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Vancouver 2010®: The Livable City

Part 2 of A Citywalkers Take: Walking the Livable City looks at what it means for a city to be "livable" and how it applies in Vancouver, at different strata - up and down.

Walking to our office on Homer Street, I am suddenly stricken by a serious case of citylove. I've been here before, but coming back after being in other cities for a couple of years I'm filled with the sense of how comfortable and right this street feels, the sense of human scale in a four-story streetwall, and two well-spaced, attractively proportioned towers on this block offering no sense of intrusion. This is a new block in the famous Vancouver tower and podium style; across the street the block is made up of historic Yaletown low-rise buildings. Balance and beauty, high and low, old and new -I'm very happy to be here.

Vancouverize, Vancouverism. The city that became a verb and and from that a new noun. Rated, again, by The Economist magazine as the most livable city in the world. What does that mean, to be the most livable city? The Economist scores cities across five broad categories: stability; health care; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure.

We in the States, some of us at least, are aware of how Canadian health care compares to ours. Stability, education - highly scored but not something that can be clearly observed while walking the city. Culture? Environment? Infrastructure? High points for these categories are egregiously evident. I'll come back to those soon - but what does it mean to live in Vancouver, or in any good livable city?

To me it has to do with accessibility, access to the necessities, pleasures and pursuits that make city life so positive. Can you easily get to a grocer or market? To restaurants? Entertainment, recreation, and social pursuits? To your job, if there are enough jobs? Is there housing available, accessible in price, of variety to suit different lifestyles and life stages, and close to all of the aforementioned amenities? Is there light and air where you are, and open space close by? If you need to go farther than is comfortable by foot, are there convenient means to get there, by bike or especially transit?

Vancouver Life (for a day or three)

I work through the afternoon in the office (but am being paid by the Seattle office, which I have to make clear at each border crossing), in the open timbered top floor of one of the historic buildings, silently cringing from the aspersions against U.S.A. being tossed about, even here, since our hockey team defeated Canada in the round-robin a few days previous. I've never caught on to athletics or sports and won't be going to any events, but screens are everywhere broadcasting them, and getting caught up in a moment of incredible artistic and physical prowess, the excitement of a game in play, and especially the celebratory atmosphere, is unavoidable.

At end of day it's time to drag my luggage off to find my home while I'm here, an apartment rented by the firm for visiting employees and others. It turns out to be in one of those beautiful Vancouver style towers just a few blocks from the office. It's a third floor unit, on the alley side; a bachelor unit, as they are known here, well-appointed, with many closets and a feeling of spaciousness enhanced by a wall of windows.


There are coffee shops and restaurants of every type lining the nearby streets, and a good-sized corner grocer a block away; there is also a park on the next block. A few blocks away in the West End the streets are more residential and very quiet. These are examples of the variety that make dense urban living a more livable and optimal choice for more people, from singles to retirees to families with children. Out of the many restaurants, shops, and yes, bars (bars and nightlife are actually important to cities in attracting the younger creative class), finding something you want is less a problem than is deciding on one of many choices.




Parks are frequent, even along the open water by the seawall. This is a city that is well connected to most of its waterfront.



Walk through Yaletown on Davie, past the Roundhouse Community Centre and the Urban Fare grocery, where people are sitting at sidewalk tables; past the bicycle shop and the roundabout to the marina, and catch an Aquabus or water ferry to some False Creek destination; or go for a long walk along the seawall. The Coal Harbour trail is packed on a sunny day with people who gave up waiting in line for the Olympic Cauldron.



The new segment of the Seaside Trail past the Olympic Village at Southeast False Creek was closed for security reasons, as was that entire area, even the waterway; I hadn't expected this but should have.


I walked across the Cambie Bridge with many other walkers and cyclists, watching three volunteer staff persons with aqua jackets and security clearances who are the only people walking the seawall.


On the north side of False Creek, facing a seawall full of walkers, joggers and cyclists (including one on a unicycle), two towers are fronted by newish Cooper Park, where dogs are chasing Frisbees and the constant activity has worked the grass to mud. It has a fine playground that sees lots of activity as well, showing that families enjoy life in this livable urban environment.



Livable for All?

