Sunday, April 27, 2014

What about Hong Kong this summer?

Some of my friends have already packed their suitcases and are ready to leave for vacation this summer. And I hear Hong Kong is one of the best places to be (and to live in too). Although I have visited Hong Kong several times, I've lived in Canada for almost my entire life. So, I can't vouch for that, but I think some of these beautiful pictures will inspire some of you to visit Hong Kong at least once in your life, or even live there for the rest of your life...

Hong Kong is indeed an incredible city. Although the pictures only capture small bits of Hong Kong, I guess you'll really have to be there yourself to get the full experience.

Have a fabulous summer everyone!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Return to the Flaneur/Flaneuse


So we've come to the end of the course. The exam will take place less than three hours from the time I am writing. It's been fun.

I want to direct your attention to the video below. This is how some fellow undergraduates in the drama program at U of T read and practice Benjamin. Our class assignment on the flaneur provided, I believe, some measure of what these students must have experienced in Berlin. Some approximation.

There is so much excitement in the eyes of these students. There was far too much information to process and to convey. It's this energy and this process of telling a story that's so much larger than yourself that I desire. If you too desire this experience, I would encourage you to travel, to listen and to learn broadly.


AftER - Walter Benjamin project 2012

Prostitution: The Underground Economy in Flux

The underground economy is an interesting avenue to study. This article is relevant because recently there was a debate about legalizing prostitution. This change will shape the way the city is understood and its reputation; however, although there are many negative connotations aligned to this legalization, there are possible positives. The underground economy will shift because prostitution may be legalized; it may no longer a grey area.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Non-Place and the Denver Airport

On a recent trip to Austin, Texas I had a lengthy layover in the Denver airport. The layover was very long and tedious and allowed me to walk around the airport several times to gain a sense of the destinations, people and airlines that were constantly moving in and out of the airport. As with all airports the groups that were flying out of Denver were heterogeneous in composition and size. The variety of people varied along ethnic, racial, class and gender lines. During my several trips around the airport in an attempt to keep myself busy I started to think about Marc Augé’s idea of "non-place" and place (yes Denver airport is that boring). Although I had a relatively limited remembrance of his ideas I do not recall strongly that the airport was a central example of his idea of "non-place" based on its role as a place of transience. defined by “supermodernity”. Moreover,  airports lack the required significance and stability for it to be considered a “place”. Although the idea made sense at the time of my reading of Augé’s article I was struck at the dissonance I experienced when trying to apply his theory to my experience in the airport. In theory as described in Augé’s article the airport is a place which lacks a distinctive sense of place as its user and residents are highly fluid, and temporal. As a result a consistent element of place is theoretically missing from the airport. However, this fluidity and lacking in distinctive characteristics due the transience of flyers was not by my experience in the airport. Firstly Augé’s ideas are a very generalized assumption of a monolithic character of airports around the world. What struck me most strongly about the Denver Airport was how rooted in a distinctive place it was compared to this idea of transience as described in Augé’s article.

 Firstly in the bathroom there was a sign declaring the bathroom to be a tornado shelter. Apart from the surprise of seeing this sign I was struck by how the materiality of the building and its rooting in place was reinforced by this declaration. The building took on a far mote concrete and lasting image in my mind. Secondly and most importantly the composition of the passengers moving throughout the airport was rooted in a distinctive and particular place. Many of the flights were going to cities in the Midwest and the Great Plains. As a result some of the passengers had cowboy hats, cowboy boots, and hunting camo. I was rarely see any of these items while living and Toronto and thus it became that the Denver was a not non-space but strongly associated with particular places in America. The airport and its function at that moment was not defined by transience but instead defined by its placement in a particular geographical location in America. Thus, the idea of place being tied to the airport over one of non-place seemed far more helpful in understanding the airport at that moment. That is not to suggest that transience was not an important feature of the airport but to ignore the idea of place within the airport ignores its particular position in a distinct geographic and cultural part of America.   

