Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Putting Up

My friends Tod and Lisa have an amazing organic urban garden that they've been cultivating for years. Herbs, fruit trees, eggplants, cucumbers, peppers, arugula, lettuce, and tons and tons of tomatoes. Every fall they harvest the plants and spend several days canning. Last night I got my first lesson in putting up tomatoes.

First, we sanitized the glass canning jars and their lids in pots of boiling water.

The black pot on the right is a special canning pot, and includes a removable metal liner for holding the jars.

While the jars and lids were sanitizing, we scored the bottom of the tomatoes and blanched them in boiling water to make it easier to peel the skins.

Then we removed the jars with this clever little device and dumped out any excess water.

The peeled tomatoes are then funneled into the hot jars. You have to avoid getting any debris on the edge of the glass jar, otherwise the seal won't take. After the tomatoes are in, you finish it off with a pinch of sea salt.

Now it's time for the lids. This is my favorite canning contraption: it's a magnet so you can grab the metal lids out of the boiling water without burning yourself.

The rings are tightened using just two fingers. You want the lid firm, but not too tight.

Then you fill the metal holder with the jars and set it into the boiling water for 45 minutes.

While we waited for the cans to finish, we took a batch of yellow and red cherry tomatoes, sliced them in half, and layered them into a dehydrator.

(And we ate some of the dehydrated tomatoes from a prior batch with cheese and olives. They taste a lot like sundried tomatoes)

The buzzer went off and...

Canned Tomatoes! Amazing. Now the jars have to sit undisturbed for 48 hours. By the end of the night, the table was almost cleaned off...

Lisa and Tod's pantry includes batches of tomatoes and marinara sauce from an earlier canning session...

We used classic mason jars last night. From a purely aesthetic view, I love Wecks jars, but I think the process for canning with them may be slightly different:

The Path of Least Resistence

A (very bad) scan from the forward to LeCorbusier's The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning. The author marvels at a raised highway being built along the Hudson River in New York.

The Jones Falls Expressway is a busy north-south artery running into the heart of downtown Baltimore. Conceived in 1943 through a collaboration between Baltimore city and Robert Moses, the JFX, as it is called, is the result of a lot of changed plans and compromise. In its final iteration, the expressway rises into a viaduct that mirrors, in places, the path of its namesake, the actual Jones Falls river. I can see this section of the highway from my home, and I often walk along the banks of the river, which is shadowed by the six-lane road rising above it. Runoff from the road trickles out through a series of spouts, emptying directly into the water below. When it rains heavily, as it did this past weekend, that trickle becomes a waterfall. My husband, Matt, snapped a few photos:

Highways co-opting the path of waterways abound. Some cities have successfully daylighted buried streams and removed infrastructure in order to remediate the ecosystem. The late Walter Sondheim once suggested dismantling the viaduct section of the JFX and bringing the waterway back into the city's plan in a more thoughtful manner. I heard of an interesting example of a city daylighting a stream in a city center from Baltimore-based architect Gabriel Kroiz. He wrote an article about Seoul, Korea when I was the editor at Urbanite. The city removed an elevated expressway and re-routed commuters through a series of new roads and public transit options. Pedestrians, bicyclers, shops, and park space now line the shores of the Cheonggye River:

Monday, September 29, 2008

Event Reminder: Design Conversation

(You can click on the invite to make it bigger.)

This Wednesday at the Wind Up Space. 6:30 p.m.

For more information on the evening's plans, click here and read my previous post. You can also visit the Design Conversation Facebook page.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Desire Lines

An emerging desire line in Chicago's Millennium Park. The actual sidewalk is just out of shot of this photo.

I had a conversation recently with a design researcher about the concept of desire lines. These are the paths that emerge from human or animal footfall. In an urban setting, they are frequently a shortcut, or an indicator that something is missing, like a viable sidewalk. You often see them in a park or on the shoulder of a road. Desire lines were frequently studied and used to draft transit routes in emerging cities and that practice exists today. In Ottowa, they have been analyzing existing travel patterns by commuters to plan for future growth.

"An important step in developing a future travel network is to look at trends in trip making and the major travel desire lines based on the future (year 2031) demographic patterns, including projected increases in employment and population. A desire line represents the amount of travel between two areas."

