Archive for ‘Public Space’

May 14, 2012

The renewal of urban waterways through art, design and architecture – Anna

My research paper focuses on the renewal of urban waterways through art, design, and architecture. To explore this theme, I focused on a great variety of contemporary projects, through the lens of three problems addressed in the various projects, that of:

– making the water more visible and present;

– being able to see and perceive the city that surrounds the waterway differently through the renovation of the waterway;

– being able to understand the potential use of the waterway in question.

I tried to be as varied as possible in the projects I chose to focus on, and to include large-scale projects as well as smaller ones; to find some that were independently pursued by artists, for example, and other large scale ones that were funded by the state or the city. I also paid great attention to the context of the project, where in the history of the place, the endeavor came in, and where the site is, spatially (geographically as well as socially).

Finally, drawing on all the themes and questions raised by the different projects, I also focused my attention onto a larger project that Emma had talked about last February on the blog, the Cheonggyecheon stream renovation project.

Here are pictures of the ten projects that I focused on in my paper (between 1 and 3 pictures of each project, and 5 of the Cheonggyecheon stream in the slideshow):

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Issues raised in my paper include the different ways professionals have managed to re-think how people already interact with and perceive the water, and the different ways they found to change those relationships and interactions, such as various architectural structures, objects, and lighting. Also discussed are the existing ecosytems, and the didactic message carried out by the projects themselves.

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May 4, 2012

Designers and Architects: The problem of being aware of the extent to which what we produce has an impact on society.-Anna

Just the same way as we think of grass as being “green” because we associate it with a so-called “nature”, many objects and buildings have been designed in order to reflect take advantage of this tendency of ours to go towards the ecological. But the problem with that is that people often stay on the surface of the object or the building, on the aesthetic of it. A whole new wave of design has, for the last couple of years, reflected our craze to strive towards the ‘ethically correct” by proposing objects that reflect and propose commodities that are seemingly moral.

 

We do not want to serve big industries which crush smaller businesses, taking over the market, and, on top of that, employing cheap labor in far-away countries. Instead, we want to benefit the whole society…Now that the old, formally valued capitalist form has imploded, new capitalists that are under cover have immerged. Take TOMS shoes, for example: It proposes to shoe one person in an “under-developed” country for each pair of shoes you buy; or Starbucks which works with equitable commerce.

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Lets come back to the theme of nature, which has become, over the last couple of years the object of study for many designers: nature has become a branding source of inspiration. We see nature only through its pristine beauty, but not for what it is. Designers now are doing the same as designers (if we can call them that…), artists and architects during the period of the art nouveaux did. Except that now, they carry broader implication which designers have, for the most part (I will not say for all), not yet understood or realized: It is creating a whole market of commodities which are based on aesthetics but are not taking in account the implications of the message that they their objects may carry: We are buying objects that represent a far-away idealized nature, but also because we think that by doing so we are supporting it. We want to preserve it, but what we are doing is encouraging both a false, separated version of it (an idealized version, which does not go in the direction of preserving it, as we have seen in class) and are satisfying our desires of ecologically correct through object which, in reality, are not sustainable at all(examples of really cool looking designs, which, for the most part are all about the esthetics and how “cool” they look: http://www.trendsnow.net/)

Here is an excelent talk about the role of the architect and the impact of architecture and public spaces on society:

The issue which links all these problems is our inability to see in depth, what is hidden behind all of this branding, and the implications of objects, which should not be seen as separate, themselves from the people who are buying and using them: We are not able to see that behind this beautiful cover of excessively granny-weedy-planty-organiquy design is a building which’s greeny façade is, in fact, entirely made of glass, and which’s shapes are all about aesthetics, but not about function. Designers and architects are creating symbols which’s depth and influence on the consumer-user (even if unconscious), they are not always able to grasp on.

April 23, 2012

Interacting with fountains – Anna

When I went to Boston, just before coming to Bard, last summer, my favorite moment in the couple of days I was in the city was when I saw the Rose Kennedy Greenway fountain. Seeing all these children playing with the water, and constantly being exited, scared, running around etc was absolutely delightful. But it was also a real revelation to me: Not only were children running around ON the fountain, but it was actually designed purposefully FOR people to interact with the fountain. For me, this was a totally foreign concept: All of the fountains I had seen so far, had always been beautiful sculptures, meant to be admired from afar,  sculptures. If one had any contact with them, it was to drink from them (In Rome, for example, a city  filled with small fountains, they have filled a historical role as the main source of drinkable water to the population as a whole, which would not otherwise necessarily have access to it), and tolerated was leaning against them, but even dipping one’s toe is usually prohibited. And here I was with people IN the fountain.

For me this is particularly exhilarating because I come from a culture which uncomfortable with the very notion of interacting with nature in the Urban landscape: Parks are strictly fenced, even when with low, small barriers, one knows that he-she is not to go on the grass(one of the reasons being the so-called delicacy of it. Most of the time, a lawn will carry the sign “Au repos”- “resting”). For this reason we have benches and ironl chairs, in the Tuileries or Luxembourg, or Palais Royale gardens for example. There will be this flamboyant fresh grass in front of you, but you have to stick to the iron chairs.

This idea of not interacting with the water is something I have often thought about when seeing the I.M Pei fountains outside of the Louvre: Their general shape is that of triangles, but the lanes separating them are so narrow, that sometimes it feels(especially when it is really hot, and the air makes things a little blurry) like people are in the water! Most of the time though, unfortunately, it is only an illusion.

