbing tourists just off of the Strip in between his pulls on a blunt. There’s something about Las Vegas that frightens me, and that something goes beyond the sky-high crime rate and Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic epic “The Stand”. While we as a society may look to the space program, the Human Genome Project or the United Nations as an example of what Western thought can bring about, it seems to me that the ultimate achievement of North American consumer capitalism is more like Las Vegas.

more to come….



19
Aug
10

DIY Bike Lanes and Imaginary Crimes

First of all, let me begin with an awesome street art initiative from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Urban Repair Squad

As the article mentions, Sao Paulo is known for its congested streets which pose a dangerous challenge for pedestrians and cyclists alike. During Brazil’s World Cup games, a group of street artists took to the city’s empty streets to paint bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks in hazardous areas, a project which reminds me a lot of Montreal’s very own Roadsworth.
Train Tracks by Roadsworth

There’s some talk about initiating traffic-calming initiatives and pedestrian-friendly urban improvements in Montreal’s St. Henri Borough to manage dangerous and confusing intersections. (Ongoing construction has, in some places, created a maze of concrete barriers through which pedestrians must weave in order to cross streets). I’ve suggested that the local borough council, if and when it begins a public awareness campaign to raise support for intersection overhauls, get a street artist like Roadsworth (or myself) to paint new pedestrian crossings in certain intersections. I’m thinking of something along the lines of a meandering clown-shoed path to best illustrate the danger that construction barriers pose to pedestrians crossing far-too-wide streets in which they’re often forced to stop halfway. Or a stencil of the Montreal Pedestrian Charter, which was adopted to prevent situations like these.

And now on to gripe-town. The Harper government continues to stand pat on its decision to eliminate the mandatory census long-form, a decision which has been condemned across the board. To this date, only a handful of groups have come forward to support Harper’s decision. These include the Fraser Institute, a right-wing, pro-‘free market’ think-tank, as well as the National Citizens’ Coalition, site of Stephen Harper’s old job, and the euphemistically-named Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.

Stephen Harper’s contempt for others and their points of view has been glaring and at times, even chilling. Watching Industry Minister Tony Clement being apparently forced to publicly defend the scrapping of the census long form, seemingly as punishment for having criticized Harper’s decision to do so in the beginning, smacks of a tragic comedy; one part misery and two parts farce.

As a future urban planner I will be one of the many people who will be making important use of census data that, in Canada, currently has an international reputation for accuracy, proper documentation and strict privacy controls. What it all boils down to is this:

As Noam Chomsky has said, media discourse no longer revolves around a debate or interaction of two opinions. What has replaced it is instead a strategy by which a message is repeated over and over until it enters the public consciousness and becomes public opinion. Facts are replaced by buzzwords. And it works. For example, take the recent survey which found that close to 20 per cent of Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim.

Harper’s people have been trying to push a conservative Christian agenda on Canadians for a number of years, an agenda which requires more than a complete ignorance of the facts. For example, it’s not enough for them to say that Insite does not work, in spite of the massive support it has received at a city, provincial and even international level. It’s not enough to call for a recriminalization of marijuana and mandatory minimum sentencing for possession charges in spite of a tremendous amount of evidence contradicting the very same fear-mongering pitches which Harper & Co. toss out.

No, in order to successfully pull something like this off you have to sway public opinion in your favor first. And that involves both flooding the airwaves with your own message and destroying the foundations of your opponents’ arguments. As long as census data remains reliable you’re bound to see situations where Conservative ministers get caught with their pants down, as was the case when Treasury Board President Stockwell Day tried to claim that the Canadian crime rate is rising rather than falling in order to justify a planned $6 billion dollar expenditure on new prisons.

You can’t call your opponents “ivory-tower intellectuals” and “thug-huggers” and get away with it very well if they can meticulously tear your arguments apart with cold, hard data. You’re just stuck in place babbling on about Imaginary Crimes. These types are the worst kind of policy-makers. Like ‘bio-ethicist’ Margaret Somerville, these people follow a scientific approach insofar as it suits their ideological goals. They prepare an ideological argument first, and then scour for figures that supposedly back it up.





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