Actions: What You Can Do With the City
A traffic engineer I recently heard speaking at a conference said, showing off a new scheme, “there’s a lot you can do with paint.” (Of course, you can also influence human behavior by taking paint away). In any case I thought of that sentiment while recently reading through the excellent catalog (edited by Mirko Zardini and Giovanna Borasi) for an exhibit at the Canadian Center for Architecture called “Actions: What You Can Do With the City,” a kind of surrealist planning guide meets handbook for guerilla civic engagement, filled with ideas, some new, some old — all interesting — about how cities can be made better places to live (and “paint,” it turns out, is one of the categories in the exhibit). Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of them had to do with traffic, in particular the question of assigning different bits of urban space to different modes, or at least getting us to think about these issues in new and creative ways, rather than simple formulas or prescriptions.
Pictured above, for example, is German artist Gerhard Lang’s zebrastreifen, or “zebra crossing,” which, as described by the CCA, is: “A DIY answer to the question: how can pedestrians legally cross a street wherever they want to, and not only at the whim of traffic planners? … Lang’s zebrastreifen… allowed a 600-person procession to cross the streets, alleys, backyards, and car parks of Kassel without jaywalking. The procession honoured Lang’s friend, collaborator, and former professor, Lucius Burckhardt, the inventor of the field of Spaziergangswissenschaft, or ” ‘Strollology.’ ”
I also particularly enjoyed two different kinds of commentaries on the space occupied by the car in the city. The first, pictured below, is Austrian civil engineer Hermann Knoflacher’s low-tech but effective Gehzeug, or walkmobile, designed in 1975 as a commentary on the “spatial abilities of streets without automobiles.
In a slightly different vein is artist Michael Rakowitz’ “(P)LOT Project,” which “restores parking spaces to pedestrians as street-side camping,” using standard car covers. The model below was for a Porsche, and it was stolen.
Back on the subject of paint, there’s also the work (pictured below) of Toronto’s Urban Repair Squad. As the story goes they got tired of waiting for adequate bike lanes in their city, and took matters into their own hands: “Since 2005, the group has painted over six kilometres of bicycle lanes on major and minor streets in Toronto while disguised as municipal workers – official City of Toronto workers attempt to remove the markings as fast as they are painted.”
I’ll close with the work of L.A.’s Fallen Fruit, which seeks out the Ballardian dead spaces of L.A.’s traffic infrastructure, like the forlorn traffic islands (can ramp gores be next?). Notes the CCA: “Ten urban archipelagos were planted with young tomatoes in May 2008, and their produce tracked to identify which traffic islands sites best supported agriculture.”
No word on if the tomatoes compromised the sight distance of passing drivers.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 at 3:23 pm and is filed under Cars, Cities, Etc., Roads, Traffic Culture, Traffic Engineering, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.