Archive for July, 2010

July 29th, 2010

Promoting Cycling in Germany

Posted in Europe, Transportation by Clotilde Minster

C’est l’été et les responsables de bike sharing ne lésinent pas sur les arguments de choc pour encourager l’usage du vélo !

“Avec moi, tu consommes au minimum 300 calories par heure.” / “With me, you burn at least 300 calories an hour.”

July 28th, 2010

A Lapse in Time

Posted in Asia Pacific, Public Space, Transportation by Christopher DeWolf

Reclamation Street at 3:27pm — and 6:59pm

East Rail Line between Lo Wu and Sheung Shui
and between Tai Po Market and University

July 25th, 2010

Hong Kong: Plenty of Bikes, Nowhere to Park

Posted in Asia Pacific, Public Space, Society and Culture, Transportation by Christopher DeWolf

On an abandoned stretch of road in Sai Kung, a row of lumpy objects covered by a blue-and-white tarp looks alarmingly like a pile of bodies. A closer investigation reveals a graveyard of a different sort: hundreds of bicycles confiscated by the government.

Last year, 10,846 bicycles were removed from sidewalk railings, lampposts and other government-owned property. Illegal bicycle parking is such a problem in the New Territories and Islands District that the Home Affairs Department has issued a television announcement urging cyclists to only park their bicycles in designated parking areas.

That might be harder than it sounds. A study completed last year for the Sha Tin District Council revealed that there are just 10,617 legal parking spots for the district’s 150,000 bikes. The same shortage of legal bicycle parking spaces is replicated throughout the city.

Every month, Legco member Albert Chan Wai-yip receives hundreds of complaints about bicycle parking from his constituents in New Territories West.


July 24th, 2010

Beirut: Signs of Postwar Politics

Posted in Africa and Middle East, Politics, Public Space by Patrick Donovan

Beirut signs

Posters along the former green line calling for “real change.”


After years of foreign/militia rule, the Lebanese navy reasserts itself through this poster featuring a group of scowling teenage boys. “We’re back!” reads the caption in the lower left. Should we feel threatened or reassured?
July 22nd, 2010

Street Seafood

Posted in Asia Pacific, Food, Public Space by Christopher DeWolf

Get yourself some cheap beer, a plastic stool, a big round table and a bunch of friends — and you’ve got yourself the makings of a Hong Kong seafood dinner. Bowrington Road is one of the more expensive spots for al fresco seafood dining, but its location, next to a busy street market and just down the road from Hong Kong’s most popular shopping district, is unique.


July 21st, 2010

Saving an Historic Site — Then What?

When Cynthia Lee Hong-yee found out that her family planned to sell her grandfather’s private garden to developers, she returned from the United States to take photos of the lush greenery and eclectic Western-influenced Chinese architecture.

“I was capturing some of the details and I realized I just couldn’t capture Dragon Garden’s greatness,” she said. “It has to be experienced.”

She realized the garden needed to be saved — and it was up to her to do it. After a contentious battle with the relatives who owned the garden, Lee managed to persuade her uncle, Lee Shiu, to save it from redevelopment by purchasing it from his brothers and nephews for HK$100 million. The plan, after that, was to donate the garden to the government, which would then open it to the public.

That was in 2006. Since then, the garden, which is located on the shores of the Rambler Channel just west of Sham Tseng, has sat in limbo, free from the threat of demolition but with no concrete plans to restore it and open it to the public. The Lees’ original offer to donate the garden was rebuffed by the government. It later changed tack and said it could take over the site, but would not guarantee how it would be used in the future.

As Hong Kong debates how best to preserve its heritage, the case of Dragon Garden poses a question that has proved surprisingly hard to answer: once you’ve saved an historic site, what do you do with it?


July 19th, 2010

Postering in Montreal: Legal at Last

Posted in Art and Design, Canada, Public Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

St-Viateur poster

Stapling a poster to a Saint-Viateur hydro pole

A Quebec Court of Appeal judge has ruled that Montreal’s anti-postering bylaw, which prohibits posters from being stuck to public street furniture, violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Montreal will now have to find a way to legally accommodate posters on public property.

