studying the city (Annette Koh)

Public space, the right to the city, and civic engagement. How can we improve equity and access through participatory urbanism? Ph.D. student in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Former resident of Seoul & San Francisco.
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HUTONG/adaptation: The Shanghai-based urban think-tank MovingCities guest-edited Abitare China’s 34th issue (June-Sept 2013), dealing with the (preservation of the) city of Beijing 北京. “Hutong” served as springboard for an investigation into Beijing’s historical urban tissue, its past, present and preservation. As part of Beijing Design Week 2013, the magazine launch and presentation was held at the Factory’s Auditorium in Beijing Dashilar neighborhood.

Under the keyword HUTONG, MovingCities presents a volatile architectural, urban and cultural condition, concerning the transformation of a local Beijing spatial culture. Let us call this HUTONG/adaptation; so to encompass the multitude of strategies, visions and reflections flourishing in this urban tissue. Beyond the demand or desire for preservation, ideas and visions of renovation, revitalization, occupation, relocation, legislation, urbanization and gentrification are explored. The content is organized in three complementary sections, identifying locations and actors influencing the perception and planning of these urban areas. Firstly, by looking back – REWIND – to reflect and remember; secondly, investigating and touching upon the present – NOW – so as to feel a possible future, and finally –DASHILAR – a complex neighborhood case study.

The issue includes a feature on Michael Meyer’s much-praised book The Last Days of Old Beijing.



City to host Complete Streets Public Information Meeting

Honolulu – Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced today that a Complete Streets Public Information Meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 15, 2014, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Neal Blaisdell Center, Pikake Room.

/These are organic fields?/
They look at me oddly. Yes.
/Is that better than regular fields?/
Why would it be better?
/Because there aren’t any chemicals. Is the work better?/
The shorter of the two snorts. No chemicals, but it’s the same. Ninety-nine cents for a bag of onions, he says, nodding at the sacks.
/It’s not better to work in an organic field?/
It’s the same.
Tracie McMillan, The American Way of Eating. The problem with using organic as a proxy for good (“good” meaning everything from ethical to sustainable) is, as Julie Guthman has pointed out, organic is not a label about labor.

Also at the Wien Museum Karlsplatz is the companion exhibit WIG 64: Wiener Internationale Gartenausstellung (1964 Vienna International Garden Show). The determined cheeriness of ”post-war modernism” pervades the promotional photos of the era. Underneath the color-saturated optimism and the chair lifts gliding above the flower beds, however, lay an uneasy strata of history and memory. Purpose built to host the garden show, Donaupark was constructed on top of the Bruckhaufer rubbish dump, the Bretteldorf informal settlement, and the former Kagran military shooting range (which had been used by the Nazis as an execution ground). The park was touted as a solution for a “problem area” and a demonstration site for the new “social green spaces” of post-war Vienna.

More than 2 million people visited the WIG 64, then Europe’s largest garden show. A landmark event in the history of post-war Vienna, the show gave rise to one of the biggest 20th-century parks in Vienna. The exhibition looks at the WIG 64 in relation to utopian visions of urban planning and Vienna’s post-war image grooming, but also asks how the “modern” park of the 1960s functions today.

Mind blown. The fishies swimming around in those pristine mountain streams and lakes? Nearly all of them non-native species that are regularly restocked by the state and federal government, 100 million fish annually by some estimates. “By 2004, these agencies were stocking more than 40 million pounds of fish in the freshwaters of the United States every year, close to half of which were rainbow trout.”*

An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World

Anders Halverson provides an exhaustively researched and grippingly rendered account of the rainbow trout and why it has become the most commonly stocked and controversial freshwater fish in the United States. Discovered in the remote waters of northern California, rainbow trout have been artificially propagated and distributed for more than 130 years by government officials eager to present Americans with an opportunity to get back to nature by going fishing. Proudly dubbed “an entirely synthetic fish” by fisheries managers, the rainbow trout has been introduced into every state and province in the United States and Canada and to every continent except Antarctica, often with devastating effects on the native fauna. Halverson examines the paradoxes and reveals a range of characters, from nineteenth-century boosters who believed rainbows could be the saviors of democracy to twenty-first-century biologists who now seek to eradicate them from waters around the globe. Ultimately, the story of the rainbow trout is the story of our relationship with the natural world—how it has changed and how it startlingly has not.

