Archive for the 'urban planning' Category

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.

18
Dec
10

Things of Interest…

Things that make me say “This is awesome!” these days:

The first is the work of Windsor’s Broken City Lab, an artist-led group that’s hard at work imagining new possibilities for run-down and neglected stretches of Windsor, Ontario. Windsor has been particularly hard-hit by the loss of good-paying industrial manufacuring jobs even before the latest recession came about and its close ties and proximity to the recession’s greatest urban victim, Detroit, make it an interesting bellweather for evaluating the recession’s economic and spatial impact on Canadian cities.

Broken City Lab also is involved in a number of urban installation projects aimed at getting Windsor residents to think more deeply about the urban spaces they interact with and consider how they might be improved.


They’re also involved in developing ‘micro-intervention’ pieces for use in improving small areas and helping educate residents about the potential for DIY-style urban improvement projects. Check out their Removable Garden Project.
As an urban planning student, I believe that any urban renewal or regeneration project must be driven in part by area residents and that the technologies, vocabulary and tools of the profession need to be made available and accessible to citizens. As a street artist, I believe that streetart can be used to temporarily improve an urban area in a manner that goes beyond just painting a pretty picture on a wall. It’s something that I’ve been trying to do with Swap Boxes for years now…

As well, two guys have created a rolling graffiti printer, which you can check out at Looptaggr . The idea of a dotted-and-dashed line stencil that could be spray-painted on sidewalks to create somewhat of an ‘urban treasure-hunt’ or a follow-the-line type of experience has interested me for quite some time.

A new and exciting update to McGill to Haiti is coming up soon. I’ve been derailed into a world of studio projects, deadlines, mayhem and confusing GIS maps which I’m only now starting to make some sense of…

07
Dec
10

Street Public Consultations

This is an absolutely fascinating urban design project which I love as a street artist, an urban planner in training, a visually-obsessed sorta-designer with an interest in grassroots-based planning and public awareness and as a longtime fan of New Orleans who went into urban planning with the idea of working in a disaster relief capacity.

The project is courtesy of urban planner/designer Candy Chang, someone who has managed to fuse urban planning and a passion for awesome art and design (something which I have been trying to do for what seems like ages). I have been spending part of the last two months thinking over the question of how I could transform something like the Swap Box Project or the Urban Journals into more of a thematic idea that could be used in the service of urban planning projects. They began as social experiments and evolved into means of ‘micro-revitalization’ that temporarily give a small area of public space a whole new interactive potential…
Swap Box

19
Nov
10

Big News, Everybody!

My blog detailing my grad-school project to study post-disaster tent cities in Port-au-Prince, Haiti is now online. Visit it right here at http://www.mcgilltohaiti.com

As part of the whole project I’m selling a limited run of prints to raise funds to pay off the costs of the trip and additional supplies/travel vaccinations. More info can be found on the blog. or you can check out the Etsy link right here. Only 40 will be sold, so get ‘em while you can and help fund what will be a great initiative.

The print, which is totally awesome, looks like this:
ART PRINT

And a closeup of the linework looks like this:

28
Oct
10

Urban Planning Adventures

I’m at the point in my grad-school experience where I have to put together and carry out a supervised research project. The SRP, as it is more simply known, is a sort of ‘thesis lite’, with less writing but more hands-on work. Having worked in disaster relief and reconstruction in the past, I have decided that I will be going to Haiti for several months to work on a research project related to urban planning and disaster relief.

My planned departure date, at this point, is less than two months away and the amount of work which I still have left to do is considerable. I’ve narrowed my potential field of research down to two ideas… The first has to do with how new technologies can be used to facilitate communication on the ground in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster between local planners and emergency responders, area residents and international experts, while the second relates more to how pre-disaster planning can incorporate the identification of sites for refugee camps, relief and aid infrastructure, and temporary supply warehousing. The aid influx which followed this year’s earthquake wound up bogging down quickly in part due to the lack of up-to-date maps of Haitian cities, plans for the removal and disposal of rubble, and a somewhat haphazard and impromptu establishment of scattered ‘tent cities’ throughout much of Port-au-Prince.

Of course I’m also thinking of carrying out a side project on streetart and graffiti in Haiti. I’ve really been starved for time streetart-wise since this semester began, and the idea of documenting and writing about Haitian street art fascinates me. Then there’s the possibility of a collaboration or two…something to help bring attention back to the situation on the ground.