We have local activist Jaggi Singh to thank for this ruling. Ten years ago, he was charged with sticking a poster on municipal property, and with the help of civil rights lawyer Julius Grey, he took his case through the court system. He was finally acquitted last week. The implications for Montreal are profound: independent musicians, artists, community groups and political movements, who have faced thousands of dollars in fines for sticking posters on lampposts and hydro poles, are now free to do what they’ve been doing for years.

Bengali poster

Bengali poster, Park Extension


July 19th, 2010

Summer Soft-Serve

Posted in Architecture, Canada, Food, Public Space by Christopher DeWolf

Dairy Queen in the Petite Patrie. Photo by Kate McDonnell

Branded architecture is wrong in so many ways: it’s disposable, it’s a waste of space, it’s vulgar. So then why do I have such a soft spot for Dairy Queen’s little Swiss huts?

It must go back to the Dairy Queen at the corner of Park and Bérubé in Montreal. Red-roofed, fronted by a small parking lot and concrete terrace, it sits next to a row of triplexes in the shadow of an apartment tower — a country bumpkin oblivious to its own incongruousness. Every winter, the small parking lot out front is covered by a mountain of snow, until one day in March when the snow begins to melt and a neon sign is switched on — Ouvert — a harbinger of spring.

On summer nights, when the day’s humid heat settled in my living room, I would jump on my bike and ride south down Hutchison to indulge in a guilty pleasure. Hot fudge sundae, sometimes a Blizzard — these were my indulgences estivales. The pleasure is guilty because I knew I should be spending my money on handcrafted gelato from Havre aux Glaces, but instead I was forking over $3 at a corporate franchise that specializes in junk-food ice cream.


July 19th, 2010

The View from Above

Posted in Canada, Film, Society and Culture, Video by Christopher DeWolf
YouTube Preview Image

Part of the brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film Rear Window was the way it acknowledged voyeurism as part of urban life. In the city, we’re always being watched and we’re always watching others, be it on the street, from across a café or on the web, through street photography.

I’d be lying if I said that the thrill of spying on others wasn’t part of the reason why I like rooftops. The exchange of glances on the street is replaced by a position that gives you a privileged view of everything around. I’ve never seen anything particularly exciting from a roof — it’s not like I bring a pair of binoculars — but I do enjoy catching the occasional glimpse into the normally sheltered world of somebody’s private life. Not too long ago, while hanging out on a friend’s rooftop, I was able to catch part of a World Cup game being watched on a large high-definition TV in the building next door.

Obviously I’m not alone. Peepers, a new film by Montreal’s Automatic Vaudeville Studios, takes the idea of rooftop voyeurism and builds a movie around it. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m happy to see some of the rooftops I know and love featured in the trailer. At least one of the scenes looks like was filmed on the rooftop where writer/actor Mark Slutsky lives — a rooftop my friends and I have snuck up to many times.

July 18th, 2010

Hard Knocks for Hong Kong’s Trees

Posted in Asia Pacific, Environment, Public Space by Christopher DeWolf

Wang Tong’s Ghost Tree. Photo by Larry Feign

Furious residents of a village on the south side of Hong Kong’s Lantau Island say government workers have been hacking at the roots of a landmark rubber tree, raising questions about the government’s declared effort to improve tree management.

Last Saturday, cartoonist Larry Feign was riding his bicycle near his home in Wang Tong Village, Mui Wo, when he saw three men standing near the base of the so-called Ghost Tree, a large Indian Rubber Tree that has stood in Wang Tong for at least 30 years. As he approached, he noticed two of the men chopping at one of the tree’s roots with axes.

The workers explained that they were building a new drainage channel to cope with runoff from a nearby slope that had recently been reinforced with concrete by the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD). Feign was then joined by his wife, Cathy Tsang-Feign, an avid gardener who grows many varieties of trees on her property.

“I said, ‘What are you guys doing?’ and the foreman said, ‘Oh, don’t worry, we’re just chopping down some roots to make a drain,’” said Tsang-Feign. “At the time I was there they were chopping quite a few younger roots. If I had come out 15 minutes later they would have been chopping into the main root. The damage would have been fatal.”


