Tag Archives: urban

Strays of Moscow

I higly recommend you read the recent article from FT called ‘Moscow’s stray dogs‘. It not only contains an in-depth study of their habits, behaviours and hierarchy systems, but also explains some of the somewhat baffling sympathy these creatures have managed to evoke in the locals. Below you can find some of the interesting snippets, but for more depth, please read the entire article at FT.

Where did these animals come from? It’s a question Andrei Poyarkov, 56, a biologist specialising in wolves, has dedicated himself to answering. His research focuses on how different environments affect dogs’ behaviour and social organisation. About 30 years ago, he began studying Moscow’s stray dogs. Poyarkov contends that their appearance and behaviour have changed over the decades as they have continuously adapted to the changing face of Russia’s capital. Virtually all the city’s strays were born that way: dumping a pet dog on the streets of Moscow amounts to a near-certain death sentence. Poyarkov reckons fewer than 3 per cent survive.

The metro dog also has uncannily good instincts about people, happily greeting kindly passers by, but slinking down the furthest escalator to avoid the intolerant older women who oversee the metro’s electronic turnstiles.

They also acted differently. Every so often, you would see one waiting on a metro platform. When the train pulled up, the dog would step in, scramble up to lie on a seat or sit on the floor if the carriage was crowded, and then exit a few stops later. There is even a website dedicated to the metro stray (www.metrodog.ru) on which passengers post photos and video clips taken with their mobile phones, documenting the savviest of the pack using the public transport system like any other Muscovite.

The dogs divide into four types, he says, which are determined by their character, how they forage for food, their level of socialisation to people and the ecological niche they inhabit.

Neuronov says there are some 500 strays that live in the metro stations, especially during the colder months, but only about 20 have learned how to ride the trains. This happened gradually, first as a way to broaden their territory. Later, it became a way of life. “Why should they go by foot if they can move around by public transport?” he asks.

The internet of buildings

The concept of the Internet of Things is probably one of  the interesting ones as far as technology innovation having a direct effect on our lifestyles. Yang Soo-In presents how the interconnectedness of things can apply to buildings and cities thus creating interactive living urban spaces. The technology is based rougly on sensors installed into the building structures and being able to communicate between one another about anything from traffic jams to pollution levels.

Messengers united

For close to 2 years now I’ve been in falling in and out of love with several bicycles and progressively choosing those that allow better speeding on the road. The culture of messengers has intrigued me for a long while now for several reasons ranging from their traffic-dodgery, fashion, outsider status and underground squatting/raving/dreads-wearing underground community. Their trends have influenced the entire cycling community in London and particularly East London, which is now crawling with single speed fixed gear bikes.

Want to know more about them? Today I stumbled upon a paper about the bike messenger culture by a professor of sociology at University of Brighton, Ben Fincham. (Thanks again, Asi!)

The conceptual separation of ‘work’ and ‘life’, as distinct elements of social activity, has become established as shorthand for the social and psychological dislocation felt by being at work and not being at work.There is a literature on the work/life balance driven by governmental rhetoric, based on the idea of flexible working.This article suggests that distinctions between ‘work’ and ‘life’, implying a dichotomy in adult life, are overstated. Using material from a study of bicycle messengers this article presents a rich account of a group of workers for whom the binary distinction between work and life is meaningless.The account of this world of work is more closely aligned with those of the jazz musicians described by Becker or the boxers of Weinberg and Arond, where the occupation, identity and culture are not confined to hours of work

Although academic, the paper is highly readable and entertaining. Fincham takes the reader through the cultural backround, fashion and events surrounding the messenger phenomenon. If you’d like me to send it  to you, feel free to email me or leave a comment below.

Keep on riding.

