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Entries in streets (28)


Llorando se fue

All right, it is late July, it is hot, it is almost the weekend.  Yesterday, the ice cream van tootled down the street playing Lambada, a great advance on last summer's Theme from The Sting, over and over and over.

I have a list here of various versions of Llorando se fue, the song first recorded by the Bolivian group Los Kjarkas in 1981.  Kjarkas taught Andean folk in both Peru and Ecuador and they and the music travelled far; in the 1990s a little Andean group could be found in most North American plazas or busy street corners:  the one outside The Bay on Granville and Georgia in Vancouver was a solid fixture, eternally good-humoured while playing on the grey streets in the rain. 

Llorando se fue was recorded in 1989 by Kaoma in Portuguese whereby it became the Lambada and a huge pop hit.  I first heard it the first morning I was in Barcelona where two gitanos (always up on the absolutely latest tunes) with an accordian and a guitar were playing it at triple speed under the balcony.  I was entranced.

This is an early video version of Llorando se fue, where Gonzalo Hermosa González looks about 15.

and then what happens when it goes French:  Kaoma and Brazilian Loalwa Braz and two rather brilliant child dancers. 

 Honestly. The eighties. They were fun.  in places.


Saul Leiter's winter

Saul Leiter, Red Umbrella, 1957. Gelatin silver print; printed later 14 x 11 inches Signed in ink on print verso. Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

We've always had the winter, but not the photographers.


Saul Leiter, Postmen, 1952. Gelatin silver print; printed later 14 x 11 inches Signed in ink on print verso. Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.


sign making

Bottom of the Cup Tea Room, New OrleansThis beautiful sign comes by way of Ginger at Deep-Fried Kudzu, a huge site of folk art, material culture, food, landscape and buildings centred on Alabama, but also on the South in general. 


Picnic grounds

It isn't enough just to build public parks, orchards and other kinds of urban forests and urban farms, there must be a culture to support such things.  Farzaneh Bahrami in On Site review 25: identity, wrote about the public tradition of use in what we might see as the very inhospitable landscapes of modern transportation infrastructure:

Picnic on highways of Tehran, 13th day of spring (response to a Persian tradition to spend 13th day of the year in nature) photograph: Farzaneh BahramiThere is memory, history, tradition, culture and family here, not dependent on the quality of the space.  The point isn't to design a better highway median, but rather recognise that there is more to all of this than aesthetics.

Part of an ongoing research titled "Tehran, In the Search of Lost Public Space" by Farzaneh Bahrami. The paradoxical nature of Tehran's public spaces. photographs: Manuel Llinás

One may read Farzaneh Bahrami's essay 'Tehran, Occasionally Public' here:


Vancouver: intensive gardening

In Vancouver, Sole Food Farms has leased, for $1/year, a former PetroCan gas station one-acre lot adjacent to the Downtown Eastside, and made an urban orchard on it.  Five hundred fruit-bearing dwarf species, planted over 800 containers, will be fully cropping in 3-5 years.  In the meantime, the containers also produce ground crops, sold to restaurants and grocery stores.  Downtown Eastside residents are hired, the produce is organic, it is intensive farming with an enormous embedded social energy.  

Sole Food has four sites throughout the downtown core; on this one the ground is contaminated, being a former gas station, thus the above-ground containers, which can also be moved if the land is reclaimed by the owner.  There are always development pressures on land in a downtown area, an acre is a large plot and the cost of de-contamination is linked to technological advance, so the land could be developed: condos and such.  However, there is something so fundamentally optimistic about an orchard on the move if it ever comes to pass.  

Vancouver is so forward-thinking I don't think it is actually part of Canada.   


street farms

Noisivelvet with AltgeldSawyer Corner Farm, Logan Square, Chicago, 2011

This was a four-hour, 3,000 square foot urban park, done with a Block Party permit from the City of Chicago.  What is the point if it is only for an afternoon?  To give people an alternative view of the city where there are not cars and roadways become lawn? 

