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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Posts tagged "aerial photography"


Detail from jenny odell • satellite landscapes

"Much of the strangest architecture associated with humanity is infrastructural. We have vast arrays of rusting cylinders, oil rigs dotting wastelands like lonely insects, and jewel-toned, rhomboid ponds of chemical waste. We have gray and terraced landfills, 5-story tall wastewater digester eggs, and striped areas of the desert that look as though they rendered incorrectly until we realize that the lines are made of thousands of solar panels. Massive cooling towers of power plants slope away from dense, unidentifiable networks on the ground and are obscured in their own ominous fog. If there is something unsettling about these structures, it might be that they are deeply, fully human at the same time that they are unrecognizably technological. These mammoth devices unblinkingly process our waste, accept our trash, distribute our electricity. They are our prostheses. They keep us alive and able, for a minute, to forget the precariousness of our existence here and of our total biological dependence on a series of machines, wires, and tubes, humming loudly in some far off place."

I’ve been thinking a bit about our collective fascination with aerial landscapes both in terms of aesthetics and politics. In some ways it reminds me of my childhood fascination with a paper-fold out anatomy book — a kind of internal dialogue of wonder that these sometimes grotesque intricacies are the truth of how we function.

[Wastewater treatment plant]

[Coal seam gas aka natural gas wells]

[Tar sands operation in Alberta Canada]

Via hapa hale: “la-based photographer gray malin started the new year by booking a helicopter to fly over poipu beach where he captured aerial shots of the island’s turquoise blue waters dotted with happy beachgoers.”

Cars form a houndstooth pattern in a parking lot at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. (From original caption in the book)

I was looking for a completely different book of photographs at the library (see earlier post on Sa-i-gu) and when I couldn’t find it in the stacks, remembered to go look on the folio shelves. (aw yeah, who’s the child of a librarian) And found a book that really should be a required text in urban planning Look at the Land: Aerial Reflections on America

Bill McKibben wrote the text for this truly revelatory collection of photography by Alex MacLean

Viewed from eye level or satellite,  the earth appears static, unlikely to change in significant ways. The block of city homes is so solid, the continents so fixed and staid in their positions. But pan in or out, and suddenly there’s a sense of the flow of time across the surface, the wash of change. The Pacific slams against the city grid of San Francisco, great combers surging in, taunting the rows of homes. The picture says: this line between land and sea is a provisional fiction of a short moment. Give it time and the line will shift. (p. 35)

More from Bill McKibben on MacLean’s photos:

We live in strange clusters, utterly unconnected to the topography (a change from the time when human settlements followed the logic of the land). Clearly, access to a cul-de-sac, that bulbous, slightly obscene marker of our civilization, is more prized that access to a stream. Our homes tell us nothing about our physical surroundings — we look out on mirrors of our economic status.

The odd feature of these endless subdivisions, though, is that all their coiling and twisting is clearly to enhance individual privacy — there is scant sense of public life here. A community pool, where all might gather and talk and share the work of child care? No, an endless row of private pools, a cumulative Lake Erie of chlorinated blue, defining our timidity about our fellows. (p. 143)

Alex MacLean got into aerial photography from a community planning course. I love many of his photos, but the caption I love the most is ”Rejected Tomatoes Dumped From a Moving Truck Leave Blush and Pale Green Strokes Across a Field as Seen From 1,000 Feet Above Eastern Ohio.”

Aerial view of the second major post-World War II housing tract under construction. Discovered Garnett’s work in Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing, and Family Life by Dolores Hayden.

Trenching Lakewood, California - William A. Garnett 1950

I was hired commercially to illustrate the growth of that housing project. I didn’t approve of what they were doing. Seventeen thousand houses with five floor plans, and they all looked alike, and there was not a tree in sight when they got through.

That crunching sensation as your foot breaks through the crust of snow. For three hours. Snow Aerials.