Monday, April 14, 2014

More and More Condos

Yet another article about gentrification in Toronto. This one is more about the rising number in the amount of condos. The article looks at condos in Toronto, but also the popular cities in Canada. One of the things that shocked me the most was the possibility of removing a sacred site, such as a church and replacing it with a condo! It just goes to show how these cities continue to grow and how condos are becoming a popular replacement for historical places.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gentrification and Toronto

As I finished up the final book for the course, I began thinking about how our own city has changed in a number of ways. One of the things that came to mind was the possible idea of bringing a Loblaws to Kensington market. I think this shows how even Toronto is becoming gentrified.

Enjoy the article!

Stephanie Di Matteo

Friday, April 11, 2014

Public Spaces and Cities

I came across this video:

As more and more people become city dwellers, it is important to note how cities work. The speaker, Amanda Burden talks about the planning of city's public spaces, and drawing on her experiences, she discusses the challenges of public spaces. She talks about how in between the buildings and structures within a city, it is important to have public spaces, these spaces are what makes the city work. They help people come together, enjoy the city, and build community. She believes the it is essential to have public spaces in cities for it to 'work'.

Public spaces like parks require a lot of attention to detail, and don't come out of nowhere for no reason. How public spaces attract people is what the people need. And in the example of a park, what people need is a comfortable space, and a green space. It is in public spaces like parks that give people this kind of comfortable, relaxing feeling. However, Burden argues that cities aren't all designed to have much greenery and comfortable public spaces, such as that seen in New York.

In New York City for example, the modern architecture, the tall buildings that surround a plaza and streets make it seem intimidating, and dangerous. There really is no place for city dwellers to sit comfortably and enjoy the landscape. But architects and urban planners think this is ideal. No greenery to maintain, beautiful tall modern buildings, and not many spaces for people to loiter and create commotion in.

Burden argues that successful designs always depend on how an individual experiences that space. She explained how she had to really get to know the people and communities to understand their needs, and to plan the city to make sure all the needs of individuals were met. Her idea of 'tapping into humanity' led her to her success in planning New York. She stepped outside of her planning expertise and thought how humans, New Yorkers, would think, want to do, and want to see in the city.

The goal of the city was to accommodate a growing population, and it is important to meet the needs of these people and make them feel comfortable. Public spaces are powerful in a city because it is one of the most important reasons why people stay in a city. If they feel comfortable in these spaces, if they enjoy the spaces ... they will likely stay in the city.

"...a successful city is like a fabulous party. People stay because they are having a great time..."    - Amanda Burden

China's Housing Bubble

This article by the Economist highlights the ongoing insecurities of the Chinese housing market, the power of the large developers and also the government's efforts to try to keep the housing market under control.

It also highlights that there are so many houses/apartments being built, yet most of the population in China cannot afford to buy them and most migrant workers still live in dormitories. This highlights some of the huge social inequalities which are growing in China, and which the housing market emphasizes.

There are fears the housing bubble might burst, yet at the same time there are so many people in China who would like to buy a home/apartment who cannot afford to do so.

Links nicely with the Zhang book.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How to be sexy though consumption of the the ideal image

As discussed in lecture, consumption is linked to identity. The article and the GQ home page illustrate fashion as a way of being "sexy". In this sense, sexy is intimately linked to consumption patterns. These consumption patterns are linked to socioeconomic status.

Power of the word "sale"

Article explores how consumption can be encouraged through the use of the word "sale". Consumers are more likely to engage in consumption when the word "sale" is used. The words creates a sense of bargain which entices consumers to purchase items at a discounted price. What I find is that consumers are misled by the word sale and that the sale may only entail minor discounts to regular retail price.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Nail Houses and Expensive Dogs

Zhang’s discussion regarding “nail households” in chapter 5 sounded interesting so I looked them up and found the photos pretty shocking.

I also came across this article which relates to our discussion last week about conspicuous consumption and the debate over dog ownership in China.

The person who bought these dogs for $3.5 million dollars (the bread of which is apparently notorious for their short life-spans adding weight to Velbin’s idea of buying things for the sake of it), is a real-estate developer who seems to fit with how Zhang characterizes developers in her book.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Toronto's St. Jamestown

The north-west corner of St. Jamestown is an interesting piece of Toronto. An office building at the corner of Bloor and Sherbourne houses shops, a private college, and the main entrance to Sherbourne subway station. To the east is a busy fire hall, and to the south is a church. Yet this block also contains several abandoned houses, some of which are heritage properties. Some of these have been boarded/bricked up since before I first became aware of them in 2001.

