Thursday, October 28

link it up

I've finally got around to updating the other webpages I link to on the Built Environment Blog and I thought I'd highlight a few of the new additions.

Guano Loading Infrastructure, Peru. From Oliver Whiteside via F.A.D.

One of my very favorite reads these days is Free Association Design, a tangent-rich blog based in Portland. I can't remember how I came across F.A.D. at first, but I became a regular reader after reading a post on Reclaiming the Florida Everglades. I was impressed by its surefooted explanations of the complex biological, economic and political forces at work in that unique environment. (I like the posts on goats and bird poop, too.)

Although I've seriously reduced the number of NYC and Brooklyn blogs I read, I've added Urban Omnibus to the list of Empire State blogs I follow. This week I'm particularly delighted to link to them as they feature Underline, a project by a good friend and UC Berkeley classmate. While Underline is a site-specific intervention suspended in the negative space between the Culver Viaduct and the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, the project makes an important point about how we think about leveraging the structures we already have in cities -- an oft overlooked element of sustainable urban design.

Underline Section. By John McGill, via Urban Omnibus

I would be very impressed if any of my readers noticed that the link to the defunct Polis blog, once written by Slackonomics author and Forum for Urban Design executive director Lisa Chamberlain, was replaced with the Polis blog, an international group blog distantly related to the now defunct Where blog, where I was briefly a contributor a couple years ago.

Moving to San Francisco has brought other new awesome stuff to my attention. Ever since they gave me a free membership after I caught them poaching one of my flickr photos without credit for their magazine Urbanist, I've been a huge fan of SPUR. Besides fighting the good fight for San Francisco, the events they put on at their downtown headquarters are lots of fun. (If you haven't seen it yet, you've got two more days to see the DIY Urbanism exhibition.)

Southern Pacific Diesel Shop
Southern Pacific Diesel Shop. Demolished October 2010. Photo by Todd Lappin.

I also have two new favorite San Francisco blogs. I've already posted to a map from Burrito Justice, so it's only fair to link to Telstar Logistics now. (Burrito Justice's "Know Your Trees" post is my go-to guide for San Francisco tree identification.) I must admit I'm totally incapable of categorizing Telstar Logistics into any specific kind of blog -- but it's great. Sadly, sometimes I learn about things from Telstar only when it's too late -- despite driving past it dozens of times, I never noticed the Southern Pacific Diesel Shop. (Another great San Francisco discovery has been the Flickr photostream of Eric Ficsher. His series of US city race and ethnicity maps are powerful.)

I've decided to keep up some of the other links I had on the old blog even though I haven't done the best job keeping up with them. In the process of pruning down the list, for example, I came back across Fogonazos, a Spanish blog I was never really able to fully read due to my mediocre language skills. Fortunately, videos of houses getting blown over in enormous wind tunnels are awesome in any language.

Wednesday, October 6

hardly strictly diy wayfinding

Another foggy weekend, another great festival in the bay. This past weekend I went to my third Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a remarkable free annual music festival in Golden Gate Park. Investment banker and banjoist Warren Hellman foots the bill every year, calling the event "The closest I'll ever get to heaven."

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2010 2010-10-0132
Banjo Stage. Photo from Steve Rhodes

Besides the consistently outstanding acts and the generally groovy vibe, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass offers a great opportunity to observe how large groups of people can organize themselves in interesting ways. In past years, for example, I've marveled at how people use flags, balloons, and other props to make landmarks within the crowd. It's sort of a do-it-yourself wayfinding exercise pursued without official instructions or sanction.

At 2009's HSB, I was only able to find my friends by virtue of their proximity to an osprey kite.

This year, planning ahead, I brought several lengths of dowels, a roll of duct tape, and a blue handkerchief to Rooster stage, where Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were due to play at the end of the day. Fashioning a crude flag pole from the dowels and duct-taping it to a steel barricade, I raised my beacon to the crowd and text messaged my friends. By the time Sharon was shimmying across the stage, there were dozens of us dancing under the blue bandana. (Which my phone's auto-spell misleadingly corrected to "blue banana.")

Phone calls were impossible due to the noise and dropped calls, despite cell providers' extra coverage.

While cell phone users now have the ability to georeference themselves and send the location to their friends via FourSquare, Twitter, or Facebook Places, the combination of a relatively old digital technology, text messaging, and an even old communication method, flags, proved to be a remarkably effective means of marking a specific place among an otherwise anonymous crowd.

Lonely Flag Marker
Photo from James Mourgos

Reflecting on the flag-text combination, I realized that the effectiveness of the endeavor came from the coordination of a physical action in the landscape with a message sent on social media. It was a tiny example "emergent urbanism," a term I have adopted loosely from Dan Hill to describe coordinated action in cities coordinated through digital networks. Regardless of what sort of urbanism may or may not have emerged at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, it was a fabulous show enhanced by great company. I can promise I'll be back next year to continue my research.