Category Archives: uses and activity

Jane Jacobs Was Right: Gradual Redevelopment Does Promote Community

From Atlantic Cities:

Jane Jacobs Was Right: Gradual Redevelopment Does Promote Community.


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Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson Community Garden

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Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson Community Garden

[In 2008 the Baisley Park Community Garden, a one-acre corner lot by the Long Island Rail tracks through Jamaica, Queens, NYC was recreated and established as the Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson Community Garden. The garden, a part of the larger New York Restoration Project (NYRP) founded by Bette Midler, was a gift from 50 Cent and his G-Unity Foundation (apparently 50 Cent grew up in Baisley Park). What’s more, landscape architect Walter Hood designed the 50 Cent Garden (If you haven’t, do read Hood’s Urban Diaries). Studded cast aside… well actually, it’s hard to just cast them aside as I probably would never have known about the “50 Cent” Garden were it not designed by Hood… but regardless, what I want to relate here is a subjective analysis and appraisal of the garden and community, a seminal community garden in a vibrant community.]

Eventually, I was off the bus at Guy R Brewer Blvd. and Foch Blvd. crossing the street and passing by Baisley Park Houses – not sure if 50 Cent grew up in one of these apartments or not – where many young guys were hanging out blasting music from car stereos. Opposite is 164th St., from where I could smell some awesome jerk barbecue. Sure enough, someone had the gate to their backyard open and a barbecue barrel set up. The sign next to the gate read “Jerk Fish and Chicken”. Unfortunately, I did not see anyone out there attending to the barbecue; otherwise I would’ve most likely got side tracked for a bit. I continued toward the garden, and with a faint whiff of jerk still in the air I could make out the train tracks and wooden cubes along the sidewalk below. I had reached my destination.

Immediately visible from the street was a formal green space defined by raised planters and an elegantly proportioned arbour. Beyond these at the far end of the garden, my eyes were quickly drawn to two towering deciduous trees under which lay vibrant blue rain catchers that also function as a covered gazebo. I made my way under the comfortably spaced arbour and along the fence to get a better look at the rain catchers. It then occurred to me how the garden, though very contemporary in appearance, has many traits of a Hortus conclusus, a walled kitchen garden made up of parterres. In sum, the 50 Cent Garden is essentially a formal kitchen garden juxtaposed by asymmetrical forms and multiple programme elements.

As I leaned against the low fence that divides and distinguishes between the exterior public space along the sidewalk and the interior garden, I noticed kids go by on scooters, cars turn on to Fochs from 165th St. and a couple of trains pass along the tracks. Each of these events outside the garden seemed harmonious with the geometric rhythm of the volumes and space within. The raised planters for example, though rectilinear and formally delineate the entrance to the garden and a path to the gazebo, are layed out somewhat sporadically suggesting various possibilities for movement and views, inside and out. The framed, sometimes enclosed paths and views further allude to the Hortus conclusus, thereby distinguishing the inner and outer dimensions of the space, the public and communal space. In between planters, particularly towards the main entrance, are decorative curvilinear plantings that clearly allude to the fore mentioned garden tradition, but also appear to follow their own rhythm, aligning with multiple use possibilities. One unique possibility that the NYRP and Baisley Community pursue is the hosting of a garden concert series.

The Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson Community Garden is a dynamic green space. Unfortunately the garden was empty of people when I was there, probably as I visited during lousy weather, on a Tuesday, and did not contact anyone prior to my visit. That said, it was clear from several behaviour traces and clear signage – a concert announcement at the entrance and 50 Cent plaque within – that the garden is well-kept, and clear from the activity within Baisley Park that it is a unique area with a community garden that is an effective, welcoming, attractive, and I hope catalyzing, community centre. Next time I’m there on a sunny day with some jerk chicken.

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Low Line

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Much, much more will be said about this proposed subterranean park in an abandoned street car terminal beneath Delancey in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, so I’m going to refrain from adding unnecessary spiel. I would however like to mention that I hope this will be a well programmed multipurpose space. Reciprocal and even symbiotic in its relationship with the existing neighbourhood.

