Archive for the ‘Urbanism’ Category

“But I’m free to answer, so yes, we’re free.”

No one ends up in Norwich by accident. If you’re here, it’s because you’re meant to be. There’s no other reason, no way anyone can happen to be just passing through. Located as we are in the bump of Norfolk that juts out into the North Sea, we stand alone, we stand apart. Some might say that makes us insular. I disagree. When you are the only city for miles and miles around, you attract the different ones. The ones who never really fitted in with their town or village. They come to the nearest city and they find their place here.

I was last in Norwich just a few months ago. It seems, though, a lifetime away at the moment. My friend Meagan and I had first gotten to know each other in Norwich over a decade ago. Happening to be in Europe at the same time, we spent a few days there together.

It truly is an odd place. I think one reason I’ve always felt at home there is its isolated, rebellious nature. It embodies something that I cherish in myself: a stray-dog sense of self-possession and independence. A notion that going one’s own way is the only way.

Christ how I love that stony, meandering city tucked out in the broads. I love it out of proportion. I love its rivers almost as much as I love the Columbia, though they’re one twentieth the size. I love its cathedrals, though I’m an avowed Atheist. I love its cramped little pubs and its winding go-nowhere alleys.

It’s an unaccountable city. There’s no clear reason for it to be as enchanting as it is. Nor for the enmity and derision it receives. No one throws shade quite as assuredly as a Londoner who learns you’ve just returned from Norwich.

The time before that that I was in Norwich, I was with a girlfriend who, I think, was trying to Figure Me Out. We laid on the castle green, closed our eyes and drifted a moment under the Anglian sky. We were only there for a day and we spent most of it walking a lazy circle around town. It felt a little like reserving my place. Or like checking in with a friend.

Before that, there’s a long gulf back to when I attended the university for awhile. The University feels like a very different world from the city itself. Which might be why I walked into town every opportunity I got. I lost forty pounds in six months, I reckon, just from the constant long walks, either into the town or out towards the broads. When in town, I used to like to walk through Tombland, or down near Bishopgate and the Cow Tower. I spent hours tracing a track by the river, trying as hard to know myself as to know the city.

I don’t know when I’ll get back that way. But it’s a matter of when, not if. And when I do, I expect to find it much as I left it. Peculiar, slightly insular, and entirely its own.

“I said kiss me, you’re beautiful and these are truly the last days”

This was our weather today in Seattle. In July.

It seemed eerily appropriate, given I’m still listening to “Dead Flag Blues” on repeat.

(Timelapse credit goes to /u/acidmonkey on Reddit.)

Graphicity – The First Night Hyperlapse film of Singapore from Tripeaksimagery on Vimeo.

Some Random Links

“When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life”

Restless Nights from Paul Richardson on Vimeo.

Fullscreen and cranked headphones highly recommended.

XBox, Occupy Free Time

So between visiting my folks over a few glorious, fun, relaxing days over the holiday, then working part of the weekend, and now getting both an XBox One and a Playstation 4 on the same day, the amount of time I’ve been allocating for blogging has dropped precipitously. As I’m sure my audience has noticed.

But fear not, while I’m talking to my console1 and butchering barbarians in Ryse: Son of Rome, you lot can be playing with this fun little quiz I found for you all. Basically, it gives you a Google Streetview scene to explore and you have to guess which of three neighborhoods in London you’re in. My best score was 6/10 which is not to shabby for someone who’s never actually lived in London. It’s a pretty slick piece of work and worth checking out, even if you know nothing about the City and surrounding environs.

1 The voice controls work way better than I thought. I was sure they’d be gimmicky and stupid, but it turns out they’re awesome. Accurate, intuitive, handy, and oh so futuristic. Microsoft has set a high bar for voice controlled electronics.

The PNW and the UN Fallacy

Anyone interested in an object illustration of the UN Fallacy1 could hardly do better than Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA. Seattle and Vancouver are so similar in culture, climate, architecture, arts, and culture that it would take a non-trivial familiarity with both to be able to tell them apart. And yet the two cities are bound up into entirely different political compacts which are, in both cases, populated by cities and peoples significantly different than themselves. Or at least much more different than the cities are to each other. Vancouver has far more in common with Seattle than it does with Montreal; Seattle has far more in common with Vancouver than it does with Savannah.

To the fan of competitive governance2, this is a clear indication that the current political compacts that bind the two cities are deeply flawed. Why should people in Seattle be, in part, controlled by people in Savannah, when a political association with Vancouver makes much more economic, cultural, and political sense? If the people of Vancouver and Seattle have more in common and decide that their futures are more strongly entwined than they are with the rest of their current countries, why shouldn’t they be permitted to form a new political compact between them?

And yet, the idea that the people of Vancouver and Seattle should voluntarily band together and throw off their existing national arrangements is seen as radical, insane, or naive. How could it be any crazier than the idea that Vancouver and Montreal should be legally, politically, and economically bound, due simply to an accident of history?