The idea of having people in the water, actually, has been brought to France! I went to a conference  two years ago, given by the highly influential landscape designer Michel Corajoud, who directed the re-habilitation of the Garonne  banks in the city of Bordeaux. The part of the project he talked about was one that he lead in collaboration with the fountain designer Jean-Max Llorca. On the Place de la Bourse(name of teh square), every 15 minutes the stone is covered by 2 centimeters of water, which then reflect the surrounding architecture. After that, the water drains through small holes, while new water is sprayed in the air, creating a mist. The whole is controlled by computer systems, and the water is stored in an under-ground system. The rediscovery of water, and of the architecture, through the use of the water, is fantastic. But, as a video on youtube said, what really is amazing is the sense of magic, of fun, and most of all, of liberty.

April 16, 2012

Waterway within the Villette Park – Anna

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The parc de la Villette is situated in the far North-Est part of Paris (19th arr.), on the land that used to be the largest slaughterhouse of Paris which covers 125 acres of land. It was created as a high-point of culture, housing the Paris conservatory of music, a large music museum, a science and engineering museum, and numerous theaters, concert halls, book-stores and cultural centers, as well as many different thematic gardens and playgrounds, and occupied by several large open spaces which accommodate free concerts and film screenings. It is right on the Ourcq Canal, which streams down to the Canal de la Loire, and then to the famous Canal St-Martin, going through popular but very dynamic and emerging neighborhoods. It is lined up by many bars and cultural centers.

In 1982 Bernard Tschumi won a competition to design and oversee the conceptualization and construction of the Park. As part of the design, he envisioned a grid made-up of red structures which would both mark the different points in the park, but also accommodate facilities. He also imagined many different spaces to implement around the existing buildings. Here, I will focus on the place that the infrastructures around the waterway take in the Park.

Many of the structure are rather elusive as to their actual functionality, and resemble more demonstration of architectural beauty and artistic expression. They actually hold many different functions, such as toilets, administrative buildings, and vending points to sell food especially useful during outdoors events. With their very blunt, red color, they create a network that is very recognizable, and create a real unity within the different places. They also hint at the theme of slaughterhouse, which is present if one actually pays attention to the different historically preserved parts of the sites, such as the paved areas, the rails, and the large storing houses. But what is overly shocking is how frank the color is considering the background, environment that surround it which’s color is precisely the complementary color of red: green. Although many of gardens do seem quite “wild”, the concept of the Villette actually acknowledges its position as being manmade, the garden as being the product of a conscious cultured, human mind. Each garden has a theme, such as “the garden of shadows”, the “mirror garden”, the “garden of childhood fears”…T he park is subtlety design to create a true work of explicit and fully accepted collaboration between the man-made and “natural” elements.

It is very interesting to see how both the natural elements and that which were provided by the architect function together. The riverside is lined by a paved way and a structure which is very industrial inspired, with its steel structures and the receptiveness of its elements of construction. But the structure plays a double function: It both creates a shelter from rain and/or sun, and is a balcony, from which people can also stroll. The Villette is a place of leisure, which’s use is mainly “walking around”. Rather then multiplying the use of furniture, the park creates has shelters and long fields in which one can lounge(at last! to the contrary of any other typical French park, in which it is prohibited to touch the grass, and in which one has to confine to benches)was designed for constant, slow flow throughout the whole space. The paving way takes part in this aspect of the park: Just like the canal, it follows the areas preceding the entry into the “official park”, leading way into the space. The cobblestones are elements that are also present in all of the other canals, and they lead way into the space, following the river, so that one actually arrives in the park without really realizing it. In fact, if one thinks of those stones as being the emblematic elements of Parisian streets, there literally is a street running though the park, along the river, yet, it is done rather seamlessly. It feels completely natural to walk from the city, to the canals, and into the park.

The esthetic of the park is interesting in that it contains quite a contradictory esthetic. On the one hand there is the harshness of the colors(red, green, grey), of the structures(very geometric), of the planning of the different elements in space(a grid, arbitrarily “dropped” on the grounds), and the straight ness of the general shape of the water, which have all led to analogies made by critics to constructivism. But it is also inherently playful: Red, after all is not the dullest of colors, the steel which is suspended on the side of the shelter/Balcony has been bent to create shiny waves, and every one of the red structures is different. The elements around the water echo it, in that although they are irregular like the cobblestones and the curved steel, they are all lined-up, restructured and regular. The water is moving and tempered, but it is still contained within very regular and straight banks. All of these elements  are coherent with the spirit of this high place of science and arts, and thus demonstrate a certain excellence and rigor, but are also very playful, open to all (most events are cheap or free), innovative, and creative. The water with its symbol as being timeless but which also flows seems logical within the context and it is adorned with the architectural elements which frame and underline these different aspects.

April 9, 2012

Suburbs in France: A complex subject matter –Anna

While the word “suburb” comes form the Old French suburb or Latin suburbium, from sub- ‘near to’ and urbs, urb- ‘city.’, the origin for the French word, banlieue, holds deeper implications: it immerged from 13th century Feudal France, and was used to designate the land possessed by a lord, which was thus regulated by a higher and sovereign power. The term “banlieusard”(suburban) itself appeared out of a conflicting matter. In 1890 elected representatives from both Paris and its surroundings got into a conflict, and over the quarrel, the Parisians used the term as a way of calling their opponents names, as a way of calling them old fashioned and unrefined, opinionated. Nowadays, the term is used to designate anybody living in the Banlieue, which simply refers to areas around a city. In France, banlieue designates a very wide range of types of places. It is nonetheless very significant to look at the stories of the words that are used, as they carry a lot of significance in the modern world.