Image sources: 1) Book cover 2) Aerial fish stocking 31933 fish stocking operation at Hood River, Oregon 4) 2000 Gallon fish stocking truck from Michigan’s Fish Transportation site  5) Present day aerial stocking of Utah’s lakes 6) Hatching jars at the U.S. Fish Commission 

* in Halverson, 2008. Stocking Trends: A Quantitative Review of Governmental Fish Stocking in the United States, 1931-1004. Fisheries 33(2):69-75

Tracie McMillan's triptych of the American food system — The American Way of Eating — is based on her months of fieldwork as a fieldworker in the Central Valley, a produce stocker in Walmart, and a kitchen worker in Applebees. One of her major contributions is foregrounding food distribution networks.

The more time I spend traversing the divide between Detroit and its suburbs, the more I realize the term “food desert” isn’t quite right. Massive amounts of food floods into Detroit every single day, through its produce terminal and wholesale markets. Starting at midnight, semi after semi comes in full of produce, bringing loads from the nation’s eastern ports: Chilean plums and grapes through New York, Honduran melons through Miami. In the mid-twentieth century, Detroit had four wholesale markets, sprawling conglomerations of market stalls and loading docks where farmers and brokers sent their wares to be sold, and where stores and restaurants came to buy it; today, two remain. Other places, like thriving New York City, have seen their market districts erode as property values shot up, while the most lauded market preservation projects like Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal have focused on developing retail food shops. Either way, those cities have lost most of something that Detroit still has intact: food infrastructure.

Food pours into the city every day, and the wholesale markets here are its first way station. It’s impossible to know exactly how much comes through the Terminal and Eastern markets, though, because nobody keeps an eye on the volume of sales. (The USDA tracked wholesale market sales until the late 1990s, but stopped when private distribution centers grew so large that officials realized they only had part of the picture — and couldn’t compel private companies to divulge their sales figures.) Organizationally, markets like the Produce Terminal and Eastern Market work like shopping malls: The market provides a building and basic infrastructure, but each vendor operates independently of the market itself, and of other vendors. Compliance with food safety and fair business practices is the business of each vendor, each of whom deals individually with the government agency responsible for oversight; the market itself is little more than a landlord.

[Peaches and Greens - a Detroit-based produce project]

Corner stores can get deliveries from chip manufacturers or soda companies and dry goods like pasta can find their way onto shelves via jobbers, independent distributors who take a case of spaghetti to one store, three to another, and on down the line. Yet there’s never really been an equivalent for produce; corner stores typically specialize in shelf-stable items that don’t need the constant attention that a case of lettuce does, making small-scale produce distribution a dicey entrepreneurial pursuit.

In a lot of ways , it still is, but in early 2010 federal officials introduced a new coupon for WIC clients, which could only be redeemed for fruits and vegetables. In Michigan, then, any small store that makes the investment in produce has access to the $16 million market created by these new vouchers. 

Peaches and Greens had launched a mobile market in 2008, opening up the store about four months later. When the WIC program changed its rules, they hit upon an idea: Instead of stocking only their own stores, they could help justify the hassle of these early morning trips by functioning as a small-scale distributor for other stores. Most of what we buy today will go to the Peaches and Greens store and truck, but when Marvin returns to the market in a couple days, he’ll be buying stock for a number of corner stores that have begun selling produce, as required by the WIC program.

waltz century :

Entrance to the World’s Fair Vienna (World exposition in Vienna), Austria, 1873

The Vienna Museum aka Wien Museum Karlsplatz currently features the exhibit THE METROPOLIS EXPERIMENT - VIENNA AND THE 1873 WORLD EXHIBITION (Experiment Metropole 1873: Wien Und Die Weltausstellung). As part of our project on public memories in public space, my group ended up spending over four hours at the museum.

In 1850, Vienna’s population had been 550,000. By the World Exhibition in 1873, the city had doubled to over 1 million people due to massive in-migration from all reaches of the Austro-Hungarian empire and geographic expansion of the municipal boundaries. In 1857, Franz Joseph ordered the demolition of the medieval city wall to make room for major public projects and the mansions of “new money” industrialists and bankers.

With the completion of Vienna’s first mountain spring water pipeline in 1873, a safe supply of water was ensured for the rapidly growing but hygienically backward city. Another large-scale effort was made to protect Vienna against flooding: In no less than seven years, a new, perfectly straight bed for the waters of the Danube was dug as part of this river engineering project. Vienna’s biggest cemetery, the Zentralfriedhof necropolis, was established in the same period.

With rapid urban expansion came segregation along social lines between the city centre and the periphery. Mass immigration and the growth of an industrial proletariat went hand in hand with housing shortages and miserable living conditions. The years around 1870 also saw the start of the speculation-driven development of new districts on the outskirts of Vienna, where buildings rose up along monotonous gridiron streets.


Bye House / Wall House (by Collectie Nederlands Architectuurinstituut)

John Hejduk - Ed Bye House (Wall house II), originally designed in 1973 for a plot in Ridgefield CT, later constructed in 2001 in Groningen. Via.