In nature, they can create an understanding of safe paths and social behavior, as in this study conducted in 2004 in Boulder, Colorado. In this case, the author referred to them as "social trails" and he mapped the variant paths that were emerging in the mountains surrounding town, particularly along rock climbing routes. There was a debate, apparently, about which trails should be formally designed and maintained by the city for visitors.

Too often design is an imposition of a pattern without enough care as to how people actually operate. I like the idea of seeing the patterns that emerge outside the official structure of planning. I really like the idea that how we honestly function in a space could help define how that space is designed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Book: Open Spaces Sacred Places

air warning: Here comes a plug...

There's a small foundation based out of Annapolis, Maryland called TKF. Founded by Tom and Kitty Stoner, the foundation awards grants to individuals and organizations who create accessible green space in compelling settings: healing gardens at hospitals, labyrinths near drug corners in the inner city, arboretums on former brownfield sites. The types of projects they support are small in scope, but big in ambition, and many transform the communities they serve. I wrote a story about one of my favorite spaces, the Mount Washington Arboretum, in 2007 and this winter I was asked to help TKF edit a book about their projects. The book, called Open Spaces Sacred Places, is out now. It offers firsthand accounts from participants about how their projects came into being and it offers advice on how to replicate the process in your own community. And there's an excellent forward from Martin Moeller of the National Building Museum about sacred space and landscape design.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Dish

I had dinner a few weeks ago at Baltimore Pho, a new Vietnamese restaurant near the Hollins Street Market. In addition to an extensive interior renovation of a former Mexican restaurant, the decor includes a variety of plates with the imprint of a city skyline. They reminded me of something you'd find at New York's Fishs Eddy and I assumed them to be stock until I recognized what I believed to be the angular slant of the National Aquarium. It was the Baltimore skyline?

I think so...although when you compare the real skyline with the Pho skyline, you realize there are liberties taken, like buildings that don't exist (what's that pointed tower next to the World Trade Center?) and the fact that the slant of the Aquarium goes the wrong way. (Reminds me a bit of Muji's New York in a Bag, with its inverted mini MoMA.)

The front of the plate.

The back of the plate.

The actual Baltimore skyline.

And their logo reminds me of something else inverted...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Green Map

A screen grab of the Baltimore Green Map on Google. Click on the image for a larger view.

I'm in Chicago on business for a few days and in my spare time I'm exploring the city as much as possible. My hotel offers a little red booklet of information with various maps. This book is obviously geared for tourists and each map provides a different overlay: one is for shopping, one is for food, another is for cultural attractions. I've always been interested in the way we navigate our physical space; you can tell a lot about a culture and a time based on how they map their territories.

In the mid-nineties, a new mapping system began to emerge: The Green Map. Developed as a way to navigate a space based on environmental and sustainable parameters, the system has established a set of universal icons to overlay on a map. Here are a few examples:

This weekend, Green Map for Baltimore releases the Jones Falls Trail Green Map, their first printed product (virtual maps can be found online at their Web site). The pocket-sized fold out includes 170 nature, culture, and sustainable living resources within the city section of the Jones Falls watershed as well as a detailed section featuring Druid Hill Park. You can pick one up on Sunday during the Rally for the River event hosted by the Jones Falls Watershed Association.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Design Conversation

A map of vacant lots in Baltimore City from a report studying urban brownfields. It shows 480 vacant industrial and commercial properties in Baltimore that are at least 1- acre in size. What would you do with these post-industrial plots?

save. the. date.
monthly design conversation
wednesday, october 1
6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

The monthly design conversation continues on Wednesday, October 1: Join architects, designers, artists, activists, planners, and interested citizens to talk about the future of Baltimore's built environment. The conversation will take place at the Wind Up Space in Station North from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

For those of you who attended the first design conversation in September, the format for this one will be a little different. The theme for the evening is "Start Thinking Small, Baltimore." (a bit of a play off of an op-ed Dan Rodrick's wrote in The Sun). Here's what is meant by that (and some of this may sound familiar):

The world is urbanizing at an alarming rate—by 2015, the majority of people will be living in cities—but, as I've written before, population dispersement is happening in new ways. So while cities like Dubai, Vegas, and Shanghai boom, others, like Liverpool, Detroit, and Baltimore, stagnate.

