Friday, January 15, 2010

London Underground: Functional Art

To me being in the Underground or "the Tube" in London is a sensual experience. It is amazing that this is one of series of YouTube videos simply documenting trains coming into various stations. Apparently, I am not the only one that values the enjoyment of riding the Tube. Two announcemnts of note in this video are the announcemnt before the train arrives warning about unattended packages and the one reminding passengers to "Mind the Gap". The warning announcement about unaccompanied packages reminds us that although the city can be a place of seridipitious enjoyable experience bu, it can also be one where there are harmful events (terrorism, robbery etc.) and fear of such occurances. On the other hand, the "Mind the Gap" being repeated numerous times recalled "number 9" beomg repeated in the song 'Revolution 9" on the Beatles' "White Album". When surfing for a video related to "Revolution 9" I located this interesting video:

It is series of mainly urban scenes with the song as a backround. We experince the city in chaotic visual, auditory and olifactory "clips".

Monday, January 11, 2010

Walking in Memphis covered by Cher

This ix one of my favorite songs. This video is very effective in conveying the ability of how cities can embody individual dreams--taking on a magical quality. Being shot in black and white also conveys the grittiness of urban life where people come for dreams that are sometimes realised for some, but also dashed for some. The past inhabits cities and imbues them with qualities beyond just mere "brick and mortar". Elvis still lives in Memphis (at least metaphorically.) Beale Street (now revitalized) harks back to a different era, which long ago past. (On a side note...when I was a teenager in the 70s, I begged my parents to go by Beale Street in route to visit my grandmother. Nothing was there, it was dilapidated. But, it was Beale Street. I remember my parents asking why I wanted to go this run-down place. Now, it full of music bars, restaurants, stores etc.) Go to the following web site for more information:

Another good song about Memphis is "Graceland" by Paul Simon. Paul Simon draws his audience into his stories. This is not about Memphis, per se, but is about pilgrimage. Is Memphis the American equivalent to Jerusalem, Lourdes, Santiago de Compostela, Canterbury, and Istanbul (important for both Christians and Muslims as the Seat of the Patric arch of the Orthodox faith and tomb of one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, Ayyub al-Ansari who was killed leading an army in an unsuccessfully attempt to capture Constantinople )? Of note in this song is the fusion of folk with African music. Go to .

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Copenhagen Experience: A Practical Solution for Taking Back Our Streets

Bicyle transportation and pedestrian areas can be created in a pragmatic manner. By smalls steps, bicycles have been accomodated and streets that were previously dominated by the automoile turned into pedestrian only. The most innovative strategy in this video in the creation of a pedestrian priority street, which still allow automobie traffic and parking. Could the Copenhagen experience be transferred to the U.S. or will it be discounted as one of those "European things". American exceptionalism has long preveented innovative ideas from formenting.

The Street

In the modernist utilitarian view of urban environments, streets are for transporting people efficiently.
While, there is no doubt that urban environments should have efficient modes of transport, in the process of achieving this goal we have eliminated the other factors that made streets more than just a pathway to get from one place to another. Most humans detest being trapped in a traffic jam. However, few wonder how we arrived at this point and every fewer contemplate the means to eliminate this blight on urban places. The solution which is posed, even though there is lip service to creating a more balanced transportation system, is new roads, increased lanes, more fuel efficient, more power and smarter vehicles with such things as GPS. These are over all tactics to keep Urban society addicted to the automobile. It is an addiction that vehicle manufactures, petroleum companies, lawyers, car sales companies, vehicle repair firms, insurance firms, the construction industry, the housing industry and others nurture. It is a sticky web which society can not free itself. The spider of unstainability is devouring its drugged victim. Is there a way to extract urban society? Yes, but it will not be a technological fix such as a miracle battery for automobiles or hydrogen cars. It will not be invading or controlling countries to gain access to their resources. A new mindset is developing, but being put on the sidelines by decision-makers. The “voice in the wilderness” can be heard in non-profits promoting “green “ alternatives, protesters at international conferences, and citizens in local council meetings reminding politicians about the importance of quality urban life. However, the pressure to keep the status quo by mult-nationals is extremely powerful, but preventing society from wrenching itself from the automobile with all its detrimental factors.

Streets in many parts of the world and some in the U.S., can be exciting places—full of social interaction. They are the antithesis of what modern utilitarian urban planners wound desire. They are places with narrow streets, misty congested and not efficient for carrying vehicles. The real conflict is not the congestion of people, but the intrusion of vehicles. There is a certain wonder of wandering around in the narrow streets of European and Latin America cities: hearing the sounds of people walking, smelling food being cooked in houses and restaurants, going by a cafe and seeing people talking, meeting friends by accident, and making acquaintance with those that have different experiences that enlighten you. This is what we have lost via the world wide addition to the automobile. Can we get it back?

This photo is of a street in Rio de Janeiro. You can notice the activity of pedestrians However, what is obvious is the congestion of automobiles. This essentially ruins the purpose of this street which shooed be only for pedestrians In the area there are many streets that could serve for automobile access to this area. There is no need for vehicular presence in this area.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Reminders of the Past

The photograph above is the ruined synagogue in Erdine, Turkey. During the Ottoman Empire, there were significant amount of Jews, Bulgarians, Greeks and other minorities in Erdine. Now, they are gone from the population of the city. This ruined synagogue represents a past that has not existed for over 50 years in Erdine and also tells of toleration while other countries were persecuting Jews.. Every time I viewed this structure, my heart ached. Time was slowly eating away at it and it appeared that no plans for the reconstruction of this wonderful structure forthcoming. When this magnificant structure is in rubble, it is almost certain that it will be replaced with a nondescript apartment building, which have replaced many of the other historic structures in Erdine.

When cities forget their past, they are left with the pre-fab, temporary city of the modern/post-modern era which is dreary and without character. What will archaeologists say about the architecture and civic spirit of the modern era? In the Greek and Roman cities, wealthy individuals and emperors would build libraries, temples, stadiums, baths and other public buildings that would remain to be works of art, even in ruins. How can we bring back this level of civic spirit to our cities?

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Place of Refuge

This picture is of the dock area in Ayvalik, Turkey at sunset. The cafes and restaurants surrounding the dock area of Ayvalik provide a refuge from the narrow crowded streets. This scene is also typical of seaside Greek towns. Whereas, Ayvalik once had a large Greek population, the resemblance is more than coincidental. Here, you can relax, contemplate, dream, meditate, discuss, and laugh with friends.
Every settlement regardless of what size, needs public places where people can escape from the hectic and chaotic nature of modern life. In this location, the peacefulness of the water, the movement of boats, the shadows, and the view of distance islands combine to create serenity if a person allows it. Cities are being designed today without these places. It is not in the plan of a consumer and post-industrial city to do so as there is no profit in creating peaceful places and refuges for citizens. Urban residents have become apathetic because of the mantra from the world media which is highly manipulated by multi-national corporations. In our updated Brave New Word, there is no need for the governments to feed people “soma” when multiple shamans can create create visions to “drug” entire cultures creating simultaneously the perfect consumer and economic slave—ignorant that they have lost the rhythm of life that once pulsed in all cities. The post-industrial city has replaced the vibrancy of urban life with mindless commuting, the drudgery of work and the creation of drab dormitories. Meanwhile, the wealthy escape from this nightmare to tranquil places--their gated communities, their beach or mountain cottages or in one of the few places where city life still exists.