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Giving Urban Retail a Competitive Edge


With Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development, Robert J. Gibbs, ASLA, a landscape architect and planner, has written a comprehensive guide to revitalizing retail in old urban centers. In the forward to the book, Stefanos Poloyzoides describes the post-World War II decline of old American cities and the corresponding rise of automobile-dominated sprawl, writing “During our lifetime, ‘suburbia’ and ‘slaburbia’ have together come close to destroying nearly 400 years of city making in the United States.” This expansion of sprawl has precipitated an exodus of urban retail and suburban shopping centers now dominate the retail industry. Gibbs writes, “This book focuses on explicating the retail principles for restoring neighborhoods, villages, towns, and urban commercial districts to their traditional roles as the local and regional centers for commerce and trade.” Addressing issues including convenience, parking, store type, and scale, Principles of Urban Retail aims to “give merchants on the street the…

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The Syrian Souq

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In 2006, I went to Syria in search of souqs with formal spatial and sensorial patterns that foster a public realm. And though I did find such patterns in souqs, it was a challenge to do much more than take inventory of what I observed, and very difficult indeed to prove that the formally designed market spaces were conducive to public activity. On the contrary, I met scores of market vendors, street hawkers, shleppers, and shoppers that did not have direct access to formal market spaces and so made do and constantly adapted to edges and boundaries, nooks and crannies, unoccupied building facades, bicycles, etc. Social interaction and engagement were far more apparent, and patterns seemingly enhanced, along the fringes.

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Review of: Réinventons la ruelle ! exhibition by the 23 architecture firms comprising some of the most inspiring architects in Quebec. MAISON DE L’ARCHITECTURE DU QUÉBEC

A combination of strategies to reduce heat islands as well as to reclaim and make use of urban space has recently sparked people’s interest in reinventing the alley. Building on this, the Maison de l’architecture du Québec’s exhibition Réinventons la ruelle! invites us attendees down a conceptual alley to explore significance and potential uses.

The exhibition consists primarily of models laid out atop two rows of horse-benches with the main visitor trajectory – of a proportionate width to the model layouts – going between the rows along an east-west axis. The effect of this layout is that we visitors feel as if we are walking down an alley and looking into people’s backyards. Within these backyards are an intriguing array of vernacular forms, theoretical constructs, borrowed elements and reinterpreted structures.

In Atelier Barda’s backyard model on the south side of the alley, Petit ferme entre amis, there is an inspiring adaptation of a traditional Montreal coal shed, many of which were destroyed by fire and were all but eradicated as part of the city’s lane greening initiative in the 1980’s, Place du Soliel. This particular shed’s height and form reflects a consumptive based spatial relationship with the triplex it serves, but instead of providing the residence with coal for heating, each floor is arranged for small-scale urban farming: raising small livestock and vegetables. The shed is set on an angle to the triplex and consists of little more than structural components so as to emit light and allow for adequate airflow. This backyard intervention effectively reinterepts the vernacular of the Montreal coal shed, applying it with a whimsical yet sustainable and productive property.

Across the alley is another backyard project that harks on the vernacular of alleys. The »Passer sa vie sur les cordes à linges», by Huma design and architecture, consists of clothespins: 2500 pins clipped to 84 metal clotheslines and encased in transparent plastic. An evidently conceptual piece, the clothes pin yard reminds us of the beauty in the everyday objects and uses of the alley, indeed of the importance alleys serve in routine practices. The conceptual and figurative qualities of this model furthermore suggest possible ritual elements of an alley, through repetition and reinforcement of the clothespin’s role.

Continuing along the lane, on both sides of the alley we come to more than one model that tastefully incorporates the garage door. Garages are found commonly along more commercial and affluent alleys that have evolved to accommodate vehicles. Still, I suspect the designers of M3, Paul Bernier Architecte, as well as others project designers, took a more contemporary cue: the now standard glass panelled garage doors used to open bistro, bar, cafe and restaurants onto the street, effectively connecting street life with the otherwise internalized activity of shops. The models incorporating these doors suggest a similar possibility: the possibility of engaging neighbours and allowing for the creation of a more fluid connection between alleys and backyards, public lanes and private yards.