When you talk about “banlieues” to French people they will mostly think of the highly condensed blocs that are outside of major cities. These mainly contain the working class, and are more and more populated by recently immigrated people (mostly of Northern Africa, and more recently of West-Africa) who live outside the city in usually highly condensed blocs, often social housing, and come to the city to work. This sense of the word began to really be commonly used during the 19th century, but most of the blocs which form the landscape we know today appeared in the 1950s.

Very rapidly the word has taken-on a stigma, one which refers to the difficulty of these populations to integrate the social system, be it because of the massive unemployment that appeared in the 1980s, or because of the diverse discriminations, because of their origins, but mostly because of their social status. Today Banlieues are often equated to “quartiers sensibles”(sensible quarters), or “les quarties”(the quarters, thus putting a radical distance between the normal portion of society and just “those quarters”). Many such projects were constructed and promoted during the 1980’s(which we could call the second wave, from what I understand, after that of the 1950s), under the socialist governed nation presided by Francois Mitterrand. Yet, many where very badly constructed, with the goal of being as effective as possible, but usually overlooking a quality of building, which has left us with very poorly constructed buildings (which have since then been re-constructed without hardly ever evolving).

Nevertheless, the full picture is not at all as simple as that. The territory called banlieues are constituted of a varied spectrum of spaces, which actually includes a much wider range of the population, which does not conform to the idea of the poor, working class, often dangerous and excluded suburbs that we often talk about.

Many “pavillions”(little houses, often mass-constructed specifically for the suburbia) were constructed in a wave in the 1970s, and have formed a major means for cheap and “green” housing, which had a boom during the in-between world period. They have presented, like in the US, the realization of dream of the middle-class for a cheap and larger space than available in the city. They often lack of a consistent center, and many are dependent on large supermarket which are outside of their limits.

If we take the example of Paris, for example, the multiplicity of forms that agglomerate around the city are overwhelming. One feature that is striking is how close and condensed the city and the suburbs are, and one often walks from the Capital to the suburb without even realizing it. Many are the very poor, highly condensed, often stigmatized projects that we have seen at the beginning(like La Courneuve, Bobigny), yet, right next to those are also richer suburbs(next to Montreuil is Saint-Mande). They are also Suburbs that are very rich, with large houses(like Neuilly, where Sarkozy comes from), and the “zones pavillionaires” which resemble very middle class, suburbs, like in the US(like Montgeron).

Contrarily to the US, many of French suburbs do not depend on cars: The RER, a metro system which is much faster and stops less then its counterpart which only runs within the city’s limits and its closer suburbs, runs through the further suburbs, all the way to the country side and far-away suburbs(for example, the B line even runs to Versailles). It is a system which nonetheless carries many problems: It is often completely overcrowded and runs late, and whenever they are strikes, it is the first element that is blocked.

We have seen how complex it is to grasp on a clear constitution of the “suburb” in France: They are extremely varied in shape and construction. The harsh reality of the suburbs, such as one could witness during the uprising of 2005 in Clichy-sous-bois, during which very violent fights between the inhabitants and the police, and car-burnings took place, has also projected an image which carries a lot of significance to the social context and problems carried in those neighborhoods, largely stigmatized and marginalized by the government, but has also created an image that has forged an oversimplification of the concept of suburbs in France, and also in a way marginalized and unfortunately devaluated those living in these projects.

March 12, 2012

Portrait of a wonderful yard-sale in the Parisian area – Anna

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Pulling onto last class’s topic of street vending, I would like to talk about one experience of street vending in the Parisian region. In France there is a very strong culture of tag-sales, in which people sell old cloths, furniture, toys and jewelry…Each neighborhood usually has, in Paris-often during the spring time, when the sun is up and it is not as likely to rain- at least one week-end where people have the opportunity to sell their belongings. Here, I would like to give an account of my favorite off all.

Montreuil is a suburb situated right against Paris, on the lower east side of the city. It is said to be one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in and around Paris. Its population is of a great diversity and is comprised of many newly arrived immigrants, mostly of African origins, from the Countries of the Maghreb and of Western Africa, which have a very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. It is also an area of high level of drug dealing, and one does not really walk around in most of Montreuil at night. Some areas feel very sketchy and many buildings are insalubrious and being squatted, others have become high places of culture. There are no galleries or museums, but many artists reside in Montreuil and have open studios. Sometimes these artists and architects have even designed their habitation and it is frequent to see small artistic installations here and there. The municipality is has for a long time been communist. There are many little bistros and cafes where locals often naturally put-up gigs; improvised parks frequently spring up everywhere in vacant spaces, and the cultural life is palpable.

In June, the city organizes a “vide-grenier”, literally an “emptying of the attic”, or small flee-market. On this occasion, the residents are invited to put-up a small stand, or cloth on the ground, in front of their residence. On this occasion, people sell whatever they don’t need anymore, much like people in the states put-up a yard-sale, only here, everybody does it at a fixed date and at one place. They are stands held by whole families, others comprised of bands of old coupes, and others of little children selling their toys. Usually, boys stay together and sell their video-games and baby-toys, while little girls sell their “girl-toys”, like make-up, dolls, cloths…They are also often adolescent groups selling all types of things from their house given by their parents, happy to see them “working”(in France, working under the age of 18 is prohibited). What is incredible is if you think of very small children who are left alone in the street. This seems completely natural when you are there, and you don’t think twice when you have to find the change yourself in their little box. But this is, in the eye of the media, the most dangerous area in and around Paris. This is made possible by the incredible strong sense of community one can sense during this little festival. Everybody talks to everyone, stands are held amongst neighbors, everyone “tutoies” everyone (as opposed to the “vous” which one usually has to employ)…They are also little stands in which one can buy, for nearly nothing, traditional drinks and snacks from whatever the country the neighbor who is selling it is from. One can always get very strong ginger juice called Gnamakoudji, or some “bissap”(a hibiscus flower drink) both of  which are very refreshing on these hot days of June. Other surrounding activities include concerts, often held by young teen-age bands. There is also a long street which is traditionally covered by a long quilt, for which people take off their shoes. Many young children hang-out there, and often only a couple of parents supervise the group. The rest of the street is usually covered by chalk drawings. On the same street is a table on which one can find free things and a couple of tables for the representation of local youth associations, which are often surrounded by large groups of kids and adolescents.

