Sunday, April 29, 2007

Shanghai the Gargantuan

Shanghai is a perpetual construction zone. It is variously described as gargantuan, callous, bloated, indeed "capitalism on steroids." In 1901 an american travel writer described it as an apocalypse of "squalor, dilapidation, depravity and stench". It lost 12,000 buildings to the wreckers ball soon after. The current makeover is only one of a succession. The per capita income is five times the national average. Is the current Shanghai an emblem of urban living at its most sterile and inhuman? The Chinese have an elasticity of mind which allows them to see its grandiose landscape where private and intimate give way to something where nonetheless beauty and self esteem emerge. Western cities may be church hushed in comparison but are they too headed in the same direction? The cityscape of the future may come to resemble that of Ridley Scott's L.A. in Bladerunner or William Gibson's Tokyo in Neuromancer. A dystopia of disorder and environmental breakdown where neon signs flicker and smoke rises from the grates.
Source: Charles Foran, A Resonant Boom, The Walrus, November 2006.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Counterintuitive Streets

It goes against everything we know, or think we know. Safer neighbourhood streets brought about by removing traffic lights, sleeping policemen (not from the coffee shops but rather of the speed bump variety), stop signs, crosswalks etc. Apparently Hans Monderman is pioneering the new concept and finding it works in the European setting. Promoting the idea of shared spaces, Monderman has found that removing signage and restrictions allows pedestrians and cars to mix better. A new social traffic behaviour results and eye contact, acknowledgments etc follow. Drivers who are rushed, aggressive and inconsiderate smarten up. Oh by the way I just passed a defensive driving course. Can you tell?
En Route Magazine, Air Canada, April 2007.

Hazards of Predicting Blossom

I was going to post an item on the hazards of being in the cherry blossom prediction business in China, only to find that a recent media story actually applied to Japan. Apparently hundreds of thousands of people on the Nipponese archipelago plan their annual vacations around blossom season. They need accurate predictions of when to make their travel reservations. A week or two the wrong way and they will be greatly peeved. This year the main authority blew it and is now persona non grata. In China two years ago the first real brightness in the city I stayed in came mid April when the cold quickly transitioned into blossom time and mundane streets became colourful. Arriving in Lotus Land (Canada's West Coast) this morning, the first airliner to meet the eye when approaching the terminal was an Air China jumbo jet with an enormous cherry blossom on its tail. Then in the luxuriant burbs it immediately struck me that the blossom was full out, resplendent in the fresh liquid sunshine. The green sheen of buds is just making an appearance in Central Ontario but blossom is surely several weeks away. I will not hazard a guess as to when the tulips will be out in Ottawa but indubitably a couple of weeks either side of the festival. God forbid not during.