Not everyone in downtown lives in fairy tale towers. Vancouver, due to the temperate climate, attracts large numbers of homeless people from across Canada, particularly in winter. These travelers, along with poverty-level full-time residents, have historically been concentrated in the Downtown Eastside, or the DTES. This was once the commercial center of the city, but like other historic urban areas has seen hard times and decay for decades. You can't call the neighborhood downtrodden, however; it's a center of activism. Strathcona (east of DTES) is the neighborhood that organized and managed to halt freeway construction to the downtown in the 1970's, changing the emphasis of transportation infrastructure in the city. The Woodsquat of 2002, protesters, arrests, tent city and all, publicized poverty and homelessness and the need for social housing. So, in 2010, where are all the people?

One summer I was astonished by the crowds of people here. There are supposedly a greater number in winter - but now I hardly see anyone. Emboldened, I duck into the suggestively named Blood Alley. There is a nice treed area here in back of some housing; a few people standing about are eyeing me suspiciously. I feel like an intruder and turn back.


Further along is the 44 unit Pennsylvania Hotel, restored in 2009 for social housing at a cost of around $326,000 per 250 square foot unit. It's expensive to bring a historic building up to code, but it was only slightly more expensive than new construction. The city has a Winter Response Program for seasonal emergency shelter; for 2010 a sixth shelter was added for a total of 500 beds. Funding was provided by the province for another 569 units of permanent housing on six sites, but these are not yet completed.


In protest at the continued housing shortage, activists set up an "Olympic Tent Village" in a vacant lot on West Hastings, with around 140 tents and anywhere from two-dozen to 100 residents from day to day. Originally intended to last only five days, some residents want to keep it going longer, reminiscent of the 90 days of Woodsquat.


Speaking of which, the old Woodwards block (the site of Woodsquat) has been transformed. The original building was retained and the rest of the block rebuilt to include social and market housing; a grocer, drugstore and other retail; and includes the Simon Fraser University contemporary arts program.


One rainy night while standing in the Hastings Street entrance consulting an artwalk map, I had the pleasure of directing people around through the courtyard to get into the Blue Dragon experimental theatre event. This project is considered a catalyst for revitalizing the DTES. It also generates concerns over gentrification, always a tricky balancing act. Old buildings that provide affordable housing eventually decay beyond repair; here it seems that a balance of market investment in new uses plus social housing, combined with public investment in renovation and replacement of social housing, might strike a comfortable balance.


In newly renovated Pigeon Park footsore tourists share the benches with people living out of a backpack or grocery cart. It's all pretty inviting. Invitation is an important part of being a Host City to the World, Olympics or no.


Still to go in this series: Transit City, Green City, Host City, Future City?

Author's note, in case you were wondering: The trademark sign is attached to 2010 in the title because VANOC (the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee) registered it as an "expression" during the Olympics. This is a normal practice for Olympic host cities; I just found it interesting.

Originally posted at VIA Architecture

A Citywalker's Take: Walking the Livable City

Authors note: My nom de plume (or screen) is citywalker. I like to walk in cities, and I like to get cities walking - helping to make them more friendly, accessible and inviting for increasing numbers of citywalkers. There was once a type of citywalker known as "flanéur". As the great majority of us are not nineteenth-century dandified men of leisure, and there never really was any counterpart "flanéuse", I find the term citywalker to be more broadly accessible and acceptable - as, alas, "streetwalker" is not. Thanks to VIA for inviting me to do a citywalk of Vancouver during the Olympics and to write about it here.

I was invited to walk in Vancouver during the Olympics and record my impressions. What a hardship! What a pleasure, more like. I've visited but I don't really know Vancouver, so this will be a visitor's impression. Maybe next they'll ask the opinion of someone who lives there, eh? Actually a visitor's impression may be appropriate for this Host City to the 2010 Olympics.

Vancouver was just ranked by the Economist magazine, again, as the most livable city in the world. It's also one of the most walkable. This is the city that became a verb, "Vancouverize" - in the manner of "Vancouverism", of course. This great city supposedly got even better in order to play host to the world for the Olympics. What was improved? How was it better? How could it have been? What will remain, what will change, when the Olympics are over and the world goes home?