It is absolutely wonderful to see how easily people interact, invite you to try-out cloths in their home or studios, how easily one can bargain and get cheap things. For what this market really is about is not money or shopping at the lowest price. It’s about meeting your neighbors and getting the whole community together on the streets. Although one may at first stance think of a flee market in Montreuil as being dangerous, I see nothing of violence manifested here, nor do I see any trace of tension between the different ethnic groups. Rather, I see an organic, fluid, friendly environment where people feel safe, at home, where children can run around alone, where I am invited in people’s house spontaneously (a very un-French thing to do) and where the streets are, in a “visually chaotic” manner, real propellers and witness of harmony.

February 26, 2012

Stirn and Fall Kill Creek- Jean

The Final Master Plan document for the Fall Kill Plan provides many interesting ideas on how to approach the problems regarding Fall Kill Creek. The project seems to be in its early stages, and the sense that I get from reading the Master Plan is that the primary aim of the project is to gain support from the community for the project. The concept of the Plan is to create a Chain Reaction, one that starts from creating a network of public spaces along the creek. In contrast, the Spirn reading focus primarily on ecological concerns with water supply.

The concept behind the Final Master Plan of the Fall Kill Creek project is to create a network of public spaces along the creek. This would involve several small- scale projects designed to draw residents to the creek. An interesting idea that is brought up in the master plan is the desire to create walkways connecting neighborhoods. These walkways will be both recreational and commuter- oriented through the city. These walkways will connect to the main walkways in the city, such that the creek will act as a “bridge” between different communities and the central areas in Poughkeepsie.

I think the creation of these walkways is extremely vital to the ultimate aim of the Fall Kill Creek Plan. From the lecture given by Janette, I get the impression that the biggest problem faced is that the residents of Poughkeepsie do not feel attached to Fall Kill Creek or to Poughkeepsie. The disconnection between residents and their environment poses a problem, and I view the Fall Kill Creek Plan as a means to repair that relationship. By creating a mutual walkway, residents from different walks of life will be given the opportunity to interact. By promoting interaction, the Creek can help residents gain a clearer understanding of what it means to live in a community larger than that of their isolated areas. This in turn will foster a stronger sense of community, and hopefully instill a desire to develop a public good together, namely The Fall Kill Creek.

In contrast to the aim of the Fall Kill Creek Plan, the reading by Stirn focuses primarily on the ecological concerns with the water supply, and the actions that should be taken to address these concerns. In the article, she mentions Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” and the measures taken to make it what it is today. She also writes that while it has been praised as a “landmark in American park planning”, “public recreation was an incidental benefit”, and that the focus of the project was primarily on improving the sanitation of the river.

The approach taken in Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” is a more direct approach to raising the status of the river. In addressing an issue regarding sanitation, the team that worked on the Boston River provided residents in the area with a necessity, one that would allow residents to appreciate its river a lot more because of the immediate benefits felt.  I think that the decision to focus on sanitation was efficient and effective. That being said, I do not think that this contradiction should discount the efforts made by the team involved in Fall Kill Creek, due to the different circumstances of the two teams. The team that is running the Fall Kill project is dealing with the most pressing problem of uniting the city. While the creek is a liability, it is not Poughkeepsie’s main source of drinking water, but it is an eyesore.  Moreover, though the project has been given a decent amount of funding, the funding given is conditional, limiting the scope and aims of the project. The sense that I get from the Fall Kill Creek Project is that the “outsiders” from NYC have their hands tied, and can only do so much to save a landmark that is not theirs. At the end of the day, the decision to improve water quality and make the creek an active public good still lies in the hands of the residents.

 

 

February 26, 2012

Inhabitants, shapers of their city- Anna

Much of the thinking and talking that has been going on in class, through the readings, discussions in class or on the blog and with Janette, have been centered around the idea of the public space as being a place of union the city or town’s inhabitants, and on the sense of belonging of the people to their town or city. While colonial cities play on the notion of power in order to create social division and hierarchy, we have seen that on the contrary in a city of democracy those things are to be avoided. While with the Panopticon and the watch towers in NYC have been proven source of authority and fear, in the Fall kill Creek project we want to create a way of making people secure but also comfortable.
One of the major points that we can take from all these discussions and ideas is the central idea, to my sense at least, of dialogue with the inhabitants of Poughkeepsie. I think that on the one hand we should be able to position ourselves as “experts” in the field of urbanism and rehabilitation of spaces, and in this case of creeks and other urban water sources, in order to be able to give realistic and responsible propositions, create an environment that will best suit our goals, while creating a sustainable solution that will thrive in the long-term(i.e. the question of flooding and pollution). But on the other hand we should, as Antonia and Marina have pointed out, create a true discussion with the inhabitants of Poughkeepsie to hear what they envision.
Here are a few of the projects that I have been thinking of ever since the blog-post “Public art and the shared experience of beauty” written by Jack and then our conversations on the politics of building over the past weeks. I think that if we can discover people’s thoughts and dreams we could create something that springs from the wishes of Poughkeepsie residents.
On the little island of Burano, each house is painted by its owner, with the color of his choice, traditionally with the paint remaining from the boat’s finish.


