Just a little lighthearted Saturday fun today. Below is a link to a fun city compatibility test on Buzzfeed that identifies what city would be most compatible with you lifestyle and beliefs. My answer was Portland, Oregon.
With just over three weeks left in 2013, here are some of my favorites for the year, subject to last-minute change before January 1st.
While I enjoy many songs by The Beatles, I tend to think of myself as more of a Rolling Stones man – music that is a little harder, edgier, and rugged. But, I too was (and still am) captivated by the magical and mystical tunes written and performed by The Beatles, both as a group and later as individuals. Back in 2008, I found myself completely mesmerized during a two-hour Beatles walking tour of London. Just the thought of standing right where the introductory scene of A Hard Day’s Night was filmed alongside Marylebone Station had me hooked. One amazing sight was followed by another, as two-dozen of us made this increasingly common pilgrimage.
Fast forward to 2013 and I discover by chance a book entitled The Beatles – Liverpool Landscapes. Published in 2011, this superb book was written by David Lewis, a native of Liverpool who explores geography and history of his hometown’s most famous four sons. The book is an absolute delight to read and details the conflicting allure and danger one finds in this great Merseyside port city. Literally step-by-step, Mr. Lewis walks you through Liverpool and its environs to explore the urban community that raised and influenced these four lads. In doing so, he brings youthful images of John, Paul, George, and Ringo to life right before the reader’s eyes. Furthermore, Mr. Lewis brings the City of Liverpool to life itself, highlights echoes from its past, and describes the city’s gritty and ever-changing persona. After reading The Beatles – Liverpool Landscapes, it became quite apparent that not all was sunshine, cookies, and merriment during the band member’s upbringing.
Famous lyrical references abound and are investigated whenever possible, including obvious ones like Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, and Eleanor Rigby. Other references are more subtle, as the author leaves interpretation to the reader.
I cannot say enough about how good this book is to read. Even if you are not a Beatles fan, this publication will touch your heart and make you yearn to be a time-traveler back to the late 1950s and early 1960s when the British Invasion was about to explode upon the world. Please read this book! It explores a wide range of disciplines including sociology, genealogy, geography, psychology, architecture, urban design, urban planning, and history to document a very special moment in time when all the stars aligned in one city to give birth to sheer greatness. Enjoy!
Here are a few of the wonderful excerpts from Mr. Lewis’ oh, so eloquent book:
“Ordinary events in ordinary places are given resonance and magic by our knowledge of what came next, what these ordinary events led to.”
“There is a gentle, poetic melancholy in the relationship between a grandparent and grandchild, of time at the opposite ends of lives, and I have always found an extra element of this in public parks.”
“Yet again I was reminded that these streets are how the city sees itself, how it sees its history.”
“I have always felt that the Beatles’ early recordings, those dark sleeves and solemn young men, are a soundtrack to a city being demolished.”
“…many early Beatles gigs ended in enormous bloody fights, a dark landscape of anger and fear erupting into senseless violence.”
“The abrupt end of the trams in 1957 seemed to me to be one of the fault lines in Beatles history.” (see photo below)
“The Beatles and their family stories reflect a Liverpool journey from the Irish boats to the back streets, to the better back streets, and out into sunny suburbia.”
“Childhood and landscape are sometimes, perhaps always, inextricably linked, connected by memory and geography of home, school and play.”
“Is it a coincidence that Paul McCartney’s Beatles songs seemed to look out into the world whereas John Lennon’s work was darker, wilder, more introspective?”
“These dark Cavern cellars are the holy of the holies for Beatles pilgrims, because here the music started.”
“But Liverpool Beatle City is a clean, safe place with nothing too deep or serious, a place that has chosen its art and its history carefully.”
“I saw the city to a soundtrack of their more famous pieces of music, the city unrolling around us as if in a film, the achingly familiar music defining the landscape as never before. Liverpool looked loved and shabby, full of mad people and happy girls, emptiness, beauty and squalor.”
Despite seas of commercial and residential sprawl in many parts of suburban Detroit, there are a few places of sane, sensible, and progressive planning that stand out as beacons of hope. Probably the most obvious of these dichotomies is just north of the Detroit city limits in southern Oakland County. The cities of Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, and Royal Oak form a four-part cluster of active, vibrant, and well-planned downtowns surrounded by healthy, interconnected residential neighborhoods. These four cities stand in stark contrast to the sprawl schlock of many nearby communities.
It is amazing how much more welcoming, walkable, and vibrant these four cities are compared to many of their abutting neighbors. Just driving through them, one quickly discerns the sense of community that prevails. Cooling and colorful tree canopies (it is fall), street-side store fronts, and bicycle/pedestrian traffic compared to the acres of largely empty parking lots, bland shopping plazas, and mundane suburban sprawl features just beyond their borders. It is quite a stark contrast between human-centric planning and auto-centric planning.
There are several other suburban parts of metro Detroit where healthy communities can be found, including the Northville-Plymouth, Milford, and Brighton on the west side, the Grosse Pointes on the east side, as well as the cities of Farmington, Rochester, and Dearborn. Each of these is an obvious and clear contrast to most of those low-density “once-township suburbs” that abut and/or surround them. Granted, not all aspects of these islands of sensible planning are perfect – for instance Main Street in Royal Oak is still too auto-oriented for this planner at five lanes plus curbside parking. But, each are certainly welcome respites from the tiresome seas of suburban sprawl schlock that mar so much of the landscape.
Many kudos go out to Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, and Royal Oak, Michigan for their successful planning efforts to date. As promising beacons, it is hoped that these endearing islands of human-centric planning will stand tall as useful templates for future development patterns…patterns which forever forsake the mind-numbing sprawl schlock of the past.