I’m also planning on setting up a bit of a donation drive to cover project expenses (including transportation costs and vaccinations). I’ll likely be producing a limited-edition small-run multicoloured stencil print (possibly a run of 30 or 40) and putting it up for sale. More updates on this project will follow as things unfold.

e: This is why I love Roadsworth

I’m also hoping for a Posterchild response to Rob Ford’s election

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.

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.

18
Aug
10

Newnesses

Since it’s been a couple of weeks since I last updated the blog, let me tell you of new things…

The book, “The Art of Swap” is finished, and I am in the middle of writing a number of cover-letters and writers’ statements to send off to a couple of publishers. Part of the process involves explaining where and how what I’ve written fits into the existing literary field, and this I’ve found to be a frustrating and interesting task. Interesting, because little exists in the way of similar work. Most street-art books treat the work as a series of pictures -just like any other visual art book- disconnected from their context and creator, and to my knowledge no one has written a combined street art book/urban planning theory text.

Street art and graffiti are the world’s first truly international art movements. They transcend race, class and gender, and embedded in their practice are a whole lot of interesting issues, ideas and conflicts related to notions of accessibility to and control over public space. Street art and graf, if you ask me, also play into concepts of urban design and renewal (the improvement of areas of public space and the mission of inserting a bit of joy and wonder into people’s lives have always influenced the pieces that I’ve done.)

As it stands now, I’m working on building a swing set to be hung up in a yet-undetermined location. (I’ve seen some similar and very neat pieces where others built swings that could be mounted on trees or even inside bus shelters.) One idea I’ve had bouncing around in the back of my head is to see how GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software could be used in the furtherance of installation-based street art projects. (After all, I am an urban planning student with access to a wealth of powerful planing tools…) Since GIS works on the basis of displaying interactive layers of data on maps, one could potentially display the location of all parks (or pieces of public art, etc) on the island of Montreal, run an algorithm or two to plot an area around each park equivalent to a 5 or 10-minute walking distance and display the urban areas which are in, for want of a better term, a ‘park desert’.

more to come, including pictures from the Elmaks/Meen/AZDEAD “Inglorious Beasties” art show!

26
Jul
10

New Wheatpaste, and urban planning gripes

First of all, let me begin with a new updated version of the “Cirque Turcot” wheatpaste. I just gave it a slight tweak to make it look more like a circus poster.

I don’t think I’ve ever used this blog as a ranting podium for my commentary on certain urban planning issues. Then again, there is a first time for everything, and as I get back into the swing of another academic year and have less time for streetart I’d like to round out my often-infrequent posting with a bit of analysis and commentary on ongoing Montreal projects and decisions.

As of several months ago, the planning directors of Montreal’s McGill University decided that the streets of the lower campus were going to become a car-free zone- a decision which I wholeheartedly applaud. It was put forth with plenty of notice and opportunity for public consultation and input. What McGill’s planning board decided to do in tandem with this decision- prevent people from riding their bicycles on the lower campus streets- was not announced beforehand.

This policy flies in the face of both McGill University’s past lobbying for safe, accessible bicycle networks (which University representatives carried out during consultations for the Montreal Transportation Plan) and McGill’s own Master Plan, which calls for “…a greener, pedestrian-friendly Downtown Lower Campus, as free as possible of motorized vehicles” and for an increase in the number of bicycle parking spaces on and near campus.

The same Master Plan states that the Planning Office wishes to “…create people-friendly spaces that encourage conversation, reflection and the sharing of ideas”. I do not know how the Planning Office envisions this ‘sharing of ideas’ process taking place, but to me it involves a dialogue at the very least. And a dialogue has certainly not taken place. From what I have heard from friends who have attempted to contact McGill’s Planning Director, he has been ignorant and even hostile to their concerns. One friend who spoke to him personally said that he expressed an anti-cyclist frustration and mentioned his almost being hit by a cyclist in defense of his closing McGill’s Lower Campus to cyclists.

But maybe that’s just hearsay. The director of the Planning Office hasn’t responded to an email I sent him expressing my opposition to his decision and the means by which it was carried out yet, but if and when he does I will add it as an update. Maybe he won’t think a street artist is worth talking to, but that’s not the issue here. The issue at hand is a decision made without public input that flies in the face of McGill University’s record and actions on bicycle use.





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