This idea has been furthered by the Mayor of Tirana, Albania (Europe), Edi Rama, in a collaboration with his best friend and artist Anri Sala, who, as part of a large project of re-habilitation of the city, invited the owners of the buildings to choose as a community the color of their building. This project brings people together and gets them involved directly in the construction of their city. It is incredible to see how much faith Rama and Sala have in the power of color to create hope for a better city!
On the same note, the very well acclaimed WoZoCo project in Amsterdam by the MVRDV architecture studio, found a creative solution to maximize the space they were given, by creating large balcony-spaces, and, here again create “customized” spaces, that create a sense of individuality to the different units and apartment.

Last but not least, and maybe the most appropriate of projects vis-à-vis the Fall Creek project, is the incredible project by Urban-Think Tank, who had to create economically intelligent project for the barrios of Caracas, Venezuela to respond to the community’s need for transportation and ways to access to the city and its resources, but also the problems of density, and the barrios’s lack of center.

I find it really interesting to see how the team played with the social divisions on the different scales and managed to use the topography of the environment and its complexities in a creative way, for the purpose of their goals. An incredible field-work, which, as we can see, starts with the problems and needs of the community to find creative solutions based on what the people expressed as needs.

February 26, 2012

Another Idea for Fallkill’s Functionality – Sorrel

In browsing the Fallkill User’s guide and Plan, I was intrigued by all the maps of Poughkeepsie showing the creek in different situations and in relation to different places of interest. It is easiest for me to see ideas than only to read about them, and examining these beautiful documents made me more and more excited about the project. A lot of what Anne Spirn wrote about in “Controlling and Restoring the Waters” about the role water plays and how it should be treated is incorporated into the Fallkill plan: community revitalization, water purification, habitat restoration and recreational paths are some tall goals.

But I also wondered if the water of the creek itself could serve yet another purpose. It is hard to tell from the pictures if this would even be possible, but I thought perhaps there could be small boats or rafts on the creek, at least during certain times of year. I lived in Frankfurt am Main in Germany last year and the Main river and surrounding area is the heart of city life. There are restaurants, cafes, museums, monuments, and nature paths along each side, many bridges, and great places to walk, bike, and sunbathe. There are also boating opportunities, mostly for tour boats but also for private, recreational purposes. Of course Frankfurt is much larger and more affluent than Poughkeepsie and the Main river is much larger than the Fallkill Creek, I couldn’t help but think boat commerce could increase the creek’s importance and centrality and help vitalize the city still further. It would add another aspect of a practicality and a whimsicality to the Fallkill process. (Check out this map of the Frankfurt boat tour and scroll down to see a more pictorial version of some of the landmark maps in the Plan)

Light boat traffic would mesh well with the Phasing section of the handbook, where there is a map with three points marked out on the course of the creek labeled “Eco Tour?”, “History Tour?”, and “Food Tour?”. Having installations, or “destinations” following the path of the creek seems like a prime way to attract people to it. What if the whole creek could be a destination, though, not just in terms of walking, jogging, and biking, but in terms of actually going on the water? It would be nice to be able to learn about and see so many aspects of the city and the creek in one trip and then to ‘come ashore’ at the end to a neighborhood full of good restaurants. Alternately, small boats could also be used as busses to transport people from one part of the city to another without their cars.

Disclaimer: These ideas are obviously extremely rough, especially because I still have not seen the creek, and I don’t know if any of this would even possible or at all compatible with revitalizing the riparian habitat. What do you all think?

February 23, 2012

Developing Poughkeepsie’s Identity – Hannah

One of the fundamental questions of the Fall Kill Creek project, which Janette addressed towards the end of the discussion, is “How do Poughkeepsie residents identify with their neighborhood?” Janette stated that Poughkeepsie lacked some central, community-friendly spaces that, in a way, “define” the city, make residents feel that they belong, and make outsiders feel welcome. After reviewing the Fallkill Creek User’s Guide, it is evident that there is a wealth of possibilities for turning the space beside the creek into a friendly, open space, thus making the city seem more like a more welcoming and positive environment. Establishing pocket parks, as proposed in the guide, seems like a great way of accomplishing this. As Jean mentioned before, it is essential that thorough research is conducted regarding the placement of each park based on its intended use. It is also key to consider the distance of a park designed for specific activity, or intended to attract a certain age group, from the neighborhood in which the majority of those in the targeted group live.

I also like the idea of establishing pilot sites along the creek; the name of the space itself indicates that it will serve as a central, community-gathering area. However, I am interested in how the establishment of the Crossroads pilot site will affect the Mansion Square neighborhood. As Janette mentioned, this particular pilot site will connect to institutions including the Family Partnership Center, into which all the social services have been crowded. I’m curious as to whether the formation of the Crossroads pilot site will draw more attention to the issue of the overcrowded Family Partnership Center, and thus motivate the city to figure out an alternative so that every social service can have enough space to be as effective as possible in its work.

