Urbanism
August 9, 2018

Urbanist Abroad: Governors Island & Queens, NY

Manhattan today is, surprisingly, only the third most populous of the five boroughs, after Brooklyn and Queens.

It’s also not the only borough with ‘must-see’ attractions; in fact, a lot of what New Yorkers may take for granted falls into the category of ‘must-see’ (at least, for us rubes).

Similarly, some of the natural, historical, out-of-the-way wonders in Metro Vancouver are the target of not nearly enough weekday, out-of-town visitors — think Lighthouse Park, Buntzen Lake, Fort Langley, or Centennial Beach. Perhaps thats because we don’t take the time to distract them from Canada Place, Gastown and Granville Island long enough to say, “Go see this other thing — it’s worth the trip.”

Such is the value of a little prior knowledge, a good map, and of course, an extended public transit network.

And so, on one of his last days of vacation, we follow Gordon Price on his journey out of ‘The City’. You can also follow along on Instagram.

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While it must have been tempting to never leave Fire island, returning to the city isn’t exactly painful when it’s New York City.

Editor-in-Chief Gordon Price has now had a few days on the island formerly known as New Amsterdam, which will mark 400 years as a colonial settlement in 2024. It was purchased from the indigenous locals by the Dutch for 60 guilders; in today’s dollars, that’s about the cost of three nights in a 1-bedroom Airbnb near Central Park.

There’s so much to explore in Manhattan, but despite the obvious charms of this island nation, exploring is not always the same as seeing, or understanding. Background reading for historical context helps, as does an eye for detail, and always, the spark of a discussion from someone who’s been there before and knows where to look (and what it all means).

Enjoy this little tour of Gordon’s first few days, and be sure to check out the rest of the posts on the PT Instagram feed.

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Not a city and barely a village, with just 600 houses and a wooden boardwalk as its main transportation artery, The Pines is one of the more unique human settlements in America.

It is, perhaps, the main attraction on Fire Island, the slim land barrier separating Long Island from the Atlantic Ocean; known as America’s first gay and lesbian town — “Chelsea with sand” — The Pines is just 55 miles from mid-town Manhattan, yet a world away from the concrete, the hustle, and most of the expectations that come with city life.

Summer at The Pines expands the population from just a few hundred full-time residents to a few thousand sun-loving, sand-strolling, party-seeking guests.

PT Editor-in-Chief Gordon Price spent a few days there, and as usual, passes along some of the cultural, architectural and historical nuggets behind this very special place.

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According to intrepid PT correspondent James Bligh, three days in Vienna is not enough time to digest “the complex layers of history that have been developing here since at least as far back as the first century.”

In that time the site was a Roman outpost that connected (what is now) Great Britain to Syria. What follows is an outsider’s reading of the city from only so much exposure…

Within the urban form of Vienna there appears a story of small victories for a working class that lived under a 400 year old monarchist dynasty until 1918 and then the shadow cast in its following absence. Here are a few examples of the city’s built fabric responding in favour of the public good, from the most recent (and Enlightened) 200 years.

Those examples, via James’ photographs and commentary from Vienna, follow below; you can see the full set on the Price Tags Instagram feed.

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The suburban experience is not what one would expect in a story about a visit to New York City. Let alone pristine beaches. There’s no ‘sub’ in New York, unless you mean the subway.

But Gordon Price has that knack for uncovering urban connections in the unlikeliest of places or, in this case, visiting a place we’ve heard about, think we know something about, but will probably never visit without a very specific reason.

Thus, we bring you Long Island — one-tenth the area of Vancouver Island, ten times the population. Long Island became a serious target of suburban development in 1883, with the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, the first of many land-based connections to come. (Whereas Fire Island, picture above, is still the very picture of disconnectedness – ferry only, and fewer permanent residents than the Village of Belcarra).

Follow along below as Gordon unpacks some of the suburban story of Long Island. And check out the PT Instagram feed for extra bonus shots.