As Kathy and I wrap up our weeklong trip the emerald island, I had some thoughts to pass along.
A little more satirical fun. Your community is a retirement haven when…
I cannot praise the book Durban in a Word highly enough. It is hands down the best collection of short stories and essays I have ever (ever!) read…and they are all about one quite amazing city and its residents – Durban (eThekwini), South Africa. The editor and each the writers have successfully woven into words Durban’s rich and storied tapestry. In doing so, they have done their hometown very, very proud.
The anthology consists of 30 separate stories that cover a gamut of subjects ranging from art, to architecture, to crime, to local history, to childhood recollections, to race, to geography and topography, to daily life, and to characters real and imagined whom call Durban home. Above all, this book is a love story – depicting the enduring love that each and every writer has for the city of their birth or adoption. Each story is inspirational in its own special way as the author’s weave into words the essence of Durban and how it pervades one’s innermost core.
As an urban planner, dreamer, and traveler, South Africa has long been high on my list of “must see” locations on this beautiful planet. After reading Durban in a Word, eThekwini (Zulu for lagoon) is now perched atop of my list of South African cities ahead of the traditional favorite of Cape Town. Needless to say, almost any trip to South Africa would include both, along with Johannesburg and Pretoria. But, if for some reason I was limited to just one city by fate or circumstance, Durban would now be my choice. One cannot help but fall in love with Durban while reading this book, regardless whether it’s the aura of the bright lights or the dark underbelly that’s being exposed.
It would be impossible to cite all the gems contained in Durban in a Word. I know I will never forget “Accordion Man,” a brief story that literally warms and wrenches your heart at the same time. And, I personally can’t wait to someday wander through the “Arcades of Durban” and take in each of their unique sensory treats. Here are just a few quotes from the book that help showcase why it is such a treat to read:
“Like many cities, the real life, the real allure is found off the tourist circuit, in the less obtrusive corners of the eye. You have to direct your gaze away from the obvious, the imitation global shopping malls and multimillion-rand ‘gated communities’ – electrified internment camps for the rich. You have to get off the main routes, adjust your expectations, open your senses. Then the city opens up to show its true face. And it’s so African, so Indian, so everything in between.”
“He told me how during the day he’d let her relish her reputation as the city where the fun never sets, but come night he’d devote himself to loving her shadows…”
“An arcade is never an end to itself.”
“I could not help pondering again about how place is an inescapable denominator in South African writing.”
“Even then, part of Durban’s allure was its fragrance of ferment – a deep warm note below the coconut oil and curry powder, the sea salt, spun sugar and exhaust fumes.”
And lastly as a terrific summation of this book:
“…every Durban native has a story worth telling – a story worth listening to and a story that ultimately entwines itself in the very fabric of our larger local life.”
Durban in a Word was first published back in 2008, but I must say it is easily the best book I have read during 2013. It is one of those literary treasures that will remain in your heart and mind long after the pages (digital or pulp) have been perused. Bravo and my sincerest kudos to all involved in the book’s preparation and publication!
I finished reading a quite interesting and enlightening book over the past weekend, entitled Ingenious Dublin: a guide to the city’s marvels, discoveries, and inventions, by author Mary Mulvihill. It catalogues a wide variety of important inventions, innovations, and accomplishments, as well as some off-beat curiosities that have dotted the storied history of this great capital city. The book is also very handy as a tour guide to these places that may not find their way into traditional travel guides. It is definitely an electronic book (published thru Kindle) you will want to read prior to visiting the city (as I am doing) to identify obscure and non-traditional sights to see. Among the innumerable fascinating tidbits contained in this terrific e-book are:
Let me start off by saying that placemaking is a very useful and beneficial approach to enhancing one’s community and creating pride in place. That being said, there is also an inherent risk that placemaking efforts across the nation can become too similar, redundant, and standardized. If that were to be the case, then as planners, we have done our respective communities a great disservice. Frankly, there is little if any difference between installing, enhancing, and creating duplicate placemaking efforts in multiple communities and requests by nationally known retail/restaurant chains to build standardized units across the geographic map. All we would be doing is visually plagiarizing what has been done elsewhere.
Hence, the first rule of placemaking must be to plan and design your efforts a way that is both context sensitive to and enhances the character of the local community. Don’t be a copycat, folks, be insightful and innovative!
I will grant that some very basic placemaking efforts such as bike racks, streetscaping, and public art are bound to be similar. But, that does not mean these smaller-scale efforts must be the sole focus or that they cannot be designed to reflect the locality. Auto racing artwork makes sense in Indy, it does not in Spokane. Bike racks shaped like football helmets or cheeseheads makes sense in Green Bay, but not in Rapid City. And streetscaping with desert fauna is perfect in Tucson, but would fail (and be well out of character) in Bangor.
Every community has its own individual characteristics, history, charm, and identity. It is simply a matter of identifying each of those and then implementing a strategy that enhances and articulates them. Don’t try to replicate New Orleans in Waterloo or Savannah in Billings. Here in Greater Lansing, there is an awful tendency to name new developments after places elsewhere that are perceived as desirable. That is entirely the wrong way to go about building local pride. Meanwhile, there is a plethora of great things about Mid-Michigan that could and should be employed into placemaking efforts. For example, there are rivers/streams with lovely names like Red Cedar, Looking Glass, Maple, and Sycamore; there are dozens of varieties of trees, birds, and native plants found in this area; and there are unique geological landforms, in particular the Mason Esker. Emphasize these local amenities, not Malibu, the Sierras, or other like places – they sound (and look) stupid here.