Overview of the sprawl, haze, smog, architecture, and commotion that constitutes Mexico City. Look closely in the third image and you’ll notice Avenida Juárez (along with the rest of the Paseo de la Reforma) has been closed to auto traffic and the pedestrians and cyclists have taken over. Mexico City is starting to like itself and to cultivate a sense of intimacy in scale that betrays its reputation as an urban landscape gone awry.
I have to take a second to give a quick shout out and link to one of my favorite Minneapolis artist’s work: Andy Sturdevant’s “The Stroll” writings for the MinnPost. I can’t emphasize how much I agree with and am always surprised by the observations and encounters described in each piece.
At the moment I’m especially engrossed in “When you hear the roar in south Minneapolis, look up to add color and form” about the air traffic that traipses through the skies over MPLS. I specifically remember when I first moved to Minneapolis from Nebraska thinking “Finally! I live near an international airport. If I have to flee the country in the night, I can at least get to Amsterdam.”
When I moved away from Minneapolis to begin my letterpress, the most startling thing I noticed about Green Bay was the absolute lack of aircraft noise overhead. Sure, when you live in a city, it is an annoyance. It is the ultra loud noise that seems to appear EXACTLY when you’re about to make a point in a conversation. But, when it is gone, there is an uneasy tension. There is a nagging feeling that amounts to roughly “Did I really just move to a place so barren, so remote that airlines won’t fly here?”
Now that I have relocated to Los Angeles, the feeling of isolation has been replaced with an uneasy relief (hey! people actually WANT to be here) paired with a bit of paranoia (why is that helicopter STILL hovering over my apartment building?).
I was headed into work this morning when I noticed yet another giant white truck selling food items in downtown Minneapolis. In the past, I’ve made the decision to judge every city I travel to/live in by the quality of its street food. For example, New York introduced me to the beauty of spicy squid on a stick. In Mexico City I had the distinct pleasure of having a five-course meal of nothing but delicious nibbles found on the street. Montreal and Sofia, Bulgaria both rocked the bagel-like items. Istanbul made me squeal with an amazing grilled mackerel sandwich on the Galata bridge. Street food truly is an indicator of the health of a city, its people’s participation in the public sphere, and a commitment to the exchange of energy and life which can only happen in public.
Back to Minneapolis. If I am to apply my criteria for evaluating street food, Minneapolis gets little more than a D-. The effort is there, but the joy, the spontaneity…. the people…. are no where to be found. Instead, I am greeted by the rather gruesome display of a giant, flaccid turkey drumstick roasting in the morning haze inside a pristine white snatcher van. Yippee.
I’m not sure if I am caught in an atemporal vortex or if Minneapolis is hitting some sort of built-environment equilibrium. While walking home yesterday, humming various bits of soundtrack to myself, I noticed that my city is engaged in a process consisting of equal parts renewal and equal parts decline. As the first image testifies, the elements of renewal tend to be laden with a heavy handed, pig-wearing-lipstick aesthetic.
In true wabi-sabi fashion, while the parking garage is being turned into a disco-vomit-colored monstrosity, the businesses across the street are slowly being ground away…
I am a fan of the urban ideals pushed forward the New Urbanism movement. How could I not be? Any movement that encourages walkable, friendly, dense developments in our city centers is something I should appreciate if not support. But… however much I like the ideas, when they are implemented the resulting landscape is almost always less than desirable. For some reason we now equate urban living to be a viable lifestyle for only wealthy young people. If America’s cities are indeed experiencing a renaissance or re-inhabitation, let’s hope that someone comes up with a way to make New Urbanist practices and spaces that are available to those of us who do not have a trust fund. If this doesn’t happen… I imagine our city cores going from ghetto for the socially marginalized to ghetto for the socially marginalizing.
A great site that is holding my attention hostage this morning. Check it out for a variety of fresh perspectives on one of the most important issues in the contemporary city. Few sites I have come across investigate what makes public spaces successful, desirable, and heavily used in the same way that Project for Public Spaces does. Joy.
And bit more of failed public space from my own travel experiences.
Something shocking is happening in Minneapolis. A group of artists are undertaking a project to make art on the facades of unused buildings in the city. I was a bit skeptical when I saw the slickly printed, well designed signs for this type of work (I prefer guerilla style or ephemeral projects in public space). Intersecting artistic/private aesthetic interests with public space rarely works… but the Save Canvas project presented by Overproof Design Studio actually succeeds in its aims. It has been a pleasure to watch the empty structure along Nicollet avenue be turned into a work of art. Especially since this is the site of the unrealized Nicollet condo project (a 60 floor glass high-rise that never materialized thanks to the economic downturn).
Definitely check out their work.
On another note, I am reminded of something distinctly beautiful about the public sphere in Montreal. The city seemed to be predisposed to giving up automobile traffic for pedestrianized streets. In Minneapolis we have the “National Night Out” every year, during which certain blocks are closed to vehicular traffic. It takes a special event here to get people onto the street and walking around. In stark contrast, the above posters in Montreal indicate that the pedestrian is almost synonymous with the urban experience.
I couldn’t agree more.
As defined by Wikipedia:
Vancouverism is an urban planning and architectural technique pioneered in Vancouver, Canada. It is characterized by mixed-use developments, typically with a medium-height, commercial base and narrow, high-rise residential towers to accommodate high populations and to preserve view corridors. With a large residential population living in the city centre, no expressways connecting the core to the suburbs, and significant reliance on mass public transit, Vancouver is somewhat unique among large North American cities. In part, these reasons contribute to the fact that it is consistently ranked among the most livable cities in the world. Other cities have begun to take note of the principles of Vancouverism and have begun to incorporate this approach in their own planning directions.
Renowned architect Bing Thom described Vancouverism this way:
It’s a spirit about public space. I think Vancouverites are very, very proud that we built a city that really has a tremendous amount of space on the waterfront for people to recreate and to enjoy. At the same time, False Creek and Coal Harbour were previously industrial lands that were very polluted and desecrated. We’ve refreshed all of this with new development, and people have access to the water and the views. So, to me, it’s this idea of having a lot people living very close together, mixing the uses. So, we have apartments on top of stores. In Surrey we have a university on top of a shopping centre. This mixing of uses reflects Vancouver in terms of our culture and how we live together.