Culture Making is now archived. Enjoy five years of reflections on culture worth celebrating.
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Posts tagged gardens and cities

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from "The Inauguration. At Last," by Maira Kalman, And the Pursuit of Happiness, 29 January 2009
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photo Pencil fence
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Pencil fence photo, origin unknown :: via FFFFOUND! and the style files
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from "Models of statistical distribution," by Keith Hart, The Memory Bank, 27 January 2009 :: via Koranteng's Bookmarks

When I carried out fieldwork in Ghana during the 1960s, I was amazed by how migrants found their relatives, after traveling 500 miles to an unknown city of a million people. They had no addresses or phone numbers written down. When they arrived in the central lorry park, they would look for someone wearing Northern dress and ask him where they could find people like themselves. Directed to a particular district, they would seek out a leading figure in the ethnic community. They might then be directed to someone else from their home village. By all means, within an hour or two, they would be sitting with their relative. These African migrants knew that we live in small worlds connected by fewer links than most of us imagine. They used contingent human encounters and network hubs like local big men, not street maps. Their method was news to me then, but it shouldn’t be now.

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Twenty years later, this area is still poor, with high unemployment but hope can be found at the Village of Arts and Humanities.  That’s what the small art park has grown into—a tangible symbol of renewal that covers more than 120 formerly abandoned lots with murals, sculpture gardens, mosaics, flowers, community gardens, playgrounds, performance spaces, basketball courts, art studios, even a tree farm. 

“The entire community seems to take part in the use of the spaces,” writes Kathleen McCarthy, who nominated the Village for Project for Public Space’s authoritative list of the world’s Great Public Spaces. “As we walked down the street, trying to find one of the parks, a man walking beside us directed us to the Park, and told us the history of it and the wonderful artist, Lily Yeh who started the park. He spoke with pride that this was a part of his community. We sat on the benches made of smashed tile and mirror, making wonderful curves and places to sit. Across from us, women sat and smiled, waved. Children ran over and asked us to hide them during a game of hide-and-seek…. I’ve never felt more welcomed in an unfamiliar place.”

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from "How the city hurts your brain," by Jonah Lerner, The Boston Globe, 2 January 2009 :: via Crooked Timber

And yet, city life isn’t easy. The same London cafes that stimulated Ben Franklin also helped spread cholera; Picasso eventually bought an estate in quiet Provence. While the modern city might be a haven for playwrights, poets, and physicists, it’s also a deeply unnatural and overwhelming place.

Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting—that’s why Picasso left Paris—this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

“The mind is a limited machine,“says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. “And we’re beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations.”

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

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They sewed fig leaves together—the first human act after the consumption of the fruit is cultural, the creation of that basic cultural good called clothing. They make something of the world. They are no longer freely and spontaneously naming God’s good creation; they are no longer cultivating the good Garden; now they are protecting themselves from the sudden alienation they feel from one another and their own bodies. But what they are doing is culture—creating and cultivating—all the same.

Culture Making, p.114

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from "A Puzzle on the House," English Russia, 7 January 2009
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People of Lvov city in Ukraine decided to add another attraction for the visitors of their city. According to the artistic project it was decided to place a giant 100 feet (30 meters) tall at the wall of the one of the multi-stored residential houses.

There is one interesting detail about the design of the puzzle. It looks like an empty puzzle during the day-light, but at night when special lights are on the words in the puzzle become visible with a lightly-glowing fluorescent color.

The questions for this crossword puzzle are located in different point of interests of the city, like monuments, theaters, fountains etc. So people while walking around the city can try to answer the questions and writing down the answers. When the night comes to the city they can meet at this house and check their degree of intelligence.

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He was describing the ballet of the train station. But his description could just as easily have applied to the Internet. Think about it: Serendipitous encounters between people who know each other well, sort of well, and not at all. People of every type, and with every type of agenda, trying to meet up with others who share that same agenda. An environment that’s alive at all hours, populated by all types, and is, most of the time, pretty safe. What he was saying, really, was that New York had become the Web. Or perhaps more, even: that New York was the Web before the Web was the Web, characterized by the same free-flowing interaction, 24/7 rhythms, subgroups, and demimondes.

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from "Artist Gene Davis putting finishing touches on his 414-ft-long ptg. 'Franklin’s Footpath,' painted on street in front of Philadelphia Museum of Art," photo by Henry Groskinsky, 1972 :: via The Best of LIFE
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God is perfectly capable of naming every animal and giving Adam a dictionary—but he does not. He makes room for Adam’s creativity—not just waiting for Adam to give a pre-existing right answer to a quiz, but genuinely allowing Adam to be the one who speaks something out of nothing, a name where there had been none, and allowing that name to have its own being.

Culture Making, p.109

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from "Sick City: 2,000 Years of Life and Death in London," by Richard Barnett, Times Online, 14 November 2008 :: via more than 95 theses

That is why the Great Plague of 1665 has been largely understood as a London phenomenon. The sites of old plague pits are now pointed out with understandable pride. Richard Barnett reveals that the escalator at Camden Town Underground station passes through a vast grave for plague victims, and that a “massive plague pit” is responsible for the low ceiling of the basement of Harvey Nichols. It would be fair to say that he takes a certain, rather morbid, pleasure in compiling this Baedeker of disease and suffering. But why not? This is London’s real heritage. Together with this volume are a glossary and six maps, so that the reader can make his or her way down the various roads to oblivion. If you wish to follow the course of tropical disease as it ate its way to the heart of the metropolis, you can do so; you can follow the route of the plague, or the life of an 18th-century medical student. All human life, and human death, is here.

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Cartonlandia (detail), by Ana Serrano, 2008 :: via designboom
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Also noteworthy, according to Wray, is the finding that if you live in Las Vegas, but travel away from home, your risk for suicide decreases. “So, one conclusion we might draw from this fact is that something about the place is toxic or ‘suicidogenic,’ and that there is something about reduced exposure to Las Vegas that is beneficial,” said Wray.

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from "Choosing Creation Over Destruction," by Matt Cox, The Curator, 7 November 2008

One day Miyamoto was tending his garden.  He was in awe at the process of planting, growing and harvesting and the general admiration of the beauty that can arise out of the garden.  This is when the crazy idea of making some sort of garden-influenced game came to mind.  As cheesy and boring as it may sound, he did not end up with a design reminiscent of literally watching grass grow on your TV screen.  The end result was Pikmin, a title where the player plants and harvests little flower creatures.  You play as Captain Olimar whose job is to keep all the Pikmin alive, safe from the large bugs and animals that inhabit the planet.  Quite a far cry from the shoot-to-kill mentality, eh?

A few years after bringing an evolved sense of gardening to gaming, Miyamoto oversaw the advent of Wii Fit, a new interactive way to bring health into the fold of non-traditional gaming.  So instead of playing a version of creation on screen, the player would literally be working out, which in and of itself isn’t new or innovative, but bringing it into the fold of interactive games is more than admirable.  Even the joy of playing music is made simpler, a-la Guitar Hero or Rock Band, in Wii Music - a simpler way to enjoy the beauty of making music than even the aforementioned blockbusters.

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"Golden Gai, Tokyo," by Lok, Urban Sketchers, 6 November 2008
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S. Central Ave, Cicero, Illinois, Google Street View
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from "Dutch farmers tip-toe through the tulips as landscape is transformed into a spectacular display of colour," uncredited photo, Mail Online, 8 May, 2008 :: via FFFFOUND!
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"City and Forest," by Katy Wu, from the Totoro Forest Project benefit auction, on exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, September 2008–February 2009 :: thanks Shu Ming!
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