Vancouver Pre-Olympics

The last time I did a real citywalk in Vancouver was in the summer of 2008. Everything was just gearing up for the Olympics. The Millennium Water (soon to play the role of Olympic Village) and other parts of Southeast False Creek were still under construction (and still being paid for by the developer). Evidence of the Canada Line was a big hole at the end of Granville.


Pedestrians and cyclists were still trying to avoid each other while crossing the Burrard Bridge. I like to walk the bridges off the peninsula, then turn and walk back. It's like going to some mystical, mythical island of glittering towers with a dramatic backdrop of snow-capped peaks. (see this citywalker post for a pecha kucha on Vancouver citywalks).
The towers were (and are) glitteringly beautiful; the streets below were then sometimes gritty and unkempt, where used syringes and other negative urban detritus could be found - but not while walking along Robson along with all the international tourists stalking high-end shops. The Inukshuk symbol in Olympic colors was already everywhere.


Water Street in Gastown was packed with pedestrians because it was closed to traffic for a special event, or just for summer crowds, as it has on almost every occasion I've been. Just two blocks away, like some post-apocalyptic vision, the streets, alleys and public spaces were packed with hordes of apparently homeless and/or drug addicted people, out enjoying the fine weather.


DTES has an infamously negative reputation throughout Canada and beyond, but I have never tried to avoid the Downtown Eastside, as it is on an interesting and convenient walking route. In 2009, I took my mother to Vancouver for a day trip, and after lunch in Yaletown walked her over to Gastown by a route I knew. On Abbott Street we stepped over big wet blood spatters on the sidewalk. I checked to make sure she had turned the big diamond of her ring into her palm, feeling a bit guilty for bringing her by that way and for making assumptions about the people we passed.

How were such negative perceptions, and the real social issues behind them, addressed by the Host City? Would hospitality towards the world affect the situation of less fortunate residents? Would it look and feel any different? What changes might be positive and permanent, if any?

I spent much of one pre-Olympic trip enjoying rides on the Skytrain, both the Millennium Line and the Expo, which was put into place for another world event which was a catalyst for permanent, positive change.


The trains whiz by Science World and the stadiums at the end of False Creek, all a positive legacy to Expo '86. The lines continue into the hinterland, and I ride along to see the stations and often very different areas of the stops, planning future walking trips.

Good transit is the friend of the citywalker, as it greatly expands the reach of our feet. Vancouver has transit that was the envy of many cities even before the Canada Line opened. The little trains are like kinetic sculpture to watch in their fast, frequent and elevated comings and goings, as are the Aquabus and False Creek Ferries on their shoreline hops.

False Creek Ferry

beach on English Bay

Vancouver is the golden coast of Canada, with temperate and often fine weather showcased by a gorgeous natural setting between mountains and water. People get out in good (and not so good) weather, in some places more than others. On some days you might find more people on the trails in Stanley Park, along Sunset Beach or the seawalls than on many downtown streets.

Even on Granville Island, when no festival is scheduled, there are mostly scattered knots of people at different locations, and it can be quite easy to find yourself completely alone there if solitude is what you seek. But will there be any solitude when an extra 200 - 300,000 people come to a town of about 580,000 residents? How do you make sure the transportation systems handle the added load? What planning is involved in order for a city to play host to the world? What is left when the crowds go home, what changes are permanent?

Next in Walking the Most Livable City: Vancouver 2010®. Part 2 will look at life in the livable city. The series will then look at transportation, social issues, sustainability, world event programming vs. local programming, and what might be the legacy of the Olympics for Vancouver.

Originally posted at VIA Architecture

if you can't stand the heat...

If it fries eggs, shut it down.

If it's hot enough to fry eggs, just shut it down.

The mercury reached 103 degrees today, the hottest temperature ever recorded in Seattle. Yes, lots of places get a lot hotter, a lot more often, but it's not supposed to happen here. It makes for a different walking experience through the city of hot pavements. You learn to plan your route along the shady side of the street as much as possible, except where the sidewalks are inconveniently closed, of course. The neighborhood coffee house advises iced drinks and offers water, otter pops, images of ice and meditation mantras such as "think cold".

