on place, purpose and pretty things

doug aitkin at the hirshhorn

it suddenly seems i only have eyes for dc…

‘song 1’ is really astounding, both in its own right and especially for washington, dc.  needlesstosay the live “happening” on may 11 will probably make me pee my pants.


campanella on coastal louisiana

richard campanella is so damn good at his job, and makes me wish that there were more transdisciplinary minds like his. his latest essay “New Fuel for an Old Narrative: Notes on the BP Oil Disaster” is technical, historical, accessible — all critical for understanding the circumstances that have led to coastal Louisiana’s current state — and then bam, he just hits you with this rigorous and complex theory of cultural exceptionalism. i love geographers.

state of public grace

I’ve never had a strong opinion one way or the other about New York Times columnist Gail Collins, but in her editorial on Thursday about the pettiness and insanity surrounding this year’s September 11 anniversary, she wrote something that really resonated:

“My memories of Sept. 11, 2001 are still intense, and they are mainly about the outpouring of concern from the rest of the country. The piles of donated clothes and food, unused but not necessarily unwanted since each bit was a token of someone else’s good will toward the city. Helping us achieve that state of public grace is the highest possible duty of every elected official.”

I also just heard Mayor Bloomberg being interviewed at the memorial ceremony held down at Ground Zero this morning. WNYC asked him how New York has changed in the past nine years, and he talked about the realization – both for New Yorkers and for Americans in, say, a tiny town in the Midwest – that we all cherish the same things, and there’s a lot more common ground than we realize relative to the rights and freedoms granted by the Constitution. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but his was clearly a message about cohesion and solidarity, and about that brief moment of public grace.

It’s a phrase that is going to stay with me.

edge condition

i’ve spent quite a bit of time running, biking, soaking up the sun, and sometimes just strolling along the hudson lately… i grew up on its banks up at west point and this summer, perhaps more than ever, the river has served as a welcome antidote to the heat and density of the city. i’m on a deadline today and just walked out to west harlem piers park for a bit of a breather, and after what seems like an obligatory stop into fairway i was walking back alongside a sweet little old lady who made my day. i can’t remember why we started chatting, but soon enough she was telling me how happy her doctor is because she’s been walking along the river every single day since this park opened up. she’s lost weight, her hips don’t ache anymore, she’s sleeping better… she’s just downright healthier. in her words, “i don’t know why people move to florida, we’ve got it all right here!”

we continued to talk about how much the waterfront has changed, and how the only part of the entire length she doesn’t like is between 23rd and 59th “where they haven’t made as much of an effort.” here’s the kicker, though: when i asked her how long she’s lived in harlem to see all the changes up here, she replied “oh i don’t live here honey, i live in queens!” this woman takes the subway over from queens nearly every day to walk along the hudson river!

so congratulations and thank you to all the hudson river park designers – barbara wilks for west harlem piers, thomas balsley for riverside park south, michael van valkenburgh for chelsea cove, signe nielson for the fabulous stretch down in the west village, and of course the patrons and stewards at hudson river park trust – for bringing us a little closer to the edge.

(images courtesy of the cooper hewitt, where west harlem piers park was nominated for a 2009 people’s design award.)

new york i love you but you’re bringing me down

The Onion strikes again, with today’s 8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place To Live:

“…incidents that prompted citizens to pick up and leave included the sight of garbage bags stacked 5 feet high on the sidewalk; the realization that being alone among millions of anonymous people is actually quite horrifying; a blaring siren that droned on and fucking on; muddy, refuse-filled puddles that have inexplicably not dried in three years; the thought of growing into a person whose meanness and cynicism is cloaked in a kind of holier-than-thou brand of sarcasm that the rest of the world finds nauseating; and all the goddamn people.”


night owls

confession: i like my bike rides like i like the ocean… late night and after a drink or two. here’s to the city of new york for making both possible (not to mention relatively safe!).

nimby v. neighborly

An article in today’s Reading Eagle really bummed me out. It’s about resident resistance to a proposed trail in Cumru Township that would connect the local park in Shillington to nearby Nolde Forest, a Pennsylvania State Park.  Personal interest aside – this is all very close to my folks’ house and I would love not to have to run on somewhat dangerous back roads when I’m home – it really drives home the utter lack of investment or interest in public space in non-urban communities. Money quote:  “People bought these houses to live in peace, not to have people and pets on them,” said Ron Muller, a resident of Ashley Run, a 58-home development that the trail would bisect. “You can’t put it within 50 and 100 yards of people’s houses.”

Of course I understand the desire for privacy and solitude – I head to Cumru township to escape the insanity of NYC fairly regularly. But if we’re talking 100 yards I have to ask: are neighbors and pets jogging by really that much of a nuisance?  More and more it seems like we’ve lost sight of what it means to be part of a collective – yes it’s messy and even a little uncomfortable at times, but I believe we can learn so much from our neighbors. Not just about an upcoming event or great new recipe, but about our shared values. Our differences. Our humanity. And something like a trail – one that promotes fitness and engagement with nature, among other benefits – seems like a pretty darn discreet and effective way of bringing people together.

My vote is with the Berks County Conservancy on this one.