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

the VSL:Web post for 23 October 2008

One billion people live in slums. Their numbers are supposed to double over the next quarter-century. So: Who are those people — and what must their lives be like?

The Norwegian photojournalist Jonas Bendiksen has spent a good deal of time in Indian, Kenyan, Indonesian, and Venezuelan slums, and his website, The Places We Live, features dazzling 360-degree photos of homes and shanties, navigable and altogether immersive, along with audio recordings made by the inhabitants. Prepare yourself to gape, gasp, laugh, cry, and experience every emotion in between: In Mumbai, you’ll meet the Shilpiri family (15 people crammed into a tiny space through which floodwater and garbage regularly stream). In Nairobi, the head of the Dirango household takes great pride in his cramped abode, giving a tour that takes just seconds. “You have to visit somewhere before you judge,” he explains. Thanks, Mr. Bendiksen, for starting us on the journey.

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"Walkway over 101," photo by Kurt Manley, 2008 :: via FILE Magazine
Nate:

If even the divine Creator paints on a limited canvas, then this is much more true for us. We can only introduce so many products, write so many laws, paint so many pictures. The best creativity involves discarding that which is less than best, making room for the cultural goods that are the very best we can do with the world that has been given to us.

Culture Making, p.107

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"the best piece i've seen in two years," photo by Flickr user jakedobkin, 24 March 2007
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Andy:
from "An Open Letter to the Next Farmer in Chief," by Michael Pollan, NYTimes.com, 9 October 2008 :: via Arts & Letters Daily

The choice of White House chef is always closely watched, and you would be wise to appoint a figure who is identified with the food movement and committed to cooking simply from fresh local ingredients. Besides feeding you and your family exceptionally well, such a chef would demonstrate how it is possible even in Washington to eat locally for much of the year, and that good food needn’t be fussy or complicated but does depend on good farming. You should make a point of the fact that every night you’re in town, you join your family for dinner in the Executive Residence — at a table. (Surely you remember the Reagans’ TV trays.) And you should also let it be known that the White House observes one meatless day a week — a step that, if all Americans followed suit, would be the equivalent, in carbon saved, of taking 20 million midsize sedans off the road for a year. Let the White House chef post daily menus on the Web, listing the farmers who supplied the food, as well as recipes.

Since enhancing the prestige of farming as an occupation is critical to developing the sun-based regional agriculture we need, the White House should appoint, in addition to a White House chef, a White House farmer. This new post would be charged with implementing what could turn out to be your most symbolically resonant step in building a new American food culture. And that is this: tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden.

When Eleanor Roosevelt did something similar in 1943, she helped start a Victory Garden movement that ended up making a substantial contribution to feeding the nation in wartime. (Less well known is the fact that Roosevelt planted this garden over the objections of the U.S.D.A., which feared home gardening would hurt the American food industry.) By the end of the war, more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce consumed in America. The president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking “victory” over three critical challenges we face today: high food prices, poor diets and a sedentary population.

Nate:
gendersite.org

The women took issue with mainstream UK initiatives to ‘design out crime’ in their dislike of the surveillance culture and technology promoted in the name of community safety.  This government-promoted approach includes felling trees to ensure clear sightlines for CCTV cameras,  erecting railings around steps and public monuments where people like to linger and chat, covering public spaces with ugly signage prohibiting everyday activities,  or installing “mosquitos” (high-pitched sounds) to deter young people from congregating in the street.

The very presence of CCTV made women feel that an area must be unsafe.  Although many wanted to see more uniformed people in public spaces, they preferred the sight of park wardens, bus conductors, and toilet attendants rather than police.  Fenced-off areas and barriers made them feel trapped. Security guards, overseeing privatized public spaces, were also seen as a problem - concerned primarily with the profitability of the enterprise, and not the well-being of the visitor.

The factor that contributed most highly to women’s sense of safety was ‘a variety of/ lots of other people about’; often they would add ‘smiling people’, ‘happy people’, ‘the sound of children laughing’. WDS therefore does not support the current mainstream approach to community safety. Designers and decision-makers need to think more about how to attract a wide range of different people to come and enjoy themselves in the public spaces of towns and cities.  One way of achieving this is simply through making such places beautiful - a concept rarely discussed in the context of safety. It is this quality above all which will draw people out of their homes and cars to occupy and enjoy a sense of well-being in public urban space.

"Mera Juta Hai Japani," from the film Shri 420, performed and directed by Raj Kapoor, music by Shankar-Jaikishan, playback singing by Mukesh
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Andy:
from "Groundskeepers Display Artistry on the Diamond," by John Branch, NYTimes.com, 30 September 2008

Fans tuning in to the playoffs, which begin Wednesday, can expect to see 45-foot-wide swaths in a broadly woven pattern at Fenway Park, cross-hatched diamonds at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, straightaway outfield stripes at Dodger Stadium, a classic checkerboard at Wrigley Field, and the mingling three-directional outfield lines at Anaheim’s Angel Stadium, among others planned for the postseason.

