Showing posts with label urbanism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label urbanism. Show all posts

April 17, 2012

Learning to Walk

A good series in Slate about how the American built environment is designed to thwart — or even denigrate — walkers.
Simply by going out for a walk, I had become a strange being, studied by engineers, inhabiting environments whose physical features are determined by a rulebook-enshrined average 3 foot-per-second walking speed, my rights codified by signs. (Why not just write: “Stop for People”?) On those same signs in Savannah were often attached additional signs, advising drivers not to give to panhandlers (and to call 911 if physically intimidated), subtly equating walking with being exposed to an urban menace—or perhaps being the menace. Having taken all this information in, we would gingerly step into the marked crosswalk, that declaration of rights in paint, and try to gauge whether approaching vehicles would yield. They typically did not. Even in one of America’s most “pedestrian-friendly” cities—a seemingly innocent phrase that itself suddenly seemed strange to me—one was always in danger of being relegated to a footnote.
 I also like writer Tom Vanderbilt's description of walking as the "ultimate mobile app."

Added:  Columnist Rod Dreher at The American Conservative asks his readers, "Don't Conservatives Like Walking?"

January 11, 2011

Cryptoforests, Wolves, and Feral Landscapes

At Bldgblog, a discussion with links on "cryptoforests" in urban landscapes.
Cryptoforesty, as Wilfried describes it in that post, emphasizes "the psychological effects of a forest" rather than the forest's pure ecological function; indeed, he writes, "The point is not that wolfs and bears are needed to fulfill ecological functions that are now null and void, the point is that a forest with such animals fuels the imagination and adds zest to life, even to those who would never visit such a 'full' forest." And, thus, he quips, "If the forest is empty," devoid of its animal sentience, "so is the mind."
And an interesting map of the distribution of European wolves, who are coming back.

November 14, 2009

A Snowy Day for Fidgets

Downtown Montreal from Mount Royal's belvedere.

It's snowing here in the Wet Mountains, a wet, soaking snow that is melting in. This would be a good "desk day," especially as I am only partway through sorting out everything on my desk--the ten days' worth of mail, the receipts and notes, etc. from the conference, the new books for reading and/or review.

One review must be completed today, or I will hate myself.

But I am fidgety.  M. and I spent parts of six days on trains, four days in Montreal, one day in Chicago, an afternoon in Albany, and an evening in Schenectady. It was wearing.

(Note: we rode six different Amtrak trains, and all were on time. Someone is doing something right. If you have a layover at Schenectady, refuel at Katie O'Byrne's, hang out on Jay Street.)

On the Adirondack, traveling through upstate New York along Lake Champlain, I would see some little dirt road winding off into the swampy woods, and I wanted to be off the train and walking along it with one of the dogs.

The birds are in hiding too. All that I have seen this morning are one robin and one Steller's jay--a pity, since it is Day 1 of one of our Project Feeder Watch counts. (We are not the only ones happy that PFW has started up again.) Yesterday we saw nine American goldfinches at once.

Other miscellaneous travel observations from the big world:

Traveling east from Colorado, I notice black.

A century ago, two factors favored black clothing in the city:
  •     Lots of coal soot in the air
  •     A lack of washing machines

Now it is just about attitude.  I am refined and/or serious, don't mess with me. Not asceticism.  Urban grime might be an issue, but it cannot be the issue.

In Montreal, where sports team-themed clothing was not as common downtown as in Chicago (although it exists), black seemed almost mandatory.

I probably stood out for wearing one of about four khaki trench coats that I spotted.

Downtown Chicago is noisier than Montreal. For one thing, it has the elevated trains. For another, there always seems to be large construction projects underway, whereas I saw none in Montreal, just street repairs.

People walk faster in Chicago too. But my candidate for a fast-walking city, believe it or not, is Dublin, based on earlier visits there.

November 12, 2009

The Turkey in Union Station

Walking toward our eastbound train at Chicago's Union Station one evening last week, I saw people pointing at something on the train tracks, below the platform.

I looked. It was a wild turkey, very dead. And very out of place in downtown Chicago.

Then I put some things together.

M. and I had arrived on the Southwest Chief, on that set of tracks, about four hours earlier.

We had seen wild turkeys from the window several times in Kansas and Missouri.

One of them must have flown too late, like the turkeys back home that Shelby the collie chased, not taking to the air until her nose was practically touching their tail feathers.

It was gone today, of course. Someone probably tossed it in the trash.

But when your train enters the long underground train shed, you pass through a dim and sooty passage where I always expect to see rats the size of spaniels scurrying along, not to mention hypothetical asphalt-adapted coyotes.

I imagine one of the above, squinting against the bright lights closer to the station, scurrying out of the shadows to snatch up this unexpected bounty, larger than the usual city pigeons.

But most of my thinking about roadkill is about how casual we are about creating environments that kill animals.

Some people at least eat what they (or others) kill. I have done that too. It makes the equation feel a little more balanced, but only for you yourself.

