Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Memoriam: Isaak Kornelsen

This is Isaak. I sat beside him on my train ride from New York City to Montreal. Over that long journey, we talked about a lot of things. He told me about what he wanted to do in life and that he was looking forward to going to Sweden for a bit. I could tell that he was bright person and a good friend.

He was visiting New York and was on his way up to Montreal enjoy the Osheaga music festival which was a coincidence since I was doing the same thing. When we got to Montreal, we exchanged numbers so we could meet up at the festival, however, Osheaga was so big and hectic that while we did text each other, the meet-up never happened. I did get to wish him a safe journey home.

I just learned that on Monday Isaak was killed in an accident. He was biking along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton when he clipped a parked truck's mirror, lost control and fell under a moving cement truck.

I only knew him for a day. I can't imagine what his friends and family feel. This world has undoubtedly lost something special.

I'm sure I have more to say but it'll have to wait - I'm too angry to keep writing right now.
Ghost Bike dedicated to Isaak

Cyclist killed on Whyte Ave identified
 Cyclist killed on road remembered as ‘great runner and even better person’

TransitLive: If you're a transit nerd, you'll love this!

You can now watch transit in Regina LIVE on the internet. It's actually oddly soothing. Take a look!

Urban Prototyping

By now you may have seen these design by Softwalks to transform sidewalk sheds/construction sites in more humane places. Take a look at this short video:

Such a simple idea/design with a wonderful impact. It's little projects like these that cities should most definitely encourage.

Vancouver has finally gotten on the 'Parklet' program this year with Robson Street's 'Urban Pasture' (parallel park near Main Street was their first attempt).

Photo by Paul Krueger
I think this one area of urban intervention/DIY urbanism that Vancouver tends to be too cautious experimenting with. Viva Vancouver has done an outstanding job with Picnurbia last year and Pop-Rocks this year but rather than being the innovator, Vancouver tends to follow suit a few years later.

 San Francisco on the other hand seems to be a city with serious urban ambitions. The Atlantic Cities has a post on The Next Generation of DIY Urbanism Projects in which they outline some cool projects. My favourite is the 10-mile garden (or 16.1km garden for us Canucks).

You’re not allowed to park in front of a fire hydrant. But that doesn’t mean you can plant a garden there. Add up all of this fire-hydrant-fronted space in San Francisco, and it would be the equivalent of a new 10-mile garden in the city.
San Francisco also has a great festival called Urban Prototyping. It is "is a design and technology festival focusing on replicable digital and physical urban interventions that explore new possibilities in public space. Every project produced will be open source, publicly documented, and replicable in any city in the world." Does Vancouver have anything similar?

Monday, August 27, 2012

New York, I love you: Part One

From July 25 to August 2, I was in New York City for the first time. I flew from Vancouver, with a quick stop in Toronto, to La Guardia and I got a spectacular fly-over of the city.

The city from above is a wonderful view. You get to see the patterns and shapes of urban living that we never really think about on the ground but are coerced into navigating everyday: the culmination of centuries of human activity. I don't want to write a big giant post so I'm going to break my experiences into more manageable chunks. First up: Brooklyn.

I was really lucky to stay in an apartment in Brooklyn (Park Slope). I rented a room from a wonderful designer for $50 a night and it was my first time using airbnb AND it came with a great perk: a bike!
Interior of the apartment

My Brooklyn bike!

 The neighbourhood, like most of them in New York that got to see, consisted of low-rise apartment blocks (walk-ups). All of which utilized the most they could from the lot space, meaning no front yard or unnecessary embellishments. But, what I did notice was that people used their stoops for socializing (and escaping the heat inside their brick boxes). No matter was hour I came or went, people were hanging outside with their neighbours.

Designated fallout shelter in the neighbourhood
Any direction I decided to explore, there were always corner stores, restaurants, bars, and other shops. Down the street was Toby's, an excellent bar and wood-oven pizza.

I spent many mornings at Southside Coffee and Colson Patisserie (America, I love your buttery pastry!). When I got my bearings enough and got over my fear of biking in New York (without a helmet, too!) I decided to take a spin. 

To my delight, Brooklyn is littered with bike lanes, traffic calmed streets, and bike signage. 

This bike lane is along Prospect Park
Took an easy ride around/through Prospect Park. The park is absolutely gorgeous and well used. During the summer, they have free concerts for 'Celebrate Brooklyn' but I didn't manage to make it out to any. Near the park, the Brooklyn Public library is a lovely art-deco building that originally opened in 1941.
Brooklyn Public Library grand entrance 
Grand Army Plaza
My other bike trips took me to Brooklyn Bridge park. Most bike lanes that I encountered in New York were just your run-of-the-mill painted line near the curb and these, as always, presented challenges since they were regularly blocked with parked taxis or delivery vehicles. But again, they had some great quality lanes near the park:
Not only was a bike lane carved out but look at the ample pedestrian space! 
My destination was the Brooklyn Bridge pop-up pool. It was free but they only allow 60 people in at anyone time so they time you in 1 hour shifts. Since it was midday on a weekday, I had no issue getting in.

Not my picture: elevated pool image © kevin chu/KCJP
It was a great use of a waterfront space that's obviously going through some transition. 

View along the park edge
Some fun design along the way
 Everywhere I went in NYC, they seemed to understand the importance of just providing some simple tables and chairs for people to use in their public spaces. Along the waterfront of the park, people were enjoying the view and enjoying some food from nearby vendors (I had a hot dog covered in macaroni and it was delicious!).

Downtown Brooklyn was a busy place but I was there mostly for one very, very nerdy reason: The New York City transit museum. 
Downtown Brooklyn 
New York does transit well and it has a long history to prove it. The lower level of the Museum is a functional track (re: live!) that stores a large collection of NYC's past subway trains. 

The trains are in excellent condition and even have their old advertising in tact: 

Hello, Jane Fonda!

Brooklyn overall was a great place to stay. It was a more relaxed experience than staying in Manhattan would have been and I definitely miss it. But, having 8 days of no work just pleasure seeking can skew one's view. I definitely saw some challenges that the area is/will be facing: Tale of two worlds: Statistics paint picture of extremes of wealth and poverty that exist side by side in Brooklyn.