I wonder how many people are missing that big December snowstorm right now.


pecha kucha: walking across false creek

Pecha Kucha (pcha-kcha) presentation, 20x20

Vancouver, British Columbia is blessed in so many ways, surrounded by water, mountains, the best of the natural environment and recreational choices, with Gold Coast sun and mild temperatures to boot. English Bay is the mouth of False Creek and you should start there, just because it is beautiful. If you are staying in Vancouver I recommend the Sylvia, a historic old hotel on the bay.

Walking along the sandy beachfront you will encounter the Inukshuk statue, a version of the anthropomorphic pile of stones the Inuit used to leave as trail markers. The Inukshuk is the symbol for the 2010 Winter Olympics to be held here. Other art installations come and go, so you may be pleasantly surprised. Solar panels for path lighting look like blooming artworks.

Burrard Bridge

Walking east along the water you will see the Burrard Bridge, which is one of several choices for walking across False Creek. This beautiful Art Deco bridge was opened in 1932, and is considered the top endangered historic structure in Vancouver, as there have been threats to expand the width to add capacity. For years the city has been trying to close two car lanes to use for bicycles but it hasn't happened yet, so be mindful of cyclists on the sidewalk when you cross. They are talking again about experimenting with lane closures this year, though.

The bridge ornaments include lions heads, but this is not the Lions Gate Bridge - that's a different walk. There are depictions of Sir Harry Burrard-Neale and Captain George Vancouver in ships, along with other imagery. The central span was designed to visually frame the "sea gateway", which it does, beautifully. Cargo ships moor in the bay, but mostly large numbers of pleasure craft enter False Creek under the bridge.

portal at sunset

Here is the walkway through the portal of the south bridge tower at the end of a lovely day. The city does a nice job with these street banners, which are used to identify neighborhoods, districts, and special events, and are updated often. The bridge slopes steeply down to Kitsilano, which is not very pedestrian friendly at the bridge end. For that reason I haven't walked far there and usually just come back across the bridge, which is a crossing worth the journey for its own sake.

beach on English Bay

The view west of the bridge, with the Aquabus landing at lower right. The towers and the setting give the look of a luxury resort, but the experience on the street is quite different. You very much get the sense of a two-tiered society of those on top and those on the bottom. It makes for a very interesting, very diverse city, though, and everyone likes to get out and enjoy the open air. Vancouver knows how to do a waterfront right, and has plenty of shoreline to experiment with, so getting out is easy and a great pleasure.

Granville Bridge at sunset

The view east of the bridge shows the marina and Granville Island to the south, and a forest of towers on the north bank, with the Granville Bridge connecting them. Vancouver has done well with this tower and podium typology. It looks incredibly dense, but most of these "pin" towers have small floorplates and are spaced for light and views, with low-rise development along the street that prevents the feel of massive canyons. The towers sparkle, the street is sometimes gritty and unkempt - but always interesting, with much to offer.

Granville Island

I've gone to the Granville Bridge next, to get to Granville Island, of course. It is actually easier and more convenient to get there by Aquabus or False Creek Ferry, which counts as walking - walk on, walk off. This is a former industrial area that was redeveloped, reusing the original buildings, as a market, artists studios, shopping, dining and recreational area, very popular with both tourists and residents. Unfortunately there is still much space wasted on surface parking lots.

Fish under the bridge

These fish are part of the sign for a restaurant under the bridge. It really is easier to swim here, or take the water transit, than to walk. However you get here, it is worth the trip. The buildings in their new lives have been given vibrant color schemes and whimsical accoutrements. The island draws about 10 million visitors a year, much like my favorite Pike Place Market.

Yellow Door

Some of the original corrugated metal buildings have hardly been altered. There are still the tracks of the rail spurs in the streets, industrial cranes, and an operating cement plant on the site. Some of the artists studios are equally industrial, with welding, glass-blowing and other dangerous seeming activities, side by side with childrens play areas and an endless program of music and festivals.

South Granville

If you do cross the bridge, you will land in South Granville, a charming district of much different character from the city of towers to the north, and with as many things to see and do, or at least as many shops to walk to (and it is walkable). From here you can go back into downtown, or walk east to Cambie Street and the False Creek terminus. I've not actually gone that way, but I believe there is a waterfront path, which is being extended and enhanced as part of the work for the Olympics.

