Archive for the 'urban planning' Category



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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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.

06
Jul
10

The Swap Box Project in Spacing!

I recently did a bit of an interview with Evan Thompson of Spacing Ottawa, and the piece can be found right here.

Spacing is a great magazine which focuses on urban issues, particularly those which relate to public space. You can check it out here.

30
Jun
10

Cirque Turcot

It’s forty-two years old, and no one really seems to know what to do with the Turcot Interchange.

When it was first unveiled in time for Expo ’67 (a time period which was marked by a flurry of megaprojects under the stead of Mayor Jean Drapeau that also included the Montreal subway and Ville-Marie Expressway) it was a towering marvel of modernist efficiency. It still is the largest highway interchange in Quebec. It handles more than 30 per cent of Quebec’s total truck traffic.

Now it’s crumbling, and the city, province and community groups are fighting over what to do next. The City of Montreal proposed a 10-year, 5-billion dollar plan which, in typical Montreal megaproject form, envisions a three-level Colosseum-like concrete megastructure taking its place.

The Quebec Transport Authority promptly rejected this plan and came up with a proposal to bring the expressway down onto embankments, a development which will require the expropriation and demolition of some 130 homes and which will create a new barrier cutting through the neighbourhood of St. Henri. This plan will also increase the highway’s carrying capacity by more than 10 per cent. This move has been resoundingly panned by environmental groups arguing that we should be trying to have less, not more, cars on the road.

A coalition of environmental and community groups, engineers and planners has put forth a third proposal, which calls for the preservation and maintenance of the beleaguered interchange and the gradual reduction of its carrying capacity. Public transit services are proposed as a means of taking up the excess slack. As it stands, the recession has placed a damper on this hot-button issue, and City politicians seem to be doing as much as they can to keep the issue under wraps. To make things more interesting, the head of Projet Montreal might be involved in keeping Turcot deliberations a secret.

This is an issue that needs to be brought back into the public eye.
That’s why I came up with a series of Turcot-themed posters. I give you the first in a list of alternate proposals. The magnificent “Cirque Turcot”, which promises to pay for itself in popcorn sales by 2044…



And to my readers…please make use of the fundraising widget on the right side of the page. It’s free to use and raises money for To Write Love On Her Arms, which is a great cause.

18
May
10

Trying to grab hold of a few good ideas…

Well, it’s been a rough couple of weeks here at the Werkshop, and I’ve been fighting to get my motivation back while at the same time realizing that my creative drive is sporadic, somewhat unfocused and has the unfortunate habit of derailing other elements of my life when allowed to run full-tilt. Maybe it’s an artist thing to be subject to a manic creativity (and sometimes, like when I was putting together the layout and written sections of “The Art of Swap”, it has proven a blessing as a motivator) but I’ve finally recognized that I’ve got to get more focused and find a way to make it work for me. Sometimes I make street art and other times it manifests itself by making me its creator…

I’ve given some thought to learning a couple more craftmanship and art skills, like cabinetmaking, ABS plastic-working and boning up on my knowledge of screenprint making. I’ve also been considering a couple of potential large interventions to pull off this summer, since I’ve got the basic knowhow to be able to work with wood and metal. Trying to think up new and interesting uses of public spaces has always been a favorite theme of mine…

There are a lot of vacant, under-construction and poorly used areas in the vicinity of downtown Montreal which could be converted to some more interesting uses, and picnic areas and sports facilities are two themes I keep coming back to. I’ve been thinking about what I would have to buy, find and make in order to create basketball hoops out of scrap wood and metal. One of the examples I’ve been considering is Brusse’s Streetlove Project , which I absolutely love.

As well, downtown Montreal is severely lacking in bike parking. I wonder how easy it would be to Macgyver up a nifty-looking bike parking fixture. Or perhaps a smaller one, for tricycles…

I’m going to head over to the library and try to borrow a couple of books on innovative slum architecture and built solutions to urban problems. I’ve always had an incredible admiration for some of the creative genius-work which one can find in urban slums, and in a way I as a street artist am aping their work. I’m trying to build things out of discarded materials, using whatever I can find and trying to give our discards a new and productive life…

Here’s a question for my dear Montreal readers…what do you think needs fixing in our city (besides potholes, of course)??

12
May
10

Rants and prints

Academic discourses tend to treat street art and graffiti like blind men envisioning an elephant based on touch. Sociology and anthropology look at it as a subculture based around transgressive behaviour and try to understand what motivates street artists and writers. Art History considers the physical products as being the art of the untrained when not ignoring them altogether. (The fields of Art History and art criticism look upon the street work of the few artists that they do recognize, like Jean-Michel Basquiat, with the awkward tone one would use when discussing a favorite politician’s juvenile indiscretions). Criminology looks at what can be done to prevent law-breaking. Urban studies make a brief mention of street art and graffiti when discussing urban crime and undesireable behaviour.

All in all, it’s a compartmentalized, categorizing and often downright condescending approach. What’s worse about the approach is that it turns a lot of people off from academia by giving them a sense that there isn’t a framework out there that would allow them to put their ideas out and expand upon them. And that’s a damn shame. Because I believe in street art just as much as I believe in good urban design and I’m sure that there must be a number of means of fusing the two together.

And check out My Etsy Shop for the first ever MaksWerks art print!

more to come…