Since the Industrial Revolution, major metropolises have been measured against steady economic and demographic growth, but that boomtown idea is no longer an accurate model. There are many cities globally that are shrinking and they may never reverse those losses. Baltimore may well be one of them.

After peaking at over 1 million inhabitants, Baltimore’s population now hovers around 600,000. But does this smaller population necessarily diminish Baltimore’s value or potential as a city?

Rather than trying to recreate the city of the past, wouldn't it be a far more interesting exercise to consider how to design and plan for this new, shrinking city and to imagine the opportunities and challenges of a post-industrial, American town like Baltimore? What would you do with the abandoned, empty houses? What are your creative solutions for infill? How might the zoning change? How can we re-imagine the urban ecology?

The evening will kick off with a presentation by Dan D’Oca, principal of Interboro Partners, who will further elaborate on this concept of shrinking cities and will introduce research he has done in this arena.

After, the stage is turned over to you. Come with ideas, design concepts, presentations, renderings, random notes scrawled on Post-Its. Whatever. You get no more than five minutes to present your idea. There’s even AV hook-up and wireless at the Wind Up Space if you want to run images from your computer.

You can feel free to play with the theme “Think Small.” Perhaps you’d like to elucidate on a small, grass roots concepts for change. Or suggest ways small firms or individual designers can improve the built and visual environment in Baltimore. Or maybe you want to tell us this Shrinking Cities idea is horseshit and you have another design solution for the future city. Or, come for the cold beer, sit back, and listen.

If you have any questions about the evening, don't hesitate to contact me.

Hope to see you in two weeks...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Station North Bike Rack Competition

A rendering for a proposed urban bike parking area. Wouldn't it be cool if all new parking garages in the city were required to include some kind of exterior or first-level bike parking?

I've been asked to help judge a competition for new bike racks in the Station North Arts & Entertainment district in Baltimore. The official RFP came out yesterday and it's a great opportunity for designers—winners get money to fabricate their racks. I'm pasting the RFP below. Anyone can submit proposals, you don't have to be from Baltimore.

Station North Bike Rack Project
Call for Entries

DEADLINE: Friday, November 7, 2008

Station North Arts & Entertainment, Inc. announces the Station North Bike Rack Project. Eight (8) uniquely designed bike racks will be created and installed throughout the Station North Arts & Entertainment District to enhance the area with these sculptural installations, while simultaneously promoting bicycling within the city of Baltimore.

Design submissions will be reviewed by an independent panel of jurors. Those invited to be on that panel include: Matthew Bracken, former President of Independent Fabrication; Elizabeth Evitts Dickson, writer for Metropolis and Architect magazines; Irene Hoffman, Executive Director of the Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, Ledelle Moe, Artist and Chair of Sculpture, Maryland Institute College of Art and John Ruppert, Artist and Chairman of the Department of Art at the University of Maryland. They will be joined by Station North Bike Rack Project committee members Doug Bothner and Fred Scharmen of Ziger/Snead Architects, Gary Kachadourian from the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, and Monika Graves, board member of Station North Arts & Entertainment, Inc.

The Station North Bike Rack Project is being underwritten by the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods and by the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund.

Design submissions must be on a 30”x30” board and include a visual and written description of the design (material to be used, how it will be secured, and any other pertinent information to aid the panel.) A one paragraph biography of the designer, artist or team should also be included on the back of the submission.

Designers may create a single design, multiple designs, or a series or “family” of designs. Each unique design must be submitted on a separate 30”x30” board.

All submissions will be displayed in an exhibit tentatively scheduled at the Windup Space Bar and Arts Venue (10 West North Avenue) on Friday, November 21, 2008.

Design submissions will be returned, if requested, at artist’s expense.

This competition is open to the entire art and design community, including architects, artists, bicycle designers, engineers, landscape architects, planners, urban designers, industrial designers, and manufacturers, etc. Station North Arts & Entertainment, Inc. encourages multi-disciplinary teams to participate. At least 50% of the eight (8) designs chosen will be by designers located in the greater Baltimore metropolitan area.

The chosen designers and artists will be expected to fabricate their own designs as described, or have them fabricated by a qualified person. The designer should include his/her qualifications to execute the design or explain how they would have the design executed and by whom.


Designs must be original designs, durable, easy to maintain, and safe to pedestrians and cyclists. They must allow for the bicycle frame and at least one wheel to be secured to the rack and must work with commonly available locks and chains.