To the Towers

I like to walk back across the bridge, always drawn back to the city of towers. The Northshore Mountains are a striking backdrop, an irresistible image. Plus, you get such splendid views from the bridge. Bridges are very special in many ways, almost mythical in crossing over and connecting different worlds. Downtown Vancouver has something of that mythical quality, the fairy tale image. All the cars and vehicular pavements detract from that, somehow.

water world

What a fairy tale life. Mountains, towers, water, the Sea Gateway, Granville Island, a flotilla of pleasure boats. Yet plenty of working stiffs and even down-and-outs live here too, hard to believe from this scene. Some fishing trawlers dock here, though, a remnant and reminder, like the cement plant. All of False Creek was once an industrial area, actually very polluted. Looking at it now, that industrial history seems to be the fairy tale.

Yaletown Marina

There are plenty of expensive yachts and waterfront condos at the Yaletown Marina, but Yaletown is quite accessible. You can get to this spot by water transit and go on into the Yaletown warehouse district, which has something for everyone. There is a good bit of affordable housing here, and the Roundhouse community center, complete with turntable and steam locomotive, is just a few yards from this waterfront. So is the Urban Fare, a delectable and popular grocery and cafe. There's an electric bike shop here, too.

Expo to Olympics

It's not far from the Yaletown Marina to Cambie Street, with another bridge crossing over False Creek. There is recent new development at this end, with open space preserved along the shoreline. There are so many wonderful amenities like this around the city. The new towers fronting the water here have a large children's playground, as in Vancouver families with children find high-rise urban living to be a feasible and even desirable lifestyle choice.

Science World

The geodesic dome is Science World, left over from the 1986 Exposition on Transportation and Communication. Behind it is the guideway for the Skytrain, a very popular, very successful automated light rail transit system. This is the appropriately named Expo Line; there is also a Millennium Line, and the Evergreen Line expansion has just been approved. The small island in the foreground is some sort of native habitat demonstration site. The towers in the background are on Main Street, in an area that showcases the cheek-by-jowl togetherness and dichotomy of the haves and the have-nots.

under construction

The Millennium Water is shown here under construction, and will serve as the athlete's village for the Olympics. This is part of a large planned redevelopment of the remaining industrial lands called South East False Creek, for obvious reasons. For some reason they amended the plan for lower heights and larger floorplates, so that instead of the pin tower and podium typology, you get the blockier buildings shown. Maybe there were too many towers and they were becoming overwhelming; or perhaps they wanted to keep the majority on the downtown peninsula for emphasis, and step down the heights in the surrounding districts. It also gives the different areas a distinctly different character.


Looking back at the downtown towers with their dramatic mountain backdrop; I suppose it would be possible to have too much of a good thing. This east end is still redeveloping, as can be seen from the construction cranes. An elevated highway ramp and the Skytain guideway are also in the background. Even with the wonderful transit options there is severe road congestion. The Aquabus in the foreground is such a pleasant and convenient way to get around, and the Skytrain is very efficient.


The former Expo site is the base for sports stadiums; BC Place is shown here. It's inflated fabric roof famously collapsed in 2007, and will be replaced with a retractable roof after the Olympics. GM Place is behind there somewhere and will be renamed to something non-commercial for the duration of the Olympics. Development here on the southeast shore involves a tremendous amount of fabulous waterfront enhancement, including the Seaside trail which is already very popular with cyclists and everyone else.

False Creek Ferry

You can hop on the False Creek Ferry to return to your starting point, walk along the beach at sunset, and retire to the Sylvia if that was your choice. If you're still in the mood to explore, walk over to the Main Street station to catch the Skytrain. The Millennium Line makes a loop east through the region and back to downtown. Sit and enjoy the views along the way, or get out and explore at whichever station strikes your fancy. It's very easy to get back when you're ready.

the space of the citywalker


In cities there are many different spatial environments to move through or encounter in the course of the walking day. Broad avenues and narrow lanes, sidewalks wide open or congested, constricted high-rise canyons and open-sided promenades. There is alternately prospect and refuge, turning the corner of a close lane to encounter an expansive vista, some new destination to explore. There is a tension and release, a constant pushback of compression and expansion, congestion and freedom, crowds and solitude. At times the eye is drawn upwards to a beam of the setting sun breaking through the forest of towers, causing them to reflect on their neighbors. At other times there is the iconic landmark peeking through the local cityscape, like a friendly acquaintance waving hello from a window. The view changes constantly as one walks through the city, and as when one door closes and another opens, the vista constantly recreates itself as a new opportunity. The walking pace is the key to the city, which reveals itself to the citywalker in an intimate way that is kept hidden from travelers in other modes. 