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I’m off again — another trip (ah, the retired life). This time to New York.

I’ve been visiting the city since the mid-1970s (quite a different scene back then), and watched the city change.

Conclusion: NYC has become an ‘historic’ city, reflecting in its architecture the power and wealth of the 20th century, just as Florence did in the 16th century, as Amsterdam did in the 17th, London in the 18th, Paris in the 19th.

But there’s always something new. On top of the must-visit list is Hudson Yards — and in particular the public-art centrepiece, The Vessel, pictured above. (It’s not open yet, but should be near completion).

What else should be on my list of must-sees? Knowledgeable PT readers no doubt have suggestions, including the offbeat and out-of-the-way — beyond Manhattan. Food recommendations always appreciated too.

Add them in the Comments. You can also follow me on my new, personal Instagram account @GordonPriceYVR, with summaries provided on this blog periodically.

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This summer, Price Tags contributor James Bligh and his wife Errin took off from Vancouver to tour a bevy of cities across central and northern Europe.

An intern architect and urbanist to the core, James is unable to travel without sharing his thoughts on some of what he’s seeing, which is just fine by us.

(For those who are hungry for more of James’ musings on architecture in particular, check out his Instagram.)

So we join Price Tags’ newest Urbanist Abroad for a selection of his discoveries along the first leg: Venice.

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And so we wrap up our coverage of Gordon Price’s study trip, covering Hong Kong, Tokyo and Kyoto over the past three weeks. You can see all his posted pics on his Instagram account.

In his last full day, he shares some additional musings on high-speed rail logistics (and cityscapes), ‘Little Differences’ between Japanese and North American urban culture, and some final thoughts on economic and demographic change in Japan over the past generation that will yield further discussion upon his return. Enjoy…

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In less than two hours and at speeds up to 285-km/h, Gordon Price travelled from Kyoto to Hiroshima on Thursday, via Japan’s Shinkansen “bullet train” line.

The destination was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial; the main draw here is the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, now commonly called the Genbaku Dome, or Atomic Bomb Dome.

The building was the only structure left standing near the hypocentre of ‘Little Boy’, the first atomic bomb ever used in war, which dropped on August 6th, 1945. It delivered near-instant death to 70,000, with another 70,000 to later die as a result of radiation poisoning. Injuries and related horrors took many more, to say nothing of the tens of thousands to perish three days later in Nagasaki. Today, Genbaku Dome is a UNESCO Heritage site.

From the train, Gordon took many photographs of the urban world that has cropped up along the rail line (including the photograph above of sunset over Kyoto), with his usual engaging commentary.

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On Wednesday, a visit to The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (known as MOMAK, naturally).

In addition to familiar names like Braque, Chagall, Chihuly, Hockney, Kindinsky and Lloyd Wright, our tireless, urbanist documentarian Gordon Price took in some renowned Japanese artists, likely unknown to many Westerners, but worth some investigation:

  • Léonard Tsugouharu Foujita, Japanese–French painter and printmaker, whose Book of Cats (1930) is one of the highest-priced rare books ever sold; it is ranked by dealers as “the most popular and desirable book on cats ever published” (take that, GIPHY)
  • Kaii Higashiyama, writer and artist particularly renowned for his Nihonga style paintings, and one of the most popular artists in post-war Japan.
  • Hishida Shunsō, pseudonym of Japanese painter Hishida Miyoji from the Meiji period, he played a role in the innovation of Nihonga.
  • Oda Kaisen, who specialized in landscapes, figures and kachoga (bird/flower-paintings); known especially for the Suiboku-ga style of Japanese monochrome ink painting, a technique first developed in China during the Sung dynasty (960–1274).
  • Tomioka Tessai, the pseudonym for painter and calligrapher Yusuke, whose early early works followed the bunjinga styles of the early 19th century, often featuring Chinese landscapes. It is estimated he painted approximately 20,000 paintings in the course of his career

Just a few photographs today, and a compelling video — peeking down lanes and alleyways into another world…

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