I bit more useful are Havana's agriponicos, below, where raised beds are built on rubble sites, old parking lots and in city parks:

Havana, CubaIn response to the US blockade, in place since 1961 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, between 1989 and 1994 these were mixed subsistence farms with animals and crops with all products consumed by the producer. After 1994 restrictions were eased and crops could be sold by the growers at markets. 

It makes one question the luxury of the whole concept of the public park – a space for the eye and the mind – we have in our cities, that produce little in the way of material well-being.  The Chicago pop-up above is its apotheosis: wasteful of resources and energy to make a rhetorical point.  Meanwhile we have to drive long distances spewing fumes and exhaust to get to a local-ish farmers market, or else get our vegetables sent from the US because for some reason this is cheaper for supermarket chains to do than to buy locally. 

Our open-space values need some revision here, not just fun projects, but serious and permanent connections between urban open space and food provision. 


paid parking

One of the original Park(ing) day spots in San Francisco

Park(ing) day, originally a guerrilla project in San Francisco in the mid 2000s, now spread over many cities around the world.  On one day in September, parking meters are fed and the parking space is made into a temporary park, rather than being occupied by a car.  Fine, point made, city streets are inhospitable with their wall-of-steel edges, when they could be lined with boulevards of grass and trees instead.  

However, a festival aspect has entered Park(ing) Day, a celebration of pop-up parks: it is not longer a guerrilla action, it is sanctified as a street festival in many cities, street fair licences are bought, the protest element has been infantilised. Balloons abound.

The surest way to disarm protest is to commodify it, to bring it on board as a celebration.  What is actually being celebrated here?  That one day in a whole year, car parking is suspended in a few streets?  Point lost.


'Lighter Than Air' Park(ing) Day balloon installation at Public Bikes on Valencia & 17th St., San Francisco


urban archaeology

9th Avenue, Inglewood, Calgary Alberta 2011This barber shop sign sat on this wall for at least 30 years until it was painted over in the general gentrification of its building.  Following Business Redevelopment Zone colour guidelines which recommend maroon and olive, the wall is now repaired and painted a flat sludge green.  Who would choose such a colour combination, and worse, why would anyone follow it? And why are handmade signs seen as rubbish anyway?

The great affection for Fred Herzog's photos of Vancouver includes nostalgia for an era when signs were hand-written or else made by sign-painters.  It was a time when there was not a lot of money: one could be house-proud, which meant clean, but city pride, city branding, city marketting – why would one bother?  You lived in cities and towns, they looked like how they looked.

Now we endure the militancy of neighbourhood design guidelines and BRZs that insist neighbourhood main streets look harmonious.  Can one legislate cultural harmony? My neighbourhood association has long inveighed against having a Tim Horton's although they let in a Starbucks, and the old hot pink/lime green Korean restaurant is flagged regularly in the newsletter for its 'inappropriate' colour scheme.  The message is clear, we are all going upmarket and somehow must have better taste than we did before.  Curiously, paradoxically, this average Canadian neighbourhood might have taste, but it's lost its flavour.


Jon Rafman: what google sees

Jon Rafman. Google Street Views, 2010

Jon Rafman. Google Street Views, 2010

I was very sloppy with this post a couple of days ago: got the dates wrong and hadn't thought too deeply about these images.  What I quite liked about them was that they themselves had no meaning: caught by a camera programmed to photograph the street in nine different directions every ten feet or whatever it is, they simply are raw information. 

Jon Rafman chose, out of billions of such raw images, a collection that he ascribed some sort of role to, simply by selecting them.  Many of the people caught in many of the images know they are on camera and act up for it, others don't notice.  There are many traffic accidents that seem to have happened just as the Google van went by.  The stone house and the roadway, above, are simply beautiful ideas, which is why I selected them out of the hundreds on Rafman's  There are so many selection filters one could apply, it turns viewers into search engine filters themselves. Which is of course how we all negotiate our own worlds.