The locations of where the Bike Racks will be installed are yet to be determined. Site specific designs may be submitted, but there is no guarantee that the design, if chosen, will be placed at the desired location.

The designers of the chosen designs will be notified on or before November 21. The designers will be expected to fabricate the designs by March 1, 2009. The Bike Racks will be installed between March 1 and 15. An official “ribbon cutting” will be held on Friday, March 20, 2009.

Eight finalists and four alternate proposals will be selected by the panel.

Pursuant to discussions with city officials, designers, artists or teams may be asked to redesign or alter parts of their designs to address issues of practicality and safety. If any of the finalists can not be approved after design revisions, one of the alternate proposals may be selected to replace them.

Designers will receive a $4,000 honorarium for each design that is selected. This honorarium includes the cost of fabricating the winning design. Designers will not be reimbursed for any costs associated with the creation of the Bike Racks beyond the agreed upon $4,000. $2,000 will be paid upon selection and acceptance of design and the signing of a contract; the remaining $2,000 will be paid upon receipt of the completed Bike Rack.

The Bike Racks will become the property of Station North Arts & Entertainment, Inc.

It is possible that the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore may select one or more of the chosen designs for replication and placement throughout downtown Baltimore. If so, the designer will be compensated for the use of his/her design for such purposes.

Station North Arts & Entertainment, Inc. reserves the right to reproduce images of the selected designs and completed racks for printed or internet publicity, catalogue, map or marketing purposes.

Design submission should be delivered to:
Station North Bike Rack Project
Station North Arts & Entertainment, Inc.
113 West North Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21201

For further information, contact David Bielenberg at 410-962-7075 or dbielenberg@stationnorth.org

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Architecture Beyond Building

The 11th architecture biennale in Venice opens to the public this week and visitors will see a very different idea of the built environment. This year, curator Aaron Betsky themed the show Out There: Architecture Beyond Building. "What should be an obvious fact: architecture is not building," Betsky has said. "Architecture must go beyond buildings because buildings are not enough. They are big and wasteful accumulations of natural resources that are difficult to adapt to the continually changing conditions of modern life."

I met with the organizers of the U.S. Pavilion this summer to hear about their plans to present a particularly interesting view of architecture in America. No Gehry, no Thom Mayne, no mass development, super-scaled uber buildings. It is, rather, a look at the practice of architecture and how that practice is changing as designers morph into activists, urbanists, and —dare I say it—COMMUNITY ORGANIZERS. It is the antiStarchitect. It is an exhibition all about the power of small, intentional, actions within American cities. An excerpt from their curatorial statement sums it up:

Into the Open: Positioning Practice explores how architects, urban researchers, and community activists are meeting the challenges of creating new work in response to contemporary social conditions and addresses factors challenging traditional methods of architecture, such as shifting socio-cultural demographics, changing geo-political boundaries, uneven economic development, and the explosion of migration and urbanization. At the same time, it will advocate for an expanded conception of architectural practice and responsibility.

The roster of organizations participating in the exhibition, in fact, includes many who are not architects at all, like Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard project. There's the Center for Urban Pedagogy, which connects designers, artists, researchers and activists around projects like the development of public high school curricula. The International Center for Urban Ecology (ICUE) is another group, and this one is particularly interesting to me because they have been studying the concept of Shrinking Cities. (On October 1 in Baltimore, the monthly design conversation will take on some of these issues. It will run from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Wind Up Space on North Avenue. More details to follow, so be sure to save the date.)

Snapshot from inside the U.S. Pavilion. Image from Architect's Newspaper.

For a full list of participants in the U.S. Pavilion, click here. And if you, like me, will be watching this unfold from the wrong side of the Atlantic, you can check in on their daily blog.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Xtreme LA

One of the landscape architects taking photos in the dunes off of Lake Michigan.

I've been in New Buffalo, Michigan for the last 48 hours attending an intensive landscape architecture design charrette. 27 landscape architects from around the country came here to help develop a masterplan for a town in transition. I'm about to get on a bus back to Chicago before flying to Baltimore, but thought I'd link to the longer piece about the event, which will be going up any moment on the Metropolis Web site. [And here is a link to part two of this blog post.]