Such designs adorn and distinguish nearly every major league ballpark these days, but no one takes as keen an interest in mowing patterns as [David] Mellor. He has written a book on the subject (“Picture Perfect: Mowing Techniques for Lawns, Landscapes, and Sports”), and is generally considered the top grass-cutting artist in the game. High-school geometry classes visit him at Fenway Park to study ways that an odd-shaped field can be divided and subdivided by straight lines and sharp angles.

“I’m not looking for more work,” Mellor said on a recent afternoon at Fenway Park. “But the grass has to be mowed anyway. So why not do it well, with straight lines, or checkerboards, or something more festive?”

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from "Super Kingdom," by London Fieldworks (Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson), opened 21 September 2008 at Stour Valley Arts in Kent, England :: via designboom
Nate:

God’s first and best gift to humanity is culture, the realm in which human beings themselves will be the cultivators and creators, ultimately contributing to the cosmic purposes of the cultivator and creator of the natural world.

Culture Making, p.110

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"The colourful apartment buildings of Tirana," photo by Flickr user daviduf, 21 May 2007 :: via Buenos Aires Photographer
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"Gourdon's Garden," Provence, France, by Flickr user Feuillu, 8 August 2003 :: via Intelligent Travel
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Rue Franklin, Nantes, France, Google Stret View
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"Dream City" (1921), watercolor and oil, by Paul Klee, in a private collection, Turin, Italy :: via more than 95 theses
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Andy:
from "A Papaya Grows in Holyoke," by Corby Kummer, The Atlantic, April 2008

Even in the middle of winter, when I visited, it was apparent how meticulously the gardens are maintained—unlike many other urban gardens I know, which out of season can resemble the trash heaps they started out as. Everything looked freshly groomed: the wooden fences separating individual 15-by-20-foot plots, the gaily painted casitas, tool sheds that are “artistic statements,” Ross told me, and gathering places like stoops. Several gardens had plastic-covered hoop houses, greenhouses that in the dead of winter can get pretty grungy. I didn’t detect a rip. 

“We have nine community gardens in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city if not the country,” Ross said, “and the incidence of vandalism has been almost zero.” Joel Cortijo, a colleague along for the tour, said simply, “It’s ours.” . . .

Gardens are the heart of everything Nuestras Raíces does. Children can often be found playing in vegetable patches and in adjacent playgrounds built on land cleared of needles, broken glass, and brush that gave dealers a place to hide their drugs. Grandfathers and fathers, many of whom grew up on farms in Puerto Rico, teach schoolchildren how to grow peppers and eggplants and experiment in greenhouses on the farm with exotics like papayas and avocados, to see what they can get to grow in the New England climate. “During the summer you’ll find a dozen guys sitting on tables and benches,” Ross said, “shelling beans and telling lies about the size of their tomatoes.”

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"114 (sutter)," by Flickr user heather, 23 April 2008
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a Freakonomics post by Daniel Hamermesh, 5 September 2008
quoted from nytimes.com

In Bonn, Germany, I noticed a bookcase full of books in the public park where I run, with a young woman removing one book and returning another. These are used books that make up essentially a free voluntary lending library.

Would this cabinet last undamaged in a U.S. city one day? I doubt it. Similar things exist elsewhere — such as outdoor vending machines for DVD’s in Kyoto, Japan. Both of these indicate a certain level of mutual trust in the population and a certain level of civility; both reduce the transactions costs of daily living: easier access to books in one case, 24-hour DVD availability in the other.

Mutual trust is important in reducing transactions costs, and this aspect of culture has been viewed by economists as helping to determine some economic outcomes. (Although how different levels of trust arise has not been considered by the mostly macroeconomists who worry about this; it’s creating trust that seems to me to be the central issue.)

How many other examples like the books and the DVD’s are there in foreign countries that we don’t see at home?

Northern Lights Blvd, Anchorage, Alaska, Google Street View
Nate:

A Chinese curse condemns one to live in interesting and eventful times. The best thing about Covington is that it is in a certain sense out of place and time but not too far out and therefore just the place for a Chinese scholar who asks nothing more than being left alone. One can sniff the ozone from the pine trees, visit the local bars, eat crawfish, and drink Dixie beer and feel as good as it is possible to feel in this awfully interesting century. And now and then, drive across the lake to New Orleans, still an entrancing city, eat trout amandine at Galatoire’s, drive home to my pleasant, uninteresting place, try to figure out how the world got into such a fix, shrug, take a drink, and listen to the frogs tune up.

—Walker Percy, "Why I Live Where I Live" (1990), collected in Signposts in a Strange Land

Camelot Circle, Phoenix, AZ, Google Street View
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