John Macoun. Manitoba and the Great North-West : the Field for Investment; the Home of the Emigrant, Being a Full and Complete History of the Country. Guelph: World Publishing Company, 1882

In St Boniface, above, one can see the remains of an oxbow from the Red River. Detached from the main flow, it would have become, as indicated in this 1882 map, a slough perhaps flooding each spring.  Not to worry, the street grid has been drawn over it anyway, good flat land for development.  Just to the west (the map has west at the top) of the oxbow one can see the old seigneurial land divisions: thin narrow lots fronting on the river.
In the google satellite view, below, the edge of the oxbow is Enfield Crescent, the eccentric in the grid.  The seigneurial pattern is gone, but the road that skirted the swamp (also long gone) remains, permanently embedded in the street layout.

St. Boniface, Winnipeg: from Google Maps, rotated 90° clockwise to match the 1882 map.


Commercial Street, 1900-2005

Commercial Street, Nanaimo BC. undated postcard, ca 1910s

Commercial Street, Nanaimo BC. ca 1940Commercial Street, Nanaimo BC. 1965This all held until a few years ago when Nanaimo succumbed to the downtown revitilisation policy of knocking down the east side of lower Commercial, where Fletchers, Lindsays, the beautiful early modern Bank of Montreal and a row of small two storey buildings had been, to make way for a behemothic smoked glass convention centre, the ground floor retail bays unrented for several years, but I see a Dollar Store has moved into one of them.


High River, 1957

Main street, High River, Alberta ca. 1957-1958. Glenbow Archives PA 3520-800

A while ago I was writing something about when Starbucks started to appear in Canada in the late 1980s and how radical it was that their signs were flat to the wall.  It seemed so sophisticated and European.  We had always had projecting store signs like the signs shown in the past two days' posts, neon until the 1970s when they were gradually superseded by back-lit plastic, which I really hated, with a vengeance.  Now hardly any signs project into this public realm, unless someone is being retro.

High River was and remains a very small town; its signs and awnings are modest – less money perhaps for commercial projection out into the street.  Robson Street was and is in a city, more money, more people on the sidewalk.  Pressure to redevelop and redevelop again means that Robson Street is a glassy glamorous canyon, while High River never experienced any pressure to redevelop itself, it just went out to the inevitable 1960s highway strip, thus little has changed from the view above. 

What would that volume between building face and car grill, between cornice and pavement, be called?  without using the word 'space'.  And it divides into two parts, one the size of the building, the other the height of the ground floor.

There is a lot of clutter on these sidewalks of the 1950s; they are complex little environments.  Here is a tiny photograph by Everett Baker, the photographer who travelled Saskatchewan with the wheat pool and then the Co-op, taking thousands of kodachrome slides. This picture is unfortunately tiny (the SHFS has a clamp on images), but could be a slice of either Vancouver's Robson Street or Hastings, or Broadway of the 1950s, or Oaxaca, or Elgin, Texas. 

Saskatoon, 2nd Avenue, 1941We have a call for articles on such things here. Some articles have already been proposed.  Interestingly they are a lot about a rediscovery of small towns by urbanites leaving the metropoli with their iPads, iPhones and broadband needs.  I suppose the question will be whether the small towns with their struggling main streets will change the incomers, slowing them down, or whether the urban emigrants will change the towns. The latter I think: one can get a latte everywhere now.


Fred Herzog's Vancouver

Fred Herzog, Robson Street, 1957. Ink jet print, 51 x 34.6 cm; image: 45.9 x 29.5 cm. CMCP Collection. © Fred Herzog.

From the blurb on the Fred Herzog page at MOCCA: 'Herzog's passion for photography resulted in a large body of work depicting Vancouver during the postwar era, at a time when capitalism and consumer culture was burgeoning'.

And another:

Fred Herzog, Robson Street, 1958. Ink jet print, 51 x 34.6 cm; image: 45.9 x 29.5 cm. CMCP Collection. © Fred Herzog.This image was in the Globe & Mail book review section last week as there is a book out of Herzog's work: Grant Arnold. Fred Herzog, Vancouver Photographs.  D&M, 2011.