February 21, 2012

Re-discovering a city through the creative use of its sidewalks – Anna

In response to Haley’s article about valuing walking as a mode of transportation(note the passivity of the verb to “transport” which in this case refers to “being transported”!): I read this interesting article a couple of years ago about the intervention of the association Creative Democracy in Strasbourg, (France) which started an interesting and creative way of utilizing the sidewalks of the city in order to re-discover their full potential. The project was basically to invite the residents of the city to come together and use polls, ramps, ladders and street signs of all type to use them in creative ways. Similar projects have already existed for a couple of years(at least in France and

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Italy) that I know of, such as bicycling and roller skating groups, usually organized by the city’s municipality to bring citizens together. Some are very public, and in that case the city’s administration provides safety measures, others are more exclusive, such as a roller-skating gay group which strolls around Paris at night with dance music on their back(possibly implying and promoting gay liberties and well-being). A fun and interesting way of rediscovering one’s own city and tightening the community while participating in healthy activities!

February 19, 2012

The utilization of bridges in the re-valorization of a small town – Anna

Yverdon-les-bains is a charming little town in Switzerland, which is crossed by many little rivers. Unfortunately, the city’s urban planning did not take in account this rich resource, and the water wholes were un-valorized by the community. The town launched a competition for graphic designers and architects in order to shift the situation. Laurence Madrelle’s team comprised of architect, designers, photographers and writers won the competition, not to surprisingly, as the French group specializes in the revalorization of public spaces through visual signs. For the project, the team traveled to the town, and was particularly impressed by a “network” of bridges. They decided to focus on highlighting the presence of these bridges in order to revitalize the w

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hole landscape. First of all they thought about recreating an environment that would tackle all of the senses: They decided to create a real experience of crossing the bridges. They thought about planting odorous plants, have different types of lighting on each of the bridges, and maybe even installing interesting sounds or music points. They also recreated maps of the town, which focused on the bridges. Their concept was that if the bridges are visible enough, they should not have to be signalized by panels, which are “cheap” and “old fashioned” and would interfere with a direct visual contact to the actual setting. Instead, they decided upon having the maps printed out in informative booklets, or to be viewable on the internet and an iphone application. An interesting way of using existent infrastructure by, simple means and common sense, shifting the public perspective of the urban environment!

February 19, 2012

Walking around Bard – Sorrel

In her post on the emphasized architecture of Bard, Emma made a good point about the spaces and the places that Bard prides itself on. But alongside the beauty and elegance of Blithewood, the RKC, and the Fisher Center, there are a few aspects of the campus you wouldn’t want to brag about.

The trailers, for an easy example, are blatantly against any sort of architectural continuity that might exist here. Because they are “temporary”, they do not exist on the map of Bard. No wonder, since their presence certainly does not lend any dignity to the campus or to the students who live in them. (I couldn’t find out when they were built or how long they are supposed to remain, does anyone know? The plans for fancy new replacements of Hudson and Catskill reported in the Free Press are sure to take quite a long time).

More importantly, though, and on a more general note, living in Catskill has made me really come to terms with the structure and the implicit priorities of this campus. On my walk to South Campus, for example, I first walk across a grassy wet patch and through an uneven and often treacherously muddy path through the woods. If I want to take the most straightforward route from the front door of the art building to DTR, I must edge along yet another student-trampled path and hop across a patch of grass obviously not intended to be so abused. Following the paved walkways, while perhaps a bit nicer on your shoes, adds considerable time to your overall walking trip.

So while pedestrians with any sense of the shortest route must make do with unkempt, makeshift paths, there are roads and parking lots galore, and a shuttle to take students from one end of the campus to another. It seems clear to me that while Bard professes to encourage a green campus and a healthy, renewable style of life, its campus promotes the use of cars and discourages walking.

February 12, 2012

The High Line in NYC – Jean

The High Line Project in NYC began in 2002 as a move to restore the old High Line that was built in the 1930s. In the 1930s, in order to prevent accidents between trains and street- level traffic, an elevated railway track was built to go through the center of buildings. This allowed the trains to connect directly to factories and warehouses, so that manufactured goods could be transported in and out of buildings without disrupting street- level traffic. However, over time, the use of railways fell out of favor in light of more effective means of transporting manufactured goods, rendering the High Line useless. Discussion over whether or not to demolish the High Line followed, with a group of property owners lobbying for its destruction. However, the Friends of the High Line was founded in 1999 and in 2002, they attained a City Council resolution that advocated the High Line’s reuse. Today, the High Line acts as an elevated public park that runs through buildings, over traffic.

Moreover, the construction of the High Line resulted in an unlikely economic boom in NYC. In 2011, the park generated $2 billion in private investment, with the value of property in areas surrounding the High Line increasing dramatically. The construction of the park resulted in the flourishing of restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques in the area, and transformed a part of the city that was once considered undesirable, to one of the most popular hot- spots in NYC.

The construction of the High Line is a valuable point of interest in a popular argument in urban landscape design: How much should we restore and how much should we rebuild? New, high- tech architecture is popular in parts of Asia, and in contrast, countries in Europe tend towards restoration of architecture that they deem as important to their history and culture. Who stands in the forefront in the race of creating an ideal city (or if such an ideal even exists)? Nonetheless, whether you are a fan of the new, or a proponent of the past, I think everyone can agree that the High Line stands in a class of its own, 30- feet off the ground, giving New Yorkers and tourists alike a new perspective of the city, and for the rest of the world- It gave us a new perspective on urban landscaping. 

Sources cited:

http://www.thehighline.org/

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/nyregion/with-next-phase-ready-area-around-high-line-is-flourishing.html

February 5, 2012

Paris: A City of Belonging-Anna

Thinking of which streets I like walking on and of the reasons why that is so, my first thoughts go to quite similar ones as those that Gowri found: I like lively streets, where one feels a sort of openness and belonging, ones in which the very concept of life and genuine sharing and generosity are central to the identity of the neighborhood. It is one where you can meet your friends and also make new acquaintances, no matter how futile they are.