246 meters of boredom

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For a few weeks now every time I dip in and out of the Spitalfields area I cast a suspicious look towards another body growing inside the City. I first realised that something was going on when looking out of a shop window in Commercial St. Confused and aggrevated that the city dared to develop without my knowledge, I pointed to the structure and asked ‘what’s that?’. ‘What?’ the shop keeper reponded. ‘That, the big fat building growing over there (some more pointing here). Don’t you know what it is?’. By now the somewhat intimidated Japanese shop keeper shook her head and upon a silent sigh I moved on to obiediently look at another dress.

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The phantom building turned out to be Heron Tower, which is set to dominate the City skyline by 2011. With 246 meters in height the Heron Tower by the Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates will be 47 floors tall and is already growing at an impressive rate of one floor a week. Sadly, I find this building to be somewhere between boring and offensive. Do we really need another rectangular looking skyscraper in this part of the city? I’ve looked at the views, read the reviews, but I just can’t seem to get the point. What you can see below is the only decent looking view of the tower I could find.

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Meanwhile, the construction of the Shard is set to begin as the year-long demolition and site preparation saga around London Bridge has finished now. The Middle Eastern consortium behind the project signed a £400m construction contract with the Mace Group and works on the building’s base will begin next month.

Light Lane

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One of the less joyful aspects of cycling in a city is thinking about getting hit by a car, especially when cycling at night without all the bells and whistles the ninja-looking cyclists wear to remain visible at night and during the day. However, even bike lights and reflective jackets are often not enough to ward off distracted or careless drivers, as the lights often become visible only at short distance and mark only a fraction of the cyclists’ road presence. London along with many other cities lacks sufficient bike lanes, which tend to provide the most distinct and visible protection for urban cyclists. With installation costs of $5,000 to $50,000 per mile, we shouldn’t expect to find bike lanes everywhere soon either.

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Light Lane, a product by Altitude created somewhat of an answer to the problem of lacking bike lanes. The system projects a crisply defined virtual bike lane onto pavement, using a laser, providing drivers with a familiar boundary to avoid. This seems like an excellent design for cyclist safety issues, though I’d like to know more about how the system will be powered and how costly it’ll be.

[Image courtesy of Altitude]

Soundmap

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Soundmap offers a series of downloadable guided walks through London. This seems like an ideal way to substitute the pre-booked walks that involve dealing with groups of strangers and various inconveniences of having to deal with listening to and following a single speaker. Instead, you purchase the chosen walk, stick it on your iPod and off you go. What’s more, you can control your tour according to your own liking and listen to extras such as interviews, music and stories about people and places on your routes. The narratars include local writers and artists, so you get a fair chance of getting a good mix of history and the local curiosities.  So far you can do the Brick Lane area, Soho, King’s Road, Brixton and Camden Town, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more on its way.

Beyond my own curiosity about the various areas I keep thinking this will be an ideal thing to stick on my occasionally visiting friends’ iPods before I let them face the perils of London.

One drawing at a time

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I found Urban Sketchers only recently and like their visuals as much as the concept that drives the blog. Urban Sketchers is a community of bloggers around the word who sketch where they live and visit. I’ll admit that I mostly support photography over all other forms of visual arts as far as depicting places and people goes, but the works on this blog really convey much more sense of place than sketches usually do. The idea started on Flickr about almost exactly one year ago and was initiated by a by Seattle journalist and illustrator Gabi Campanario and has transformed into a blog with so far over 500 subscribers.

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Here is a few words from one of the contributors, Margaret Hurst.

“I have been drawing on location for as long as I can remember. In fact, it’s difficult to work in the studio because I’ve been drawing “outside” for so long and in so many places. There is nothing like reportage drawing in the midst of swirling humanity or in the calm of a garden. All the sights, sounds and smells find their way into your drawings.

Drawing on location creates aliveness, animation and spontaneity in all your art, not just your reportage drawings. It’s always rewarding to see my students embark on this road.

Once you become a reportage artist everything you do is infused with motion and life. It’s difficult to see the world any other way. To go somewhere and filter that world through your eyes and hands and create a piece of art that no one else can create is a great feeling. It’s an experience I love to live whenever I get the chance.”