DSCN0155  Living the High Life  Post Alley The Westin admires its reflection Perspective


pecha kucha: walking across the thames


Pecha Kucha (pecha-kcha) is Japanese for the sound of conversation. It is also a presentation format, 20x20, of 20 slides timed for 20 seconds each, or a 6 minute 40 second presentation. The following are the slides from a speed format version, 10 seconds each for 3 minutes 20 seconds. I talked over the transitions so the text doesn't follow exactly.


When I think of travel, I think of crossing the water and of walking in cities. So here is the Millennium pedestrian bridge in London. When they added this bridge, they found that it had a multiplier effect.

It increased the pedestrian traffic on both sides of the river, in both directions, and on the adjacent bridges. The reason for this is because of what it connects - it forms a very strong axis between the major landmark of St. Pauls and the Tate Modern museum across the Thames.


The Tate Modern, the old Bankside power station by Giles Gilbert Scott redesigned as an art museum by Herzog and de Meuron.

Marsyas: moving away

The old turbine hall is a tremendous gallery space, which the Marsyas installation made magical use of. There was still an active transformer which made the most eerie sound, and it was an incredible experience overall.


Here is another abandoned power station by Scott, at Battersea. This one doesn't have the advantage of those great connections, and it is in trouble.

Hungerford Bridge

The Hungerford pedestrian bridge, connecting Waterloo station to Charing Cross terminus, was a tremendous recent undertaking. The original Hungerford bridge was designed by Brunel, who also designed and built the railway and bridge that replaced it.
Brunel bridge over Avon Gorge: Clifton

He reused the suspension chains in this Clifton bridge across the Avon River Gorge. Brunel was an overachieving genius, smoked 40 cigars a day, and died of a stroke at 53.

A private group was trying to raise funds to hang a pedestrian bridge off of the Cannon Street rail bridge, but they were not successful. Here is what it would have connected to:


Borough Market is a truly wonderful gourmet and specialty food market, nestled under the rail viaducts that connect through London Bridge Station. Those viaducts will be reconfigured with a planned rail expansion.


This photo was taken before the market was remodeled; it's all clean and shiny now.They reused the facade from the old Covent Garden flower hall. Some of these roofs may have to come down for the rail expansion.

Vinopolis wharf warehouse

These connections to the historically neglected south side of the river are spurring redevelopment. This old warehouse is now the upscale Vinopolis wine bar and cellars.

Lonely Viaduct Crossing

Slightly further south you can still see the evidence of neglect. Cities need these cycles of abandonment and redevelopment, though.

Neals Yard

To the north is this place at the top of the cycle, Neals Yard near Covent Garden. It's almost too prettified but has wonderful spatial qualities.

london2005 101

Back across the river, this is the linchpin of a huge development project on the south bank; London City Hall and the More London development by Norman Foster.

london2005 011

This is the "bathtub", sort of an excavated shadow of the building. It is a place for urban theater and is very well enjoyed on a sunny day.


This is a very odd looking building, but supposedly a very energy efficient form. They added solar to the roof in 2008. On a good day there is a tremendous amount of pedestrian activity along the river. This was actually a citywide Open House day, and the opening day for City Hall.

Maelstrom of democracy

Inside City Hall on opening day. The interior spiraling ramped stair is absolutely insane, hard to comprehend. Every stair tread is a custom shape.

The spatial intent echoes that of the dome of the Reichstag in Berlin, also by Foster, aiming to bring light and openness to governmental affairs. You can look down and see the Council chambers at the bottom, or could if this was open during sessions.