But I think there is another factor that comes in account, and that is the question of identification and ease. When I think of the one street, or area I love the most, I immediately think of those that are back home, in Paris. Interestingly enough, the streets I think about are not those of my neighborhood, but of the quarters I love the most. Those streets are part of the old, windy, medieval style Paris. They are the streets in which everything is twisted and bent. The walls are not vertical in the least if you look at them carefully. Of course what really stands out is the stone, in different forms, that lies everywhere. They are cafés and fruit-vegetable vendors, and very small grocery stores, almost all of which are of the Magreb.

I think I enjoy these streets because I feel hugged by the walls, because I find it comfortable to walk through them. I am not lost in a crowd, so I am not insignificant, but I am not alone. I can be in my world and be with myself. The buildings guide my path, there is not an incredible amount of space to go left or right on the small sidewalk, but there is air. There is air because stone is a material that breathes, because the buildings are never more then 5 or 6 stories high, and because the climate is cold for the most part.

I think it’s my natural environment because I identify with the architecture of time. I like to think that all the things that constitute a place have their right to be where they are. Everything in those quarters (neighborhoods) of Paris have lived through so many things, so many changes that have distorted their appearance that in a way they gain a melting, and therefore belonging to the environment. Even piss on a wall is part of this process. This is what is so fantastic about stone: It is movable, changeable, multi-layered.

It also has its smells: different whether it is shiny or rainy (when it is damp, stone has a wonderful smell). I have never asked myself whether Paris was artificial or a simple mirage, because, in those areas, it feels natural. Yes, things have been destroyed and reconstructed everywhere, and yes they are gaps between buildings, and none of it fits perfectly like a puzzle such as in the most part of New York City, but it somehow feels like that’s the way it ought to be, and that each part has greeted the next.

Maybe if the model of the Parisian café was constructed, that it has lasted so long and that there are so many, it is because of the idea of a sociable place, to drink the “verre de l’amitie”, but also it is a place to take the city in, to watch over our territory, we have made it ours, simply because we always realize how much it is, whether we hate it or not at that moment, a place which is home.

February 4, 2012

Washington Square Park: Street Food, Performers, and Artists – Marina

Growing up in Greenwich Village has allowed me access to a very special place in New York City for almost every day of my life: Washington Square Park. In the summer months the park is filled with people, and I can guarantee you will not walk through it without seeing something incredible, funny, or inspiring. This park is literally a stage for people all over the city and the world, and this video is a perfect example of the stage in action. One sees performers, children playing in the fountain, sunbathers, tourists and so much more! I would say this park is the soul of the village and one of the greatest spots in NYC.

Also, if you go to the park and bring a musical instrument, don’t be alarmed if people start singing with you and dancing around. It’s all part of the energy and experience surrounding the park. Go and listen to wonderful jazz/blues music or watch Tic and Tac jump over some people and make controversial jokes. The point is, if you have not been here yet, go!! Grab some Indian street food from the NY Dosa man and sunbathe in the park, I promise you will have a great time.

December 13, 2011

Rats, Pigeons and Squirrels OH MY! Does Urban “wild life” count? – Myan Melendez

Sir David Attenborough -famed for being the voice of god (narrator) in multitudes of PBS/BBC nature documentaries- certainly doesn’t think so. In an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph Attenborough is quoted as saying,”Worldwide we are estranged from nature. Over half of the world’s population is now urbanized, which means that more than one person in two is to some degree cut off from the natural world, There will be some people who do not see a wild creature from one day to the next — unless it is a rat or a pigeon — and they aren’t wild.” Well, Dear Knight…there are actually quite a few ecologists and biologists that disagree with you. In fact, there are whole reports and research departments devoted to studying the many types of fauna that have adapted to city living. And no this doesn’t just include the usual suspects of urban wildlife (rats, roaches, pigeons, squirrels) which are all scavenger species and thus very well suited to urban environments where there’s plenty to scavenge. There are also many unexpected species of creature who dwell and thrive in urban communities. Animals like possums, raccoons,coyotes, tortoises, frogs, birds of prey like peregrine falcons and even deer can be found within New York City’s borders. And in places like Berlin even larger vertebrates like wild boar have adjusted to new urban digs. In the noted science journal Nature, an article highlights the new learned behavior amongst urban tits of singing their mating calls at a higher pitch than their rural counterparts so as to be heard above the raucous cacophony of the cities in which they dwell. People like Attenborough help to perpetuate the misinformed idea that nature and cities are mutually exclusive concepts. I’m glad that there are other people who recognize that there’s more to it than that.

http://ny.curbed.com/tags/urban-wildlife

December 13, 2011

Of Straphangers and Sexuality: Abroad and At Home- Myan Melendez

Sexual Harassment has always been a huge problem for women. It is impossible to prevent sexual harassment overall but, some countries have stepped forward to prevent it in at least one arena: public mass transportation. India, Japan and several other Asian countries have implemented women only trains to provide protection for traveling women from would be male gropers and harassers. In Japan groping on transit has evidently been a problem since almost the initial introduction of railways to the country in 1872. Just 40 years later in 1912 Japan’s first women only rail car was introduced only to be discontinued in 1972. By the 21st century the groping problem has become so severe in cities like Tokyo that there are even cell phone apps marketed towards Japanese women who are too shy or ashamed to speak out against gropers on their own. The app displays warning messages on the victim’s cell phone screen, phrases like: ” ‘Groping is a crime,” “Excuse me, did you just grope me?” and “Shall we head to the police?” are available to the user after pressing an “Anger” icon, and are accompanied by a warning chime.” Another weird way in which Japanese companies are targeting the unlikely consumer base of regularly harassed female commuters are the so called “ShotGuard Inner Shorts” which are made out of Infrared blocking fabric to prevent perverts with modified night vision cameras from successfully “up-skirting” them.