The James Chalmers Building was demolished in 2006 following its collapse. It had been left unkempt by its owner despite its heritage designation. and remains a vacant lot to this day.

Its collapse also forced the evacuation of 4 Howard Street, which was subsequently boarded up to match its neighbours on Glen Road. The upset caused by these events helped lead to changes that allow the city to mandate ongoing maintenance.

It has long been suspected that the abandoned houses on Glen Road will meet the same fate as part of a gentrification scheme where buildings are allowed to collapse when they cannot legally be demolished. The street sees heavy foot traffic due to the east entrance to Sherbourne Subway Station, and for the still-inhabited homes. It has also been used regularly by film crews; a sign was posted this week to announce filming of a new television series. 14-16 Glen Road, as seen in the picture that can be accessed via the link above (this paragraph), is shown with windows and doors boarded on only one side. With 1 semi-detached home abandoned, the other inhabited renters for some time yet is now also sealed off from the public. The Anson Jones House on Sherbourne (beside 4 Howard Street) can be seen still inhabited on page 2 of the linked site, yet it also now sits boarded up.

Indeed, since the publication of the articles I have linked to, signs have appeared detailing extensive high-rise development proposals. Gentrification is not new to the area, evident in Tridel's postmodern condo building on Sherbourne (almost facing Howard Street) that adjoins an old Knights of Columbus hall which was moved forward several feet from its original site. As can be seen in the picture below, there has been some backlash. A faded sticker reading "Gentrification" can be seen at the top, and it has been graffiti-ed while the buildings remain untouched.
Most recently, fences have been erected around the Glen Road houses. The signs remain unchanged, so perhaps this is a sign of imminent changes to the St. Jamestown landscape.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Camille Paglia on Her Love for The Real Housewives! (and New York Times articles)

For those Real Housewives fans in the class, we are in good company! Camille Paglia is also a fan. In the video above, she refers to it as "anthropological" (great news for us!) And below I've linked a rave review that she penned for Bravo, in which she states, "I watch virtually nothing else on TV now, except for occasional documentaries and Turner Classic Movies."

Also, here are the links to the New York Times articles that I mentioned today. The second one is more relevant to Chapter 6 in Zhang's book (Recasting Self-Worth), which we will discuss next week:

"In China, Children of the Rich Learn Class, Minus the Struggle" (NYT, September 22, 2006)

"For Many Chinese Men, No Deed Means No Dates" (NYT, April 14, 2011)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Perfect Example of Conspicuous Consumption

Since we were talking conspicuous consumption in class and someone mentioned the Rich Kids of Instagram. I just wanted to share their tumblr link and let everyone know that some of kids from this blog have also received a TV deal under the name "Rich Kids Of Beverly Hills".
Here you go, and enjoy their displays of wealth.

Friday, March 07, 2014

The Zabaleen of Cairo, Egypt

Have you ever heard of the Zabaleen? 

Well you should consider looking into them - especially if you're interested in where urban anthropology and environmental issues intersect. The Zabaleen "Garbage People" are a group of refuse collectors and recyclers that predominantly live in Cairo. They are a well established group consisting of upwards of 70 000 people that have informally served as garbage collectors for over 70 years. In fact, they are argued to be the world's most efficient recyclers as they are capable of recycling 80-85% of waste. However, Cairo has begun to adopt neoliberal ideologies that place urban branding and renewal at the forefront of its political agenda. This has led to the privatization of municipal waste management and the attempted displacement of the Zabaleen as they are accused of what essentially boils down to an eye sore in Cairo's bid for a clean and attractive city that hopes to promote tourism and foreign investment. 

If you're interested in finding out more, you can brush up on your research from some of the following links or track me down in class to have a conversation!

Cairo’s Contested Garbage: Sustainable Solid Waste Management and the Zabaleen’s Right to the City

Crushed? Cairo's Garbage Collectons and Neoliberal Urban Politics 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Entertain yourselves, anthropologically

I'm sure you all have a lot on your plate these days, but I wanted to point your attention towards some videos and articles that I have mentioned in class, in case you are in the mood for some anthropological entertainment.