February 04, 2009

Retrofitting Suburbia: Villa Italia to Belmar

If we built more livable cities, perhaps we would not ruin so much land in trying to escape from them.

Popular Mechanics interviews architects Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson, authors of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. Dunham-Jones says,

The term "ghost boxes" [vacant big-box stores] makes sense to everybody, though. They're just on everybody's radar, and there are a lot of them out there. Everyone understands the scale of the big box and wonders: Couldn't it be reused in some useful way?

The article is illustrated with the conversion of a former shopping mall, Villa Italia in Lakewood, Colorado, into that amorphous Denver suburb's new downtown district. Other cities are mentioned too, including Santa Fe.

I vaguely remember Villa Italia from my early teens. I should go see Belmar sometime.

Landscape architect Craig Vickers remarks poignantly, “Belmar is full of ideas intended to almost train suburban people in urban to understand it and how to look for what to enjoy here.

Of course, there is no "mar" anywhere near this Belmar. Can we never escape real estate-ese?

November 28, 2008

The Lost City of Detroit

Some years ago, I worked part-time for a small Colorado Springs public-relations agency whose head had bailed out of p.r. work in Detroit in the late 1970s. That was prescient of him, given the state of the auto industry today.

On the other hand, perhaps Detroit could become a national park for urban explorers. Its four-footed and feathered wildlife is already increasing.

Whole neighborhood blocks cleared of houses by arson and bulldozers have reverted to urban prairies, visible in satellite photos as unusually large green patches in the middle of the inner city. Sidewalks vanish beneath creeping grasses, while aluminum fences between homes become entwined with the branches of dozens of saplings growing as high as the droopy utility wires. . . .

I encountered [a peregrine falcon] on an upper-floor fire escape of the Book Building a while back. It startled me by squawking loudly at me while perched a few feet away, staring intently at me, long enough to snap a photo of it before it flew off with slow, heavy flaps of its large wings, flying towards the abandoned Fort Shelby Hotel, itself the site of a turkey vulture’s nest this year, sharing roof space with several large trees.

(Via Mike-istan.)

UPDATE: I had not realized that a whole blogging genre is evolving around the "lost city" motif. Here is another.

May 05, 2005

Dollars versus Jesus

Jeff Sharlet's May 2005 Harper's feature article about Rev. Ted Haggard and New Life Church, with its disparaging comments and quotes about downtown Colorado Springs, has riled the economic development establishment there.

The words stung Terry Sullivan and Beth Kosley, who make their livings selling the city to tourists and companies looking to open offices, restaurants, shops and factories.

Kosley, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, which promotes downtown, reeled off reasons [why] downtown is not "withering into irrelevance."

Columnist Cara DeGette notes the departure of the economic-development honcho who oversaw the business community's wooing of Protestant para-church "ministries" in the 1990s, which followed its wooing of high-tech firms (1970s) and the military (1940s-60s).

It's all built on illusion. Look at a map. Colorado Springs is the only major city that I know of that is not sited on a lake or river, but rather at the junction of two small creeks. Watching it try to grab water away from other parts of the state has kept three generations of journalists busy.

The "springs" in the name? A piece of 1870s real-estate-developer "misrepresentation". There are no springs. The actual mineral springs are in adjacent Manitou Springs, a smaller and separate municipality.

NOTE: Newspapers' links may change in a short time.

May 01, 2005

Ted Haggard Thinks your City is a Whore

Earlier post here.

Religion journalist Jeff Sharlet has a long piece, "Soldiers of Christ," in the May 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine about the Rev. Ted Haggard and his Colorado Springs megachurch, New Life.

My mother grew up in Colorado Springs, and I bounced in and out of there from childhood visits in the Sixties until a period in the Eighties when I lived in adjoining Manitou Springs and worked in downtown Colorado Springs.

So this part of the article caught my eye:

It is not so much the large populations, with their uneasy mix of sinner and saved, that make Christian conservatives leery of urban areas. Even downtown Colorado Springs, presumably as godly as any big town in America, struck the New Lifers I met as unclean. Whenever I asked where to eat, they would warn me away from downtown's neat little grid of cafés and ethnic joints. Stick to Academy [Boulevard of strip malls], they'd tell me, referring to the vein of superstores and prepackaged eateries--P.F. Chang's, California Pizza Kitchen, et al.--that bypasses the city. Downtown, they said, is "confusing."

Although it is not his main goal, Sharlet makes a good case for New Lifers as exurban parasites, taking the services that the city provides but being unwilling to pay for them, either financially or psychically.

April 24, 2005

Your City Does Not Have to Be a Whote

When I teach my "Nature [and Culture] Writing in the West" class (next chance, fall semester), I always face my students' typical American dualism: wilderness-virgin, city-whore.

I'm adding City Comforts to the blog roll because I, too, firmly believed that if we loved our cities more and put more energy into making them livable, we would not be creating suburban (and exurban) sprawl.