July 15th, 2010

Game On

Posted in Asia Pacific by Christopher DeWolf

Soccer game seen from the roof of the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre

July 15th, 2010

How to Fix a Troublesome Highway

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When Montreal’s Turcot Interchange opened in 1966, no one had seen anything quite like it. Floating one hundred pillared feet above the ground, its concrete spans swirled and swooped through the air, finally coming together in a knot of jaw-dropping proportions. It comprised over seven kilometres of road and spanned an area of seventeen acres. Underneath its four levels of overpasses and elevated ramps, boats floated on the Lachine Canal and trains chugged with freight. In an especially futuristic touch, two continuous bands of fluorescent lights glowed from the highway’s walls. Driving on it, the city unfolded before you: a skyline studded with smokestacks and steeples and the slow blink of the Farine Five Roses sign. More than a mega-project, the Turcot was a Modernist victory cry.

The Turcot still inspires, but, like any relic of a bygone era, its sheen has worn away. The railyards that once spread out from the interchange—and from which the Turcot took its name—were closed by Canadian National in 2002. Ordinary highway lights replaced the space-age illuminations when the aluminum wiring decayed. Winter road salt has soaked the structure in a corrosive brine, inflating steel reinforcement bars into rusted balloons ten times their original size, causing concrete to fall off in chunks.

In 2007, the Ministère des transports du Québec (MTQ) proposed tearing the whole thing down and building a new ground-level interchange in its place. According to the renderings, vehicular capacity would be increased by 20 percent, but the new interchange—projected to cost $1.5 billion over seven years—would require the demolition of two hundred homes, including an entire street of walkup apartments and a large loft building that housed more than four hundred people. Its embankments would cut off links between St. Henri, Côte St. Paul and the other working-class areas adjacent to the interchange.


July 12th, 2010

City Snake

Posted in Asia Pacific by Christopher DeWolf

The Central-Mid Levels Escalator seen from above
July 9th, 2010

L’espoir, le regret, la mémoire : chronique d’un départ

Posted in Canada, Fiction by Daniel Corbeil

DCorbeil | Ce pays de fous , Montréal 2010

J’ai décidé de quitter le Canada parce que la banlieue m’énervait. Aussi – et surtout ! – pour me sauver de moi-même. Ou plutôt, pour échapper à mon quotidien. Bien entendu, il y avait cette routine – quoique agréable dans mon cas – qui envahissait de plus en plus ma vie. Mais avant-tout, j’ai plutôt cherché à fuir mes peurs. Mourir, souffrir, pleurer. Regretter. Des préoccupations qui devenaient obsessives et omniprésentes dans ma vie, prenant davantage de place que les moments de quiétude.

C’est la peur de l’échec – quelle honte ! – qui était la plus destructrice : elle controlait de plus en plus mes réflexions et orientait mes gestes et décisions. Il devenait difficile de vivre normalement, ayant à exécuter toutes ces petites attentions pour ne pas devenir faible, malade, cancéreux. Fou ! Une gangrène au cerveau.

Aussi, je décidai, un après-midi pathétique et pluvieux, de me préparer au grand départ. Les yeux fermés, la volonté dans les jambes et l’acception qu’il n’y aille possiblement aucun lendemain à chaque matin. Au moins, j’aurai pris une vrai décision – aussi idiote soit-elle ! – avant la fameuse fin de ma vie terrestre.

Nostalgique, je regarde ces coins de rues comme on offre une dernière tendresse à sa mère, le jour de sa mort. Les arbres, aux feuilles enflammées, virevoltent dans les rues calmes et proprettes d’Outremont : Montréal, Amérique du Nord. Je repense à l’essentiel : documents de voyages, permissions, visas. Lettres adéquates de l’ambassadeur d’Italie, ma première destination. Je songe également aux derniers mots échangés avec mes amis, lors de ce diner de départ, organisé à la hâte, à l’image de tout ce qui m’attend. Le fromage était doux, le pain chaud. Le chocolat fondant. Le vin blanc sucré et suprenant. Les larmes authentiques. Les miennes du moins…