First, "Unsettled: From Tinker to Traveller" - this is the documentary about George and Sharon Gmelch's return to Ireland to reconnect with their research participants, 40 years later:

Second, here is a 2008 Savage Minds post (this is a great anthropology blog, by the way) about The Wire, which makes a case that The Wire is the best ethnographic text on contemporary US society:

Third, here is a recent article from Forbes magazine, about urban development in Kunming, China - the city in which Zhang's book, In Search of Paradise: Middle Class Living in a Chinese Metropolis, is set. A very interesting read, that may help provide some context for Zhang's book:


Monday, February 24, 2014


This website talks about a project done by NASA and Google. It has some gifs that show how areas of the earth have changed over the past thirty years (I think the exact dates are 1984-2012). These includes gifs of Dubai and Vegas. But more interestingly, if you scroll down a bit you can zoom in on any location and see how any city has changed over this time period (make sure to press play after you have zoomed in). It is amazing to see how cities have built-up and spread out over the past thirty years.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Radioactive Bluefin tuna

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Toronto Photographers

Really interesting article about young photographers and thrill seekers climbing skyscrapers to capture breathtaking images of the "urban jungle" we call Toronto. I enjoy how the photographer(s) juxtapose the people in the frame and the cityscape itself. The pictures are an intriguing way of viewing the city from a vantage point not native to most urban dwellers. Most of these shots are taken illegally, with the photographer and thrill seekers avoiding security guards. This relates to the idea of the contested city, being that these people are defying the norms and legal system imposed on the system to provide themselves enjoyment and capture their view of Toronto with the use of a lens. These photographs contest the city's legal framework by defying private property rights, something that is instrumental to the neoliberal system. This is even related to this upcoming weeks readings... food for thought! I don't want to delve too deep into my perceptions, I hope you all can produce your own conclusions given the knowledge provided in lecture and in the readings. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Urban planning: Past and Present.

These interactive photographs put together by CBC of past and present day Toronto really captures the essence of urban planning and how it has changed and shaped the beautiful city.

The pictures clearly shows the distinct changes to Toronto's skyline and landscape. Through the interaction photographs of past and present, it's pretty amazing to see where Toronto has changed.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Toronto and the Figure of the Hoser

An interesting piece by John Doyle about the figure of the hoser in Canadian culture from Bob and Doug Mackenzie to Rob and Doug Ford. The two key points: the hoser has morphed from a loveable figure into an angry and aggressive one; and it's now acceptable for hosers to be rich businessmen and media figures (Don Cherry) despite their appeals to 'blue collar' values.

Exciting new technologies for urban planning

AMAZING Ted Talk which addresses the problems with mainstream urban planning theory and presents a technology that has the potential to change the way homes and cities are built all over the world. Check'er out!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Trayvon Martin case is an example of how an encounter at the street level in a nominally public space can scale up from the street and become a national public debate about race and racism. In this relatively impromptu speech, Obama puts himself in the position of Trayvon Martin and discusses some of the other ways that racism gives rise to a fear that forecloses the possibilities of open "contact" (Jacobs) kinds of encounters in the public spaces of the city. Note though how gender plays into this dynamic of fear, for when he discusses the now heavily mythologized elevator scene he refrains from putting himself in the position of someone who might be feared. Keep in mind also that this speech is aimed at giving expression to widespread political outrage in the hopes of heading off what could be a violent response to such a verdict (memories of Rodney King and the LA riots). In this regard, watch his hand gestures, which might be expected to emphasize his points with fist thrusts but which come across as being fatigued and lacklustre. Thus, even in his body language he channels the frustration while refusing to channel a forceful reaction, replacing the potential force with a frustrated fatigue.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

TED talk on "Walkable Cities"

Urban Planner Jeff Speck does a great TED talk on the value of "walkable cities". A must see! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

NY Times Article - The Experiences of living in London

I found this article from the New York Times titles 'Lessons From Living in London'. The writer is a New Yorker describing her experiences moving to London, UK. I thought it was a really interesting article to read as the author discusses how one makes a city their own, by becoming a local, and how living in a city is very different to visiting it. The author talks a lot about the neighbourhood feel of London, and I think this is something we all do in each city we live. We always frequent the same areas, we have our favourite places to eat, our favourite stores, and usually our friends live nearby. It was also interesting to note the cultural aspect - the difference of being an American in London.

