Friday, September 17, 2010
I am in Syracuse, New York. The city and university are participating in PARK(ing) Day. Artists are setting up art or DIY mini events in parking spaces in Downtown, The SU area and the "connective corridor". This morning, I've mini golfed, enjoyed Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, and a game of checkers. Last night I stayed up later than usual (partially due to the karaoke rap happening upstairs and extraordinarily good cup of coffee from the Kind Coffee Co), thinking about how I'd like to engage this public art. Syracuse is funny because pedestrians and artists don't seem to need to reclaim space from cars anyway; I've been impressed by the lack of traffic, the ease of the bike commute and the wide open streets. The drivers are meaner and go out of their way to swear you out, but there certainly aren't a ton of them. So I think artists need to address what it means to reclaim a space that hasn't necessarily been claimed very firmly by something or someone else. What is the history of a space that is empty? Why does it what to be filled up?
I'm answering the question similarly to the Big Commute, doing something fun and engaging and accidentally gave me an excuse to talk about all sorts of city planning issues.
I'm biking around with my Burley filled with an accordion, chair, lunch box, computer, some water etc, and serenading all the (PARK)ing spaces. Connecting the people in the connective corridor. Providing a recognizable display of public art that allows people who are a bit fearful of random acts of art in the city to stare without feeling stared at themselves. And I get to meet all the rad artists in Syracuse and see what they are up to and thinking about.
Friday, September 11, 2009
In choosing a route to commute along I find myself thinking about city planning. If the goal is maximize interaction, what streets should I take? While I usually vary the southern half of my walk, I begin and end my commute on 4th avenue. It has the highest density of businesses, and they range from tourist shops to breakfast joints to the federal building. Because of this, the greatest variety of people hang out on 4th. When I turn the corner at L, I have to decide how to get back east. According to Jane Jacobs, the godmother of urban planning, this decision can affect the cultural vitality of a city. The more choices of walking routes in a city, the more likely we are to meet new people to make art, music, and discuss new ideas. Short blocks and lots of business encourage many different routes and the potential for meeting someone in a coffee shop on your way to work. Or for example if Jimmy has set up his parachute tent on the bookmobile in Peratrovich Park, and you stop to stare and then discuss it's validity with a stranger and then you hit it off and form a band. That would be city planning that promotes culture.
The real decision making happens in Anchorage's new "pedestrian friendly corridor" (F,G,6th,7th). The curbs are bike friendly and I think cars go slower because they feel like they are on a side walk, but I'd just as well avoid these streets. They all have substantial walls bordering all or part of the street. What's the point of being pedestrian friendly if there's no where pedestrians want to go on the street? That's not so friendly. The convention center, polar bear gifts doorless wall, the parking garage: all of these are boring places to stilt because there is no one outside of them. The people only hang out at the small hole into these massive structures. For example, one family was camped out with chairs and coloring books outside the Atwood building covered entry waiting for the PFD office to open at 10. But there were no urban picnics happening down the street against the bank of reflective windows.
Here are the exciting places to stilt by:
The Sandwich Deck on 4th. They win the most smiley window wavers award. All week.
Snow White Cleaners: Amazing. How come I haven't come by here before? All of the workers ran out of the building with their hands in the air and yelling.
Snow City Cafe: Today I set a new record for the commute length and my boss even came looking for me because of the Snow City team. I loitered at the host stand chatting with Ernie, drinking green tea, reading the paper for a good 45 minutes.
Peratrovich Park: The homeless folks know that this is good place to people watch. It faces the part of Anchorage left over from the Earthquake, which is visually pleasing, and all the people who meander 4th because it feels a little slower than the rest of downtown. If city planners are looking for cues on where cities work, they should look for places where time rich people hang out.
More reading: Jane Jacobs, Life and Death of the Great American City
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Umbrellas are surprisingly expressive.
I walked the length of the PAC with two teenager girls and we discussed improvements in stilt technology. One of them had seen those new acrobatic stilts that are long metal arcs you strap on and bound around.