1 The UN Fallacy is the idea that a geographical area is sensibly considered as a whole, just because it is surrounded by a recognized national border, and that peoples and places so defined can be sensibly and trivially compared to one another.

2 We really ought to come up with a catchy name for ourselves. Sopharchists? Scientarchists? Let’s workshop it a bit.

Urban Kaleidoscope

On Tourists

I’ve never totally understood the loathing that many residents of Great Cities bear towards tourists. Most residents of DC, NYC, London, etc. bear a dislike for tourists on a level usually reserved for feral skunks or racist in-laws. It’s as if having the temerity to come experience of one of the important sites of human ecology automatically pegs you as a cretinous moral cripple who would kick puppies if they weren’t too stupid to puzzle out how their legs work.

I think that urban residents should instead see tourists as half intrepid explorer, half enthusiastic novice. These people have come to our beloved cities to figure out what makes them special, and we should be glad that they’ve chosen to do so. Our cities are awesome and we should share them with the same glee that we share our favorite music, jokes, or *Merlin Mann voice* “turns out” factoids.

I know, tourists move slowly and gawp and all pose for the same (stupid) pictures. They block the sidewalks. They don’t “do” the buses and trains right. They take up tables at your favorite restaurant and crowd your favorite bar. I dig. I don’t like having to wade my way through the cattle press that is Pike Place Market, either.

But I love that people are experiencing Pike Place for the first time. It really is one of the coolest places in the country and I want everyone to have the change to experience it. I don’t like that Seattle Center is crowded with out-of-towners on nice days, but I really like that out-of-towners get to experience one of the best public spaces west of the Mississippi. It annoys me that everyone takes the same stupid shot of the space needle from Kerry Park, but I’m glad they get to see our amazing skyline.

So fellow urbanites: please tone down the hipster-y disdain when it comes to tourists. They don’t “do” our city right, but only because they haven’t learned how yet. And they’re here to learn about all the things that make us love our city as much as we do. Stop thinking of them as the dumb, porcine animals that make the city harder to navigate, and start thinking of them as members of today’s lucky 10,000.

Skywalk-loving Libertarian Urbanist Smash!

Literally everything about this article infuriates me.

Skywalks are badass. One of the very few things that Spokane (my former home) does right that every other city fucks up is its downtown skywalk network. It’s possible to get from one side of downtown to the other entirely using interconnected skywalks. This keeps you off the streets, out of the way of bikes and cars, and out of the inclement weather. Skywalks make cities more walkable and comfortable for pedestrians while also easing the flow of bike and car traffic. They are made of architectural magic and win.

Of course, it also doesn’t help Atlantic Cities that the hero of their article is this catastrophizing asshole:

“I’m not typically the activist type,” says Joe Baur, a 26-year-old writer who moved downtown two years ago and has now started a group called OurCLE to fight the skywalks. “I’m more a satirist. But this is like – well, you may not like kids, but if you see a kid about to touch a hot stove, you’re going to stop them.” Baur says Cleveland is that kid, and the skywalk is the hot stove.

First of all, being a satirist is like being powerful or good in bed; if you have to tell people you are, you ain’t. Secondly, what right does he have to ask the city to deny developers the right to improve their buildings and make life easier and more convenient for their customers?

Baur &co claim that the skywalk would: “…deaden the neighborhood, make residents more vulnerable to crime, and block sightlines of other historic buildings in the neighborhood.”

Making an urban core more “walkable” (a term I loathe for its connotations), i.e. making it easier for people to ambulate to their destination, with a good network of skywalks is as likely to enliven the neighborhood as not. This has definitely happened in Spokane. The skywalks and the businesses along them have a constant flow of foot traffic, and it allows people to easily access the parts of downtown they want to get to, in any weather. Downtown Spokane typically isn’t dead, even in rain, snow, or sweltering heat. If I had to guess, even if skywalks don’t enliven the city, they won’t deaden it either, and they will definitely make pedestrians more comfortable and increase vehicle traffic flow. Secondly, I can’t even see the argument for increasing crime rates. Do people turn into slavering criminals when they’re suspended 20 feet off the ground? Finally, skywalks have a very low profile and most are made of glass. Any views this skywalk would block would only be blocked in the most technical sense of the word.

Of course the ur-argument against anti-skywalk hysteria is the same as it is with any of the weaksauce anti-property-rights crusades in modern cities: lack of evidence. There is exactly zero evidence that the skywalk will have any negative impacts on the commons, or the neighborhood, much less evidence showing that the externalities are of such a magnitude as to warrant legally forbidding a developer to do what they want with their own property.

Skywalks are good for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists, especially in dense urban cores. The only arguments against are the fashionable, evidence-free preferences of the Chattering Class segment of urbanism. So here’s hoping that Baur and his ilk lose their fight against skywalks and spend more of their time satirizing rather than trying to shit on property rights.

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.