Whilst this is essentially a travel article, I think it is useful and interesting to read when considering the metropolis.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jane Jacobs meets John Travolta

One could probably have an entire film festival just on films with good sidewalk scenes but the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever is undoubtedly among the best. The soundtrack from the brothers Gibb certainly doesn't hurt either. Here we have all of Jane Jacobs' themes about sidewalk sociality: the different forms of contact (here: the gaze, the glance, the stare, the stop and chat, the shared liminal space) and the public characters (the pizza parlour woman who knows Travolta's usual order, the shopkeeper and Travolta himself). Here too the theme of trust comes up when Travolta tells the shopkeeper he doesn't need a receipt, saying 'I trust you'. That the shopkeeper rejects this trust only serves to emphasize the social fact of its existence, regardless of actual individual reliability (as it turns out Travolta can't really be trusted either as he proceeds to fleece a customer while acting neighbourly). Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Today in lecture, Professor Barker talked about separated the reality of the U of T campus and the notion of the film studio, which reminded me of a song by Lorde called "Team", in which some of the chorus lyrics talk about what directors or media captures as representing cities. The lyrics read "we live in cities you'll never see on screen, not very pretty but we sure know how to run free". It could mean that depictions of cities that may seem beautiful and romantic may not be what it is really like to live there, especially if only attractions are captured in the film, show or commercial. It may also mean that (or at least I like to think it means) locals within cities understand and appreciate the hidden treasures that their city has to offer, such as family run bakeries, quiet grassy areas amongst the skyscrapers and back alleyways that provide some peace and quiet within the city.

Monday, October 14, 2013

This is from the website dedicated to vibe maps of cities, this is their home page blurb:


"Urbane is a new way of using maps to better navigate the world. Get a sense of place by capturing and discovering the character of your own neighbourhood or new places you're visiting. "

On the website you can scroll around on an interactive map and see how people described the area, the team who created the website talked to people in different neighbourhoods to "translate" the vibe. Thought it was pretty interesting, as well as the New York and Los Angeles maps. This particular map I think is lacking certain vibes. Any thoughts?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Is this what future cities will be like?

After last class' lecture on Modernity, and the different interpretations of what it means, I've come across this website: What does a Smart City Look like?

The "Smart City" reminded me of some features of Modernity discussed in class.  First, the striking amount of new technology used to advance the city to strive towards modernity is mind-boggling. And this makes me realize that moving towards modernity meant that things had to be efficient, productive and progressive. Everyone had to be connected somehow and in some someway (through the internet for example) and the environment had to be as pristine as possible. The technology involved in the whole experience is characteristic of a modern city by nature, suggested by Simmel's article "The Metropolis and Mental Life" (1995).

Second, I think the idea of city management relates very well to city planning / urban planning. In one way, to manage a city is to organize it so that it is 'planned', by this I mean major players in the planning (or people who have a say in the plan) are those of significant power or wealth in a city, who set up the city to their desires. This brings into questions such as the reality of the rich/poor dichotomy and how that comes into play, as this "Smart City" seem to be geared more towards the rich. I could only imagine what the costs of it all would be like... to be able to have 'pristine environments', and internet wherever one goes, and all these high-tech gadgets that tell you how to live your life basically. Put in this way, I feel like cities will be controlling us rather than us 'managing' the city.

Lastly, the idea of a utopia comes to mind as this very much contrasts with the rural, and strengthens the difference between rural and urban life, not only in terms of structure but of lifestyle and standards as well. All the forms of transportation are symbolic, (as seen in the video), they all are very high-tech and symbolize a linear progressive direction to the bright future. The things seen only in movies and video games are becoming a reality as innovative technologies are so easily attainable.