"Passing through the wall is a representation of presence—one side is the past, the other the future"



Der Künstler Nikolaus Gansterer hat eines der Kernelemente des The Vienna Projects, die sogenannte Memory Map kreiert. Gansterer lebt und unterrichtet als bildender Künstler in Wien und Berlin. Nach einem Studium der Bildhauerei erschafft der 40-jährige Künstler heute Installationen und Skulpturen, wobei er bevorzugt mit ganz unterschiedlichen Materialien und Medien arbeitet.

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Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steve Izenour, “I Am a Monument” from Learning from Las Vegas, 1972

Ingo Warnke, a professor of linguistics at Bremen, was one of last week’s lecturers for the Vienna Urban Studies Summer School. He referenced Learning from Las Vegas, and lo and behold I find myself reading it this morning.

Warnke talked about this particular sketch in terms of how signs could be understood as a proposition in speech-act theory. Signs can stand for a whole sentence, and even different sentences, aka, the difference between “I am a monument” and “monument” — or “this could be a monument” and “this is a monument”.

via edgeofsports

Before the opening game of the World Cup, FIFA, the organization that oversees international soccer, thought it would be a good idea to have three Brazilian children each release a “dove of peace”. One of those children was a 13-year-old from the Guarani tribe, Jeguaká Mirim. The Guarani are Brazil’s largest tribal group. They have also been subject to incredible levels violence by ranchers who occupy their land for cattle and sugar production. Forcibly herded onto reservations where disease and malnutrition are rife, their situation may actually be getting worse. The ruling Workers Party is attempting to take away even more of their land, which led to violent confrontations – and dramatic images - on the eve of the World Cup in the capital city of Brasilia.

The effects on the tribe are brutal. There is poverty, there is infant mortality, and in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the Guarani-Kaiowá suffer the highest suicide rate on earth. Jeguaká Mirim wasn’t going to allow himself to be feel-good FIFA scenery while his people suffered. After releasing the dove, he unfurled a banner that read, “Demarcação,” or “Demarcation Now!” This is the highly charged slogan used by Indigenous groups attempting to retain their land rights.

Jeguaká’s father, Olívio Jekupe, said he had no idea that his son was going to do such a thing. Olívio did say that the action  “showed the world that we are not standing still… My son showed the world what we need the most: the demarcation of our lands.” There was only one problem however with this brave display: the cameras quickly cut away. His actions went undiscussed by broadcasters and analysts on the scene. They also met with a series of no comments by FIFA itself as to who made the decision to cut the cameras. Whoever was responsible for censoring Jeguaká Mirim, the end result was that the only politics that FIFA allowed to be on display would be the banality of doves.

Image sources

  • Demarcação já! - A imagem que a FIFA nao quis mostrar. (via)
  • O que não oficial to transmissão de TV mostrou (via)
  • When the doves were released, he then unfurled a banner that read, “Demarcação,” Portuguese for “demarcation,” which called for the protection of indigenous lands. (via)
  • the FIFA World Cup 2014 officially began with the releasing of three doves by the kids standing in the centre. (via)

Like your Rowhouse series, there are no people to be found. Why?

As in almost all of my photographs, I opted out of presenting portraits of the camp residents. I wanted to leave a bit of the mystery out there for viewers to ponder. 

What has happened to these camps and the people that lived in them since you took these photos?

A year or so after finishing this project, I started returning to some of the camp locations and was surprised to find that all of them were gone. One had burned to the ground; several camps showed signs of bulldozer tracks. In one case, a man had been assaulted and killed outside a camp and the police had cleared the area of all tents. In other camps, soggy clothes and magazines were all that were left. In the meantime, new camps have spouted up in other areas. My guess is that these, too, will not be around for long.


Baltimore’s People of the Woods.

Photographer Ben Marcin's “Camps” series (via Atlantic Cities). As much as some of these camps evoke my childhood desire to live in the woods in a Bridge to Terabithia kind of way, I wish he had also taken portraits. 

During the hunting season, Ben Marcin likes to hike on the edge of Baltimore’s woodlands. That’s where he discovered the city’s secluded homeless camps; makeshift dwellings for locals who choose to live off the grid but close to roadways and shopping centers. 

Marcin is no stranger to documenting solitude in the built environment. So he decided to find as many of these as possible, putting together a photo project called Camps. Similar to Last House Standing, in which the photographer captured lonely rowhouses around the Mid-Atlantic, Marcin shot the dwellings without the dwellers themselves.

None of the shelters photographed in Camps remain today.

Several camp people I talked to said they wouldn’t relocate into one of the City’s shelters because they were afraid of being assaulted or having belongings stolen.