An actual UpSkirting Prevention Poster from Japan

The female only trains do make an exception for males that are: small children, elderly or disabled. In a turn table moment men who have been wrongly accused of sexual harassment/tempted beyond their level of resistance to grope a woman on public transportation have requested all male trains also run “in the spirit of gender equality.”

In New York City which has one of the largest subway systems in the world, sexual harassment is also a huge problem. Most of the women I know personally who live in New York have had at least one sketchy run in on the subway. Unfortunately, I have had multiple encounters with some of New York’s most indecent scoundrels if you will (though I have choicer words for them). The MTA came up with this little passive gem to prevent sexual harassment on the subway:

I honestly am a bit divided on the issue…I think that while keeping women safe and comfortable is an important and noble aim it also encourages a segregation of gender that I think can lead to even more compromising situations. I also fully recognize that for every super creepy degenerate there is a perfectly nice and (mostly) well adjusted male citizen. We need to make more of a point of spreading the message that it’s not just okay to be a victim but, that it is extremely wrong to be the perpetrator of these offenses.

December 12, 2011

Female Flaneur Unleashed! (we were turtles and now? tigers)- Myan Melendez

Flaneurs had a few things right. Namely: Viewing the city in it’s entirety as their own sort of living theater, not allowing the stress of urban living stress them beyond the point of enjoying all the things that make urban living worthwhile and walking turtles on leashes.  Okay,so maybe the last one was a bit overblown but, it definitely made their stance on urban living and exploring hard to ignore. I feel like I and some of my friends embody the spirit of the 19th century flaneurs without the pretense. I am a Native New Yorker. As young kids my mom instilled a love of the city in me and my sisters, she would take us on rambling trips all over the four boroughs (she didn’t care much for Staten Island so the closest we got to exploring the 5th borough was riding the Ferry back and forth). We WALKED everywhere. When she was a kid my mom’s dad had preached the gospel of pedestrianism citing a long list of it’s health and social benefits. He would often tell my mom and her four siblings that New York City was made to be walked…how else could you explain all the glories of the street level? Oh the people you’d meet! The stories you’d have to tell! The amazing little hidden restaurants, stores, and oddities you’d find! But, despite my early indoctrination to the flaneur faith I lost my way in my early teens. I started becoming one of those city kids who grumbles about tourists and being bored while living in one of the biggest and coolest cities in the world. By the time I was a sophomore in high school however, I was quickly rediscovering the amazingness of NYC and reclaiming the city as my own. In a way I began to reform myself as an active native tourist. I started researching free events and festivals and going out of my way to utilize all those coupons usually geared towards tourists. I also took to walking the streets…where ever. In the summer I’d pick a subway line, randomly get off at a stop and just spend a few hours meandering around the neighborhood it was in. The subway itself is a wonderful little microcosm of the larger city…it’s basically an underground amphitheater: street performers station themselves on platforms and roam through moving trains singing, dancing and doing magic, peddlers sell their various wares, and the people watching is premium! It’s also a sign of the times that I can do all this as a young female. There are of course your standard hazards of harassment but, for the most part those are circumventable and well worth the fight to enjoy my urban paradise (and no it’s no eden…no perfect virginal garden…but, it is a fascinating place anyhow)

December 12, 2011

Bard Spaces: Winners and Rejects- Myan Melendez

When we were told to go on a hunt for underused/well used bard spaces an abundance of examples of both sprang to mind…like BAM. Bard has this weird deal where it seems like whomever “planned” student spaces/seating areas at Bard just pressed a button and let the pieces fall where they would. Because walking around Bard is like walking around a strange outdoor version of Ikea…There are tables, there are chairs, there are benches, walls, walls that function as benches, chairs that function as beds, beds that are used as couches, etc. etc. During Finals week you find a lot of students re-appropriating random pieces of furniture/campus real estate for napping areas. I took this picture last week on Wednesday in the RKC:

But, back to the juxtaposition between underused and well used bard spaces. It’s actually super interesting (and by interesting I mean sorta confusing) to consider what makes one space appealing to users and another space unappealing. On the hill slope between Manor and New Robbins there sits a little rickety memorial wooden gazebo right next to a really beautiful black marble bench with an integrated chess board also a memorial to a late bard student. Although the gazebo is pretty devoid of human presence at odd hours of the day usually by the early evening it’s crammed with pairs or groups of kids taking in the scene and/or smoking. Yet, I have never once seen anyone utilize the pristine marble bench in any manner. Perhaps its the fact that the marble bench lacks the protective element that the covered gazebo has. Also in the spring when the days begin to get long and hot so does the black marble which probably does not make for a comfortable sit down. I also think the gazebo promotes conversation by having two forward facing benches inside of it partially enclosed walls. So I guess those differences in comfort, convenience and accommodation alone can account for the disuse of the marble chess bench and the use of the little gazebo.

Waiiiit…there is one piece of ungainly furniture that I’ve seen utilized a lot despite it’s lack of convenience. The white wooden enclosed circle bench on the lawn of the Hessel Museum forces it’s users to clamber over it’s sides to gain entry into it’s circular seating area yet, I often see people lounging within it in the company of friends. But,maybe it’s the bench’s unique/artistic element that makes people willing to accept the challenge of utilizing it.