When I get settled, I'll post some more photos and give you a bit of a walking tour of New Buffalo.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Animal Farm

So let me get this straight:

Lipstick on a pig = Sexist

Lipstick on a pit bull = Sassy

You can't have it both ways, Palin.

The current state of political discourse in this country is fucked.

PPS: A snapshot from New Buffalo, Michigan...Lots of Obama signs out here. More about why I'm in New Buffalo in a bit.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The City Over Time

“I realized early on that buildings tell stories very clearly and each of them tells it differently.”

—Camilo José Vergara, in an interview with Architect magazine

I've been exploring the work of Camilo José Vergara of late—his name keeps coming up—and I'm enjoying his Web site Invincible Cities. Vergara is like a modern day Jacob Riis; he has documented urban life, particularly ghettos, for 30 + years. You can waste hours on the site.

Screen grab: The map on the left shows where he photographed. You can search for photos by year or by street address.

His site is set up so that you can explore a particular neighborhood over time, and it's a bit like the book How Buildings Learn: you get to see the way a particular space adapts over time. Here's a store in Harlem over 30 years:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Buying On Spec

Check out my latest post on the Metropolis Web site about speculative real estate and the reality of Dubai...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

And speaking of ruins...

My post yesterday talks a bit about nature taking over after cities lose human habitation and Geoff Manaugh of Bldgblog posted an interested story this week along these line. Apparently wild cats are taking over foreclosed homes in California. You need to read the comments to his post as well, like the one from the guy in Detroit who was attacked by wild dogs and sees pheasants roaming the streets...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Shrinking Cities

Poster advertising a Shrinking Cities exhibition.

During a conversation about design and urban planning the other night in Baltimore, someone commented on their desire to see the city grow its population. It was suggested that energies should go into repopulating all those empty houses, and reinvigorating abandoned neighborhoods with new residents. It's a classic way of thinking about cities: since the Industrial Revolution, major metropolises have been measured against steady economic and demographic growth. But that boomtown idea is no longer an accurate model.

While the world is urbanizing at an alarming rate, the truth is that population dispersement is happening in new ways. So while cities like Dubai, Vegas, and Shanghai boom, others, like Liverpool, Detroit, and Baltimore, stagnate. There are many cities globally that are shrinking and they may never reverse those losses. It's important to get beyond the "mine is bigger than yours" idea of population: Just because Baltimore hovers around 600,000 rather than its peak of over 1 million, it doesn't diminish its value or potential as a city. Rather than trying to recreate the city of the past, it would be a far more valuable exercise to consider how to design and plan for this new, shrinking city and to imagine the opportunities and challenges of a post-industrial, American town like Baltimore.

There are several groups around the globe studying Shrinking Cities. (And here's an article from 2007). I mentioned Daniel D'Oca and his firm Interboro architects in an earlier post. Dan and his firm have participated in studies of Detroit, which has been a particularly well-trodden case study, perhaps because its population has more than halved since 1950 (and their fate is not helped by the fact that their leadership is corrupt). Many have offered suggestions of what to do with Detroit, like tearing down the abandoned houses and letting the land revert to nature. Camilo José Vergara suggested the city memorialize its urban ruins with a themepark.

(Vergara did an interesting series of abandoned gas stations, capturing that "city as ruin" feel. Below are two examples)

City as a ruin: here, the gas pump looks sculptural

City reverting to nature: Makes me think of the talking heads: This was a discount store, now it's turned into a cornfield...(you got it)

What's particularly interesting about the work by Interboro, is that they both embrace the messiness of Detroit and see beyond the obvious. They explored hidden systems, and looked at the way that residents themselves created solutions to their shrinking city by purchasing abandoned lots and expanding their own personal land holdings. You can download a paper about their project from the Interboro link above. And you can read about it in the new book Verb Crisis.

Screen shot from the Interboro site.

Mapping the blot.

The other interesting observation by Interboro, which they outline in that article in Verb Crisis, is how the urban planner, the architect, the designer, should function as a ghostwriter of sorts. In addition to moving away from our old models of a city, we must also move away from our old ideas of planner as patriarch:

"What we're suggesting is that this starts with a new kind of advocacy that emphasizes the importance of identifying, and documenting progressive practices that already exist, but that are underappreciated and have little legitimacy. We think this would help drum up support for the programs, but it would also encourage us to think up new advocacy tools."