This large window wall faces north, lets in light, and has great views of the City. The Tower of London is visible in one of the top panes.

Door Ajar: Yellow

The end. When you travel, don't forget to look in your own backyard. Seattle, for example, is of interest to people all over the world.

like a rolling stone

I tried to make a list of all the cities I've walked in. I still haven't finished, it just keeps growing. I don't feel I've traveled that much. Is it just because I've lived so long? I'm not that old, either. I was moved about as a child, and have never really grown roots. I don't think I truly understand belonging to a community, or committing myself to one place, or to anything, really, except for family - and inconsistently even there. I did live for 21 years in Austin, Texas, until my son was grown to independence. I moved away at the drop of a hat, not even saying goodbye to the love of my life, who was overseas at the time. I haven't spoken to him since.


I think Samuel Johnson said, to paraphrase, that "When one is tired of London, one is tired of life". London is my favorite city in the world, but I have spent enough time there, and walked the streets so often, that I could imagine a time when I would grow tired of London. I wouldn't mind having the opportunity to test that hypothesis, though.

Lonely Viaduct Crossing

I've tried establishing myself in one city, putting down roots. I join organizations, I volunteer. Then I leave. I fell in love with Seattle and vowed to make it my home. I knew I would have trouble gaining acceptance, and that my accent would forever mark me as an outsider. I wanted to earn my citizenship in this city that I love, so I practiced a form of immersion. I volunteer for habitat restoration. I serve on a citizens advisory committee for the public utility. I paint facilities for the homeless. I offer pro-bono professional services to non-profits, and serve on committees for my professional organization. I attend my Community Council meetings, and many other meetings of local organizations. I threw myself in. And I still, quite often, have the urge to chuck it all and become a wanderer, as I have done before, living only with what I can carry on my back. There are still so many cities to walk in.

death of distance

It is somewhat mind-boggling to consider how small the world has become, how our sense of geography has changed. In 1998 I took what was, for me, a life-changing course on how to think about cities. The professor, Shane Davies, had a lecture called "The Death of Distance", based on a book of the same title. The topic of the book was how instantaneous web-based communications contribute to connections across the globe. While there are many examples of how we are increasingly tied together on this small island of a planet, climate change being the big frightening one, there are also some delightful social implications.

Gianluca (Photocoyote on Flickr), from Cesena, Italy is very passionate about Seattle, particularly as regards the music scene. He came here on honeymoon with his wife Lisa, and upon his return to Italy he started several Flickr groups just for Seattle photos. One group is just for people who live in Seattle. He organizes photowalks recreating walks he did while he was here. He posts a Google map and photos of things to look for. It's really very funny to think that someone in Italy is acting as tour guide for people in Seattle, but it is also very effective. I go places and see things in my own city that I probably wouldn't have sought out otherwise. Seeing your city from far-flung viewpoints can be very enlightening.

I went on a walk today, but was late and missed the group. Flaneurism strikes me as being an individual and undirected practice, but sometimes it helps to go along with other people, because everyone is looking at something different, and sees things in a different way. That's one more good thing about strangers, too.

urban ghosts

Pike Place Market, 100 years old last year, has many ghosts, and many stories about them. It seems to be as accepting of ghosts as it is of any other kind of stranger. Sometimes I feel like a market ghost, or seem to be perceived as one. I tend to dress in somewhat Victorian fashion, to go with a somewhat Victorian figure, and am usually dressed all in black. On the day the grand old master of the market buskers Jim Hinde died I came to the market in my usual garb, and encountered a saddened Emery Carl, another famous busker, who seemed to approve of my mourning attire (I have never actually spoken to him). I had not yet heard the news. Another time I showed up in the same garb as Mayor Nickels was beginning his speech in support of a proposition for a tax levy for Market improvements, and he stared as if he thought I was a ghost. I could be making this up.

Mayor Supports the Market Levy

Last Monday night I attended a Friends of the Market board meeting and rally in support of the Market levy, which is on the November ballot. Paul Dorpat gave a truly fascinating lecture and slideshow on the history of the Market. I was interested to learn that neither he nor Paul Dunn, president of Friends of the Market, although they have been here a long time, are Seattle natives - more strangers captured by the Market. Peter Steinbrueck was there, who is not only a native but practically has his DNA interwoven with the Market. Ellen, director of the Pike Market Child Care, which my granddaughter attended for two happy months, was there, as was Rose of Rose's Chocolates who is also serving her second term on the Market Historical Commission; and many other supporters.