Crossing the lane we come to Sergio Clavijo-Division’s Repository-me, fittingly made from an airline food container, as the project conveys ideas adapted from the gorgeous & prosaic cinematic musings of far-flung Hong Kong’s Won Kar Wai. Within this backyard appears a wall, a barrier of rammed earth covered with moss and lichens suggesting the yard’s maturation and enrichment over time. Holes in the wall are intended for people to whisper into and leave secrets behind. I must confess that I shared some of my own thoughts with this model: Montreal alleys should be reinvented, and perhaps reinterpreted as galleries, quasi-public venues for neighbours to promenade through and, if desired, open up their enclosed spaces so as to upon occasion share ritual, practice and ideas with their community.

Each back yard model suggests various design possibilities and potential for alley interaction. The sum total of all the backyards and in effect the layout of the exhibit itself reveals invigorating possibilities for reinventing the alley.

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Form of Being and Doing: LAUNDRY in Shanghai

Two good things happened to me early in the year: Shanghai and Atelier Bow-Wow’s: Echo of Space / Space of Echo. The former was my second visit to Shanghai- I made both trips from Osaka via ferry to visit a dear friend- & the latter was a chance acquisition from a bookstore in Kobe. Both my trips to Shanghai and Atelier Bow-Wow’s book gave me some insight into the relationship between physical space and their uses, between Shanghai’s buildings, alleys, people and their LAUNDRY specifically.

I dérived through Shanghai as a way to get at this huge town’s gestalt. What my wandering revealed was a city spoiled with a great variety of cityscape and activity. At the heart of Shanghai are lontang, back alleys bursting with community and social life, shikumen, stone gate houses that are a fusion of the Chinese courtyard house & English terraced housing, & yanshidian, tobacco & paper shops at the entrance to lontang. These three unique features provide the city with the foundation of its built fabric and social environment.

A little over a month after my visit I picked up my copy of Echo of Space / Space of Echo. The authors, Tokyo husband and wife architect duo Atelier Bow-Wow, relate how with organic connections between experiences and participants: The places “form of being” always show the people involved how its “form of doing” should be… Both the “form of being” as a physical environment and the “form of doing” as its development & maintenance are simultaneously present in architectural, urban and landscape experiences. The concept of being and doing emphasizes the connections between the built environment as a facilitator and people as instigators invested in their place. I have so far mentioned three elements of Shanghai’s environment that I have identified as “being”, but what are their forms supportive of? What “form of doing” do the 3 “forms of being” facilitate?

Well, the most visually and socially obvious would have to be LAUNDRY. Within the city’s lontang- & these forms of being & doing often flow out on to the streets- you can find pirated DVDs being hawked, hair cuts given, skewers grilling, scooters being repaired, produce sold, games of chess and mah-jong played, but no single form of doing is more prominent than LAUNDRY. LAUNDRY can be found hanging from tree branches, telephone poles, benches, birdcages, basically anywhere and everywhere. When approaching a shikumen, most often what can be viewed beyond the stone gate are garments strung in the air. At the yanzhidian there are usually more clothing items suspend from a TV antenna, or perhaps from the bars on the shop windows. And when entering a lontang… LAUNDRY’s every where and you can usually catch two or three people chatting away while inspecting there clothing, batting a duvet or using an extended pole to hang there LAUNDRY that much higher and therefore that much more visible to passing audiences.

Of course, I’m sure this phenomenon is not quite specific to Shanghai- I did see some handsome examples of laundry being washed and hanging to dry along the canals of Shanghai’s neighbouring water towns- but I was astonished to see such a magnificent show of LAUNDRY. In fact, the everyday relationship between the built environment, laundry and people is nothing short of public, festive and monumental.

I could go on to discuss the air quality in Shanghai and how it possibly accents LAUNDRY, I could mention the many failings in Shanghai’s contemporary cityscape, I could even compare and contrast LAUNDRY in my home town of Montreal, or my current home Kobe, but I want to end with an observation about how Shanghai’s forms of being and doing could be further accented and show cased. Shanghai prides itself on being china’s fashion capitol, so could lontang’s and their apparent connection to LAUNDRY be used, as a form of being to showcase fashion? I envision back alley cat walks for the local fashion industry. Grandma’s hot pink pyjamas will hang proudly from a magnolia branch while china’s upcoming fashion labels flaunt their prêt-a-porté printemps 2011. Shanghai and LAUNDRY.

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