Herzog was German, worked as a seaman after WWII and in 1952 emigrated to Canada when he was just 22.  He became a medical photographer, and taught at UBC and Simon Fraser.  Herzog has a huge following in Vancouver as he documented a city unrecognisable now.  But I can recognise the prim little lady waiting for the bus, her hat, her gloves, her stick and sensible lace up shoes.  My childhood in Victoria was peopled with such tidy creatures who dressed to go downtown. Of course, downtown then had butchers and cake shops, lunch counters and ladies' dress shops. No malls, few cars, excellent bus service, a kind of public propriety on the sidewalk.  The fellow who has wounded his chin badly while shaving and wearing an undershirt on the street, and smoking, and having a sprained wrist: clearly a doubtful presence at the edge of our little lady's world. But at least he had shaved to go out.  Stubble was a signal that one had really given up.



Spiller Road, Calgary. August 18 2011

Is this the new graffiti – small and repressed, taking over the huge bubble letters that are everywhere and completely unintelligible?



James Hart Dyke. Contact, 2010For the centennial of the British Secret Service, James Hart Dyke was commissioned to shadow MI6 for a year, recording the sense of espionage work.  He is an architect by training, a painter in practice.  After years of watching Spooks in all its precise television definition, these works of Hart Dyke appear as mysterious renderings of banal streets, hotel rooms, landscapes.   The whole series can be seen on his website.

Who knows how many transactions happen on the streets we walk down every day, how many simultaneous lives are being conducted in the cities we take for granted just because we live there.  


Pearl Roundabout, Manãma, Bahrain

Pearl Square, or Pearl Roundabout, or Lulu Square. Manama, Bahrain. photo: google mapsBahrain, a Portuguese colony in the 16th century, then Persian, ruled by the Al-Khalifa family since 1783, independent only since 1971.  Oil is its industry, Manãma its capital with a population of 162,000 in the city, 345,000 in the greater area. 

Now from the google maps images it appears that there is a highway system running through what is a rather small city to equal Toronto's.  Again, as in Cairo, the main area for protest is a huge traffic island, which, when filled with people would halt road traffic at an important nexus. 

Traditional squares were walled by buildings of influence: the church, the state, the security services – the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, for example.  These were the sites of power and thus sites of protest.  These recent uprisings are located in a different political geography; traffic circles, in Manãma's case surrounded by haphazard development.

Manãma also appears to have one of those figurative coastlines that increase ocean frontage.  This isn't the Corniche of Cairo and neither is the violence.

Manama, Bahrain. Google maps


garbage cans

It occured to me that we needed a context for Duende's urban fire fountains.  Existing Paris garbage cans clearly discourage fires.

Matthew Blackett wrote a good piece in Spacing about the replacement of the heavy concrete and ceramic tile garbage cans in the Toronto Metro with a similar, transparent solution.  He says it is an anti-terrorism measure: one can see a bomb, whereas before they were hidden.  If they were there. 

Matthew Blackett. Spadina station, Toronto.

Then I found Artemy Lebedev's site: a two-year study of rubbish bins in the public domain, mostly in Russia and eastern Europe.  He writes with that lovely irony of someone who lives in cynical times.  'The function of a trash can is the timely collection of litter that is carelessly thrown in its direction.'

Artemy Lebedev. Movable trash can. MoscowArtemy Lebedev. A trash can that never got scrubbed, Moscow

We have just had enormous black bins with wheels delivered for our household garbage with helpful hints of what to do with our old garbage cans, such as storing sports equipment in them.  I have an aversion to throwing raw rubbish into my new, clean, very shiny garbage bin. It seems somehow slovenly not to have it tidily contained in a black plastic bag.  I would quite like to have that blue Moscow urn as my garbage can: a thing of beauty on the alley.  It just needs a lid.


winter street furniture

Duende Studio and François Bauchet. Fire Fountain, 2010

Duende, a design studio that regularly sends notices of very chic French industrial design, sent this elegant garbage can today.  Acknowledging that people on the street light fires in metal barrels, and often set themselves alight, this is a safe version.  It also aestheticises a social condition that is not always beautiful.