The whole idea of it all seems very ambitious, but possible, perhaps in the future world of innovation and technologies, the future of cities will look something similar to a "Smart City". I'd have to admit though, it all seems very cool! But I can't help but also wonder about our safety, and risk of impersonators or fraud, or people 'hacking' into your life with all these high-tech stuff....


I was walking through my former neighbourhood today and I realized that so much construction is now taking place there. A former Polish Community Centre has been levelled and a condo building is being built in it's place. The sign of a former mechanical shop has been taken off, the land has been fenced off and building notices put up. Numerous houses are being renovated as well.
I remember reading that Toronto is the city with the greatest number of condominiums in North America. Why do you think this is? Most of these condo's might be in the central Toronto area.
I remember the Polish Community Centre hosting community sidewalk fairs where you could try Polish food and see Polish folk dancing. I remember my father visiting the mechanical shop numerous times.
There used to be an association between people in this neighbourhood across horizontal space  - now community space seems to have become remodelled vertically.
What is foregrounded and what is obscured when our vision becomes orientated upwards?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

City of Toronto map - fantasy style

A friend shared this image with me on Facebook. 

 My first thought was to think of this class and how the prof brought up our own perception towards Toronto. Just thought this would be an interesting share, and whether some of you agree or disagree with the fantastical representation of each district.

I for one am really amused with City Hall, aka "Dragon Mayor's Lair".

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reading Benjamin's article on The Flaneur one cannot help but to juxtapose imagery and the feelings of wandering around Toronto with those described in the article from the 19th century in Paris. Almost 2 centuries separate the imagery alive in the Parisian descriptions but yet they are still able to resonate with a metropolis existing within the 21st century that is, technologically and, at least in theory (or on the face of things), economically and politically separated. Yet two selections stood out for me when visualizing our fair city of Toronto;

"Streets are the dwelling place of the collective. The collective is an eternally unquiet, eternally agitated being that - in the space between the building fronts - experiences, learns, understands and invents as much as individuals do with the privacy of their own four walls."

“The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest become the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together within a limited space.” Friedrich Engels Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England 1848

Now along with these two quotes I would like you to examine these two images from the corner or Bathurst Street and Bloor Street (as seen on the afternoon of Friday September 20th, 2013)

These images represent the impact that an individual has had upon the city and in turn a reflection of how the city has acted upon the individual. This man is at once part of the collective, indeed with the street being his dwelling place, and isolated from this collective due to him being labelled as one of the "homeless"(at least to outward appearances, the appearances garnered from a simple viewing, at once visual, auditory and olfactory). 

This individual (and I painfully have to lump myself into the 'brutal indifference' category because I cannot attribute a name to this man) routinely stands upon the corner of Bathurst and Bloor and silently, with a empty, worn, disposable coffee cup in his hands, not outstretched but neither held close, petitions for alms. His outward appearance does not vary from day to day or indeed from season to season but remains stoic in his unchanging appearance of stained kaki pants and an equally unclean black hooded sweatshirt. 

As I have mentioned he does not actively ask anyone for aid, but his intentions are not suspect nor illusive. In fact he does seem to break his silence, nor does his face change with any twisting of emotion. The actuation of the wall muriel is both accurate in its voice and characterization of his facial expression. The man could be the living embodiment of the art as much as the art is an embodiment of the man. 

Granted this individuals background and story are hidden to me, hidden behind my indifference but I cannot help but think that the city has been as active an agent in placing him in his circumstances as much as the city has been an active agent in memorializing this man's ever constant presence about this intersection. Perhaps it is a stretch but the city seems to have imprinted itself as much upon him as he has upon the city. 

     Hello all, I have never written a blog before so sorry if what I write does not make any sense, or is wrong.  Normally I like to keep my thoughts to myself because I fear about how I might come across.  Incidentally, I am adding this digression because blogging for dummies says I’m supposed to (seriously, that’s not a lame attempt at humour).