I got a "nice legs" twice, once yelled from a car, and once from a passing pedestrian. Then on the meander through the town square landscaping, I overheard a conversation discussing my male versus and femaleness and the conclusion that I looked sexier with the suit pants. Lots of objectification today.
On 5th avenue I walked west with an older fellow (slight stoop, wispy hair, and a bolan) on his way to a dinner at Simons. In small our talk, I asked him how his day was. He replied, "still vertical". So true.
D to 4th to L to 5th right at the "fifth avenue building" to 6th through town square to 5th to D to work.
Humans are so good and interesting! They make my day. In the morning we wake up either alone or with our loved ones. After that our day expands to include the people we share our living space with. On any other day, I hardly see more than a handful of people before noon. On the days when I drive around, forget sharing much fresh air with strangers. But this whole week I have had an excuse to say good morning to so many people all in the space of an hour. Their short stories and ways they say hello takes me outside of myself and gives me something else to think about. This interaction with a community outside my private life now seems so important. That it feels so good must be deeply rooted in our development as humans living in groups.
On 4th avenue, the team holding down the bench next to the log cabin visitor's center was back. My initial guess was right, it was MA reading the newspaper! I met John, the smiler, yesterday when he waved Loren over to take our picture. Today I told him I'd get him a copy and he said he'd send it back to Little Diamede to show them what his girlfriend was like in Anchorage. Later, we blew each other kisses from across the street at the transit station. They keep each other company and watch Anchorage wake up together. Today was MA's first day with long pants on. He just finished taking down at the Fair. I really like seeing them on the bench together taking in the morning.
The sidewalks are a little safer for stilt walkers today because the city took down all of the hanging baskets. No more little carts driving around watering the flowers. I'm a bit sad at this because the flowers were at my perfect height for smelling.
Today I went to Kaladi's for my morning beverage. I just switched from the tall skinny latte to green tea. To my surprise the mayor was there. He was unsurprised. In fact he didn't make eye contact at all. We stood in line together for several minutes. This from the man who, after weeks of testimonials by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer folks, said he didn't see an substantial evidence of the existence of discrimination. Now I realize that like my experience with him, he probably does see it, but chooses to ignore it and pretend like it's totally normal. He can see what's going on in this city and CHOOSES to put blinders on because it's easier. I'm not equating not being greeted by the mayor while I'm on stilts to the denial of civil rights, but I still think his ambivalence to something everyone around him is taking pictures of is very interesting.
To give him credit he did address me later as we were talking to the same barista about the upcoming show at Bernie's at 9 tonight. He didn't blink at the height though.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The highlight of the commute was meeting a very excited young girl and her mom outside of Sevigny Studios. We all took pictures together and I learned she was in town for the Lion King and she plays the young Nala. After seeing her so smiley on the street, I would love to see her on stage.
One of the not-so-hot things about going back to the less glamorous lifestyle sans photographer is that you have to watch out for yourself. I figure one would have to be pretty bold to take out a stilter with a photographer in tow. The only reason I worry about this is because I have a mental movie of the story one of my mentors told me about stilting for a black tie event at the top of a very tall building in Chicago. He was greeting people by the elevator and out of nowhere he was tackled into a potted plant. So without being too paranoid, I judge the click click click or shuffle shuffle of feet behind me so as to be prepared for a potential hug to the knees. We all live with overblown fears.
The Cabin Fever gift shop has Alaska sweatshirts subtitled with “I can see Russia from my house”.
North on D West on 4th, South on L, East on 5th, South on G, East on 7th, North on E, West on 5th, North on D
Disclaimer: Loren followed me around with his photo camera today and Michael with his hand held video camera.
Today started slow because as I left the IGCA there was a substantial dump truck in the alley emptying a dumpster. Stilting in downtown Anchorage is a lot like riding a bike in downtown Anchorage in that the safest way to get around is by making eye contact with every driver before you cross the street.
It's a bit different having the documenters following me around because it's an immediate cue to people that something is up. Which clearly, something is up, but having a photographer makes some people think that it's something "going on" , more in an exclusive way. When it's just me it feels more equal and honest of an interchange.
Loren and I saw a what we thought was a woodpecker trying to make its way on the Conoco Phillips building. It was really noisy.