François Bauchet calls it a public fireplace, the winter version of Paris's fountains, an idea first floated by Yves Klein.  I doubt Klein, who died in 1962 at 34, had the homeless in mind, but he had made a conceptual shift from dancing fountains in the public domain to a winter version: both water and fire are elemental, fugitive, ephemeral.  So yes, one can see how Kleinian this lovely garbage can might be.

It is also in the tradition of the Art Nouveau Paris Metro entrances: cast iron and romantic, not a utilitarian atom in their sinuous, gratuitous decorativeness.  Well, other than holding up a sign. 
Should gratuitous beauty be put into service?  Is the issue here safety or the propriety of the street?  The poor are always with us, but at least we can make them look good?
Is it overly presbyterian Canadian of me to think that winter fire fountains casting a sweet wood-smoke pall over the city are a cosmetic device?  Yes, it is, and this is no doubt why our Canadian city streets are so bleak, so unlovely, so un-made up, so un-Parisian.

This is another example of a small thing, like the lipsticks given out during the relief of Belsen, that make a hard life bearable.  Of course we should be solving poverty at a structural level, but we don't seem to be capable of doing that.  In the meantime, might we not acknowledge that the sidewalks are our common ground where all levels of society meet the same amenities? 


Mags Harries, Asaroton (Unswept Floor), 1976

Mags Harries. Asaraton (Unswept Floor), 1976. Boston, MassachussettsAsaroton was a public art project by Mags Harries for Massachussetts' bicentennial in the Haymarket in Boston.  Market debris has been cast in bronze and embedded in a crosswalk, part of Boston's Freedom Trail.  'Asaroton' describes Roman scraps of food, long since fossilised.  And then in the title comes (Unswept Floor) with its guilty domesticity.  This piece marks the market and the detritus left on the streets and in the gutters when the market closes.  It valorises the everyday: a crushed cardboard box in bronze becomes a beautiful, abstract thing, without monumentality, something difficult to achieve at the scale of a public art project. 

We have so much monumentality, so much at the large scale, so many broad strokes in our cities.  The public realm, or the fairly meaningless descriptions 'public space' or even worse, 'green space' is not developed from the small detail, the scale of the foot or the hand, but is constructed at the scale of the crane, the flatbed truck, the swipe of brick paving texture on the plan.

One does wonder if civic public art programs which take a percentage of the cost of new developments for sculpture on the street, or on the plaza, or on the plinth are necessary compensations for the lack of the small-scale intimate detail in the modern city.  It isn't about supporting art, as is claimed, but is a deep desire to achieve beauty that in other eras was a component of ordinary civic engineering. 

Historic 18th century Boston is stuffed with beauty; perhaps this is why it understood a project that is so essentially humble and tender. 

Mags Harries. Asaraton (Unswept Floor), 1976. Boston, Massachussets


more sidewalk details

Joseph Clement. New York sidewalk details. Spacing, September 6, 2007Joseph Clement had a great piece in Spacing a couple of years ago on New York's sidewalks.  I found it when I was looking about for the glass block inserts.  He makes the point that when the sidewalk takes the place of a back alley for loading and services it makes for very wide pavements: clearly this proportional difference makes a better ground for pedestrian life.  The flâneur simply couldn't flan on niggardly strips of concrete pressed up against parked cars or downtown traffic. 

The photo above shows the care with which water is conducted away from seams between metal and paving.  Whenever the manhole cover was installed, or the glass lens panel laid, someone was thinking about longevity and the details needed to keep rain water from pooling, from splashing.  Again it is like the design of the cat's eyes where two glass marbles are set in a heavy rubber block which compresses if a car tire runs over it.  In front of the marbles is a small well to collect water, so when the rubber compresses the water rinses the front of the glass marbles keeping them clean.  There is tremendous attention to detail here that goes beyond the ease of installation and is more about imagining the post-installation working life of the product.  What a quaint idea.