     Anyways, after reading the Sharon Kelly’s article “The New Normal: The Figure of the Condo Owner in Toronto’s Regent Park”, I was reminded about a documentary I saw called invisible city by Hubert Davis.  I could not find the full film, but this the trailer: 


     I found it interesting that the filming of the documentary coincided with the ethnographic fieldwork conducted by Kelly.  However, the documentary offers a different view, as the director follows two Black Canadian youths who live in Regent Park, commenting on their struggles within the community.  I feel that this low-income perspective contrasts nicely with Kelly’s article.  Watching the film added depth to my understanding of the “social mixing” taking place through the revitalization of the neighbourhood.   I really enjoyed the premise of the article, which questions this whole idea about how the condo-owner might struggle with the idea of being some kind of saviour.   Among other things, both works left me wondering if this social mixing in the area might have the opposite effect of lowering crime in the area, and actually make it worse.

     Coincidentally, while reading for another course I am taking, I came across a sociological theory brought forth by Thorsten Sellin.  He argues that “cultural conflict” is a main factor of criminal deviance.  Basically, from what I understand, when the norms and values of two different cultures collide, conflict emerges (I must have missed something because that seems way too obvious).  Sellin discusses what he refers to as “take-over” situations, or the infringement of a more dominant group onto another group’s territory. As an example to explain this concept, he specifically highlights how “middle-class people gentrify a rundown neighbourhood” (P.66) .  After reading this, I immediately thought about the middle-class condo owner/low-income resident dynamic in Regent Park.  Intrigued, I wanted to see what has been happening since the first phase of the revitalization that Kelly discusses, and since the film came out in 2010.  I found this article by Sara Thompson and Sandra Bucerius:

     I felt that the Star’s take on the development project (especially the first two paragraphs!) really provides weight to Sellin’s argument, fitting almost perfectly with his ideas that I clumsily laid out above. 

     Both the The Invisible City, as well as, Kelly’s “The New Normal” questions the ideology behind the concept of social mixing. This, in turn, left me questioning it. It looks as though the concept failed, and that crime has indeed gotten worse in Regent Park. While the project was a social failure, my guess is that it was probably an economic success from a private investment perspective.

Other Sources: 

Patricia A. Adler and Peter Adler. Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context, and Interaction, 7th edition (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing, 2012) pg. 66

Sara Thompson, and Sandra Bucerius "Regent Park revitalization: Has it created an us versus them dynamic?" (Toronto Star, June 2012)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Intersections Are Contests

Yesterday, we reviewed some of our favourite Toronto intersections. We were also asked to reflect upon our experiences of these spaces. The words we chose reflected the notions we also discussed last week, words such as “diversity” and “accessibility.”

Yonge and Dundas provides, in some sense, both diversity and accessibility.

Try and visualize with me. You have emerged from the depths of the TTC into a blinding, deafening, muting swarm of people and things. Electronic billboards many times larger than your body. More massive are the buildings which form a cage of concrete, with only the distant sky above. Street performers make tremendous noise and movement (singing, shaking, gyrating, flailing their limbs, calling out) – all of these sights and all of these sounds. And the smell of street food, of gasoline, and the smell of the people that surround you on all sides, the smell of different places brought by some of these people. In the confusion of all these sights, sounds and smells, people brush past you, invading the “personal space” so important to many of us. All these sources of stimulus and you haven’t stepped 10 paces outside the subway. This is an example of just some of the information you are receiving in a busy Toronto intersection like Yonge and Dundas, and more precisely Yonge and Dundas square which is a meeting place for many but a resting place for few.

This sensual information – the sights, sounds, smells, touches – these are each embodiments of Yonge and Dundas culture. I think that precisely what is embodied is the imagined community we have named the market. The market makes accessible goods and services to be purchased. And there is some amount of diversity in what is available for purchase: television, clothing, food and city tours just to name a few. Though each can be purchased and consumed, the medium of consumption is different in each of these examples: clothing is worn, food is eaten, television is watched and listened to, and city tours are in some cases watched, listened to, worn and eaten.

You, the person reading this post, have probably decided that what I have been describing as diversity is shallow relative to other examples of urban diversity. This is a description merely of a diversity of things to be purchased at Yonge and Dundas. None of my examples were of things visitors could sell themselves in the market. None of my examples were of those objects or experiences existing outside of the market.