The Market's history is as fascinating as any urban history. Seattle is a young city, not too burdened by history, as are some of the European cities. Sometimes the past can overwhelm the future. Venice, for example, survived for centuries by building anew on top of the old - as the old buildings sank in the marsh of the lagoon, the residents built a new city with the old city as the foundation. As Venice reached its height, it became too beloved, too precious, too expensive to keep following that practice. Now the city is sinking, and it is difficult to imagine how it might survive rising sea levels. London has an enormous amount of history to preserve, but they get creative about it. Some listed structures can be taken apart and stored until they can be reused elsewhere, such as the glass and wrought iron train sheds and the flower hall from old Covent Garden.

London Bridge Station Borough Market shed

Seattle is young, fairly well preserved, and has a lot worth preserving. Some things were regrettably lost before that was figured out. Now developers get creative about building something new while keeping the best of the old - sort of like the old adage for the bride at her wedding. The Cristalla has a residential hi-rise in blue glass above a beautiful white terra cotta facade of the former Crystal Pool natatorium. Paul Allen of Vulcan will take this old Pacific Ford (?) dealership, move it six feet for the Mercer rebuild, and build a larger building behind the showroom.

Cristalla   Cristalla at night  Pacific McKay Building

There is also adaptive reuse. The Coliseum Theater, which holds its downtown corner in the most emphatically beautiful way, is now a retail store. Real Networks is in the old can factory by the waterfront. The old cannery is now the Port of Seattle headquarters. There are other examples, and more being planned, if any plans make it through the current financial crisis.

Former Coliseum Theater real networks

There are always the ones you wish someone would get creative with - the buildings that don't quite rate protection yet have qualities you would like to keep in place. This building has been modified over the years, enough to allow it to be torn down, along with its neighbors, which have already been vacated. The replacement will be one of those utterly massive things that are almost dictated by current zoning - an entire bread loaf block with two huge towers rising at either end - practically a single massive block with a small gap down the middle. If there are casualties of this crisis, not that anyone would wish it, of course - this plan might deserve to die. Perhaps it can be reincarnated under a revised code. (Update 10/26/08: This project is officially dead. The ground floor space in the buildings that were to be demolished is still vacant and graffiti prone, except for the Icon Grill, which is going strong.)

Slated for destruction After 10 years... Gone? Old, beautiful, vacant, neglected


the science of walking


I have a passion for walking in cities. As a pedestrian in the U.S. I often feel neglected, ignored, as design requirements of my pedestrian environment are placed far below the need to move as many vehicles through the streets as rapidly as possible. I was thrilled to find out, in a visit to SpaceFlaneurs blog, that there is actually a "walk science" (Spaziergangswissenschaft), at least at the University of Kessel in Germany. All the literature is in German, which I wish to learn now more than ever, as the online translators are very poor. Promenadologie, in German, translates to Strollology in English, which of course corresponds to Flanerie in French, and so on. Looking those up led to psychogeography and the dérive or "drift" of Guy DeBord, and a video of Will Self talking for almost an hour to Google techies, probably the ones responsible for Google Earth, about how finding your way by foot, or "eutechnical" means, is very different from finding your way by car, or plane, or even bicycle. Walking completely changes the map in your head, your knowledge of place. "Drift" or aimless walking, or strolling, is almost a political act, an act of independence. No one is telling you where you have to go, or what you should think is beautiful. If you have no set aim in mind, no ad jingle telling you to shop here or eat there, you just drift, stroll, taking in your surroundings, letting your mind work or wander at will. You are open to finding surprise and delight or at least to truly experience your surroundings, "open the doors to perception" as it were. Such a freedom of environment aids creative thinking - the Googleplex was designed to encourage "accidental" meetings between coworkers, where they can share ideas and create synergy. Kind of like a traditional neighborhood or city, with a place within which to invite and accommodate the stranger with their different ways and what they bring of value.

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