Art & Culture
January 15, 2019

Urban Artist at Work: Solar System Labyrinth


From our local correspondents Michael and Dianna:

Recently, in a break between rain squalls, Toronto transplant Himy Syed chalked an urban ‘labyrinth’, featuring our solar system.

With orbits looping across the pavers at the False Creek end of Manitoba Street, the elaborate chalk art includes a mysterious Kuiper Belt object thought to circle the sun, far beyond Pluto’s orbit.

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I have been writing about the fact that Vancouver has a dearth of public washrooms in downtown areas and also along the major transit routes.

Let’s talk about  Portland’s success in not only getting their very own designed bathroom available to the public, but one so cool it even has its own patent. And this is nothing new, Portland was busy installing their fifth public washroom in 2012, customized with art by students in a local primary school.  You can see the YouTube of the official unveiling of the Portland Loo below.

The design process for this washroom as outlined in CityLab was unique in that Portland looked at other municipalities’ public toilets and realized that the privacy of them allowed for “nefarious” activities to occur in them.

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You have to like any city planner who says the best piece of advice he has is to learn to “listen really well”. But Jason Thorne is no ordinary planner~as the City of Hamilton’s general manager of planning and economic development for six years he’s seen the historic downtown revitalized and Hamilton  emerge as a “music town” with venues and  enthusiastic performers coming to the city.

Located on Lake Ontario with a population on the plus side of 500,000, Hamilton has unique opportunities to reinvent itself with Mr Thorne’s very broad portfolio, which includes “land use planning and economic development, but also tourism and culture, transportation, bylaw enforcement, business licensing and parking” .

The Globe and Mail’s Alex Bozikovic describes how the small stuff like “live music, street festivals, helping cyclists get around creates a sense of place and pride.”

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Sitting at Beach and Davie Streets in the Spring of 1964.

Forwarded from Tom Durning, this remarkable image shows a different sea and cityscape from half a century ago.  From the trees, plants, the hats and coats we can assume this is a spring day. But look at the composition of the photo,  with the men in the foreground and the women with the swing coats in the far distance. There is a sparseness and an emptiness in the image, and a sense that everything is in its place.

Contrast this with the oldie but goodie YouTube video below, also from 1964 .

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Our friends at small places have produced another multi-sensory feast of city cycling splendour, this time featuring Delft, Netherlands — just one stop on their summer 2018 tour of northern Europe.

“Old enough to have a historic centre, large enough for it to be vibrant, yet small enough to make that centre mostly car-free. The suburbs of these cities grew up in the decades where protected bike lanes were standard on all streets, avoiding the awkward middle ring of cities like Amsterdam and The Hague.”

You can almost smell fragrant, summer air while all manner of bikes criss-cross intersections, public squares and underpasses. Bells brrrringing, hair flying in the wind, people smiling — where are the cars?

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The January winter is always a time where people evaluate effectiveness and success, and looking at New York City’s High Line is no different. This article by Justin Davidson in the New York Magazine describes the author’s ennui with the place, as it transformed from an old 30 foot high 1.45 mile (2.33 km)  long train bridge to a wildly successful people place.

Davidson minces no words describing the High Line as “an elevated cattle chute for tourists, who shuffle from the Whitney to Hudson Yards, squeezed between high glass walls and luxury guard towers. The views are mostly gone, which is a good thing because stopping to admire one would cause a 16-pedestrian pileup. The rail-level traffic mirrors the congestion overhead, caused by construction so hellbent on milking New York’s waning real estate hyper-boom that any patch of land bigger than a tick’s front yard is considered suitable for luxury condos.”

I spent time with Mitchell Silver, New York City’s Park Commissioner and Robert Hammond, one of the founders of the High Line walking the length of the project, and described that here. Mitchell observed that locals stay away from the High Line during “tourist season” hours, and also stressed that the width of the walkway~fifteen feet~was inadequately narrow, despite best intentions. The reuse of an  old highway overpass in Seoul Korea has resulted in the creation of Seoullo 7017, a fantastic arboretum and linear park thirty feet in the air. When I visited this project last year, designers also said that their walkway~which was also fifteen feet wide~was too narrow as well. This project is well-lit and open 24 hours a day and has a bakery and a daycare on its deck.

Seoullo7017

While it is popular to believe that the High Line has been responsible for the rejuvenation and revitalization of this very old meatpacking district, I beg to differ.

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There is now a three part trilogy in Vancouver where a valued public resource~public trees~have been hacked or poisoned on public lands. Two of the previous public tree mutilations were performed to improve private views. You may have read the latest in the Vancouver Sun where after the December windstorm Park Board staff discovered  at Spanish Banks near Tolmie Street a group of conifer trees had been delimbed and their tops sawed off.

And it wasn’t someone looking for a quick fix to grabbing a Christmas tree, as the  tops and limbs were found in the park. How could someone have done this without anyone seeing? And why has this happened? Howard Norman of the Parks Board minced no words saying “In my experience, this is strictly view-related. That’s the only rational reason I can think of.

The trees were partially sawed through and were then broken in windstorms. The trees will continue to develop, but their  canopies will be significantly altered, suggesting  the involvement of a  nearby view property owner that may not know the wrath of Vancouverites when public trees are sullied. The Park Board is working with the Vancouver Police to ascertain who the culprit is, but finger-pointing is already focused upon the exclusive hilly view properties across from the beach.

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Clothing street bins have flown below the radar, have proliferated, and have turned out to be deadly. This  Vancouver Sun editorial  notes that in the last four years five people in this province have died in this containers, seven across the country. Several municipalities including Vancouver have sealed these clothing bins up. University engineering students are working on better designs for the bins. But why do we have the bins in the first place? If we are able to have the clothes picked up by the charities or drop them off at a charity store, is that not a more prudent solution that also allows for better connectedness to the organizations and to their works? Why did we allow the public realm to be peppered with these clothing bins? And who is benefiting from clothing  bin profits?

In Metro Vancouver clothing bins are ubiquitous, in different shapes and colours, but all serving the same function~they are donation bins on public and private property with a mail box lid type for people to deposit of cast-off clothes. It is assumed that somehow the charities hosting the bins pick up the clothes, clean and sort them, and ensure that the needy get access to these  donations, or that they are sold so that the sponsoring organizations can benefit. However the needy still have to pay for the clothes, and the fact that people die in these containers suggest that the people we intend the clothes to go to can’t afford them  or don’t have access to them.

There is a dearth of information on what really happens to those clothes, and those donations become part of a more complex story.

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“The truth about a city’s aspirations isn’t found in its vision,” says Brent Toderian. “It’s found in its budget.”

“Budgets,” confirms Sam Sullivan, “are the sincerest form of rhetoric.”

So when it comes to the priority that the Parks Board places on cycling, don’t bother with its plans or the commissioners’ affirmations.  Look to its capital plan, where you will find … almost nothing.

Here’s the 2019-22 capital plan.  Check page 36 for the Parks Board, where you will find in the chart $2.4 million for “skate &bike facilities/tracks” – a pittance in the scheme of things.  By comparison, the City will spend $3 million just for the Bute greenway and Helmcken-Comox greenway extension.

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