Yonge and Dundas (click the image to enlarge)
Screen Capture from Google Maps
In relation to the intersection between Baldwin and Augusta, the south entrance to Kensington Market, the intersection between Yonge and Dundas is best described as another species of intersection. Of course, there are things for purchase, but the volume-dial has been aggressively spun to a nearly inaudible frequency. The goods are in many cases on-the-street to enable consumers to touch and to closely view the clothing and food for themselves. The street performers are here, as they are at Yonge/Dundas but they do not need airhorns or amplifiers to make themselves heard. If you are at this intersection you do not need to expend effort to make yourself visible because there are less people and crucially for my purposes, there is less noise (phonic noise, visual noise, olfactory noise).

Baldwin and Augusta (click the image to enlarge)
Screen Capture from Google Maps
The messages of Yonge and Dundas are received, while the messages of Baldwin and Augusta are exchanged. There is no sending return messages at Yonge and Dundas. It is a cacophony of noise. Who could hear you with all this stimulus to receive? Of course the people immediately around you might think they hear something but this exchange will almost certainly falter. You'll have to repeat yourself over and over again because another custom at Yonge and Dundas is not to receive messages. At Baldwin and Augusta you must learn to pause long-enough to make these exchanges.

I have used the word must to describe a custom which you may think is voluntary. Why would I make an argument like this? This is a conditional, must-not usage. You must not break the law. You must not disobey your authority figures. You must not create dangerous situations. Each of these must-nots is predicated on the idea that you respect the customs of your environment, and if you contest the customs at any Toronto intersection you should be prepared to endure societal disgrace. The faces of societal disgrace include: stares, jeers, whispers, pointing, unintended injury, intended violence, malice, confusion and so on. These society-level behaviours exist wherever you find people, but the specific expectations and the degrees of severity you find are highly variable.

A consequence of participating in quieter intersections is an increase in what other people will expect from you and what you can expect from them in return (an exchanging of expectation). A consequence of participating in a noisier intersection is a decrease in expectation and an increase in the volume of information which you are exposed to.

When you and I decide to respect or contest the customs which surround us we are exercising our agencies. Depending on where these customs exist, we may need to work harder to express this agency. If we do not express our agencies we silence ourselves. If we remain silent we allow others to speak for us.

I hope that some of you will be willing to respond to me but I can appreciate that the internet can be both an extremely noisy and an extremely silent environment. I'm hoping for reasonable criticisms (I really wanted this first post to be in even less detail so I fully expect disagreement and corrections) and reasonable suggestions of how I could expand my connection between information and cities. I would also really appreciate any other examples of intersections (or of any additional social spaces) where these ideas could be brought to bare.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Global suburbanisms conference

Maria, who took Metropolis 347 some years ago and is now active in a community food initiative in Parkdale, sent on this information about an upcoming conference at York U on global suburbanisms.

Fritz Lang meets Kraftwerk

This opening sequence from Fritz Lang's Metropolis presents an image of what life is like in the underground city where workers toil. It is a world governed by the clock and an alienating and monotonous division of labour (in a subsequent segment, we see the above ground world of tennis and gardens--much like the suburban camp described by JK Galbraith in the documentary below). Here someone has presented a mash-up of this opening sequence with a song by Kraftwerk. One often thinks about the relation between cinema and the city but here we are also invited to think about the soundtrack to the city. Since the advent of the Sony Walkman and on to the iPod and beyond, our experience of the city has often been set to music. What is the soundtrack that best captures the city for you? 

Metropolis: Age of Uncertainty

This documentary narrated by John Kenneth Galbraith is rather dated but it is still informative. I like the dramatization of Engels' essay on 'The Great Towns,' which remains the classic 19th century account of the industrial city. I also like the section on Brasilia.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

welcome to the Panopticon! what, you didn't know? we have arrived!

This article by Peter Cashmore briefly points to the many ways in which our public actions and conversations are vulnerable to capture and re-presentation by more than just CCTV... for example, if anyone with a cellphone can catch you in the act of doing something socially distasteful, then broadcast and ultimately humiliate or shame you via YouTube or some other social media network, then will web 2.0 social media become the omnipresent Big Brother, the watching eyes and ears that ultimately train us to become better (nicer on the outside) people?