Category Archives: Urbanism

Bike Racks from David Byrne

Came across a fun story today in the NY Times – “David Byrne, Cultural Omnivore, Raises Cycling Rack to an Art Form”. From the story by Ariel Kaminer:

In recent years his interest in bicycles has expanded from riding them to thinking seriously about the role they play in urban life, as he has started making connections with politicians and international design consultants keen to keep cars from taking over the city. So when the Department of Transportation asked him to help judge a design competition for the city’s new bike racks, he eagerly agreed — so eagerly, in fact, that he sent in his own designs as well.

Mudflap Tammy

In Times Square Mr. Byrne wanted to invoke the young lady whose vivid profile is enshrined on the mud flaps of every other truck on the Interstate. “Somebody hinted to the Department of Transportation that the city might get negative publicity,” he said. “She’s definitely low culture, but there’s nothing obscene about it — and in a way it acknowledges Times Square’s seedy past. I heard that Janette had to go to Bloomberg just to make sure it was O.K.”

Did the most powerful mayor in the nation really have to issue a stay of execution? Did some big-rig interest group push the design through in the middle of the night? Ms. Sadik-Khan insisted there was no such drama. “Mudflap Tammy” made her debut along with the other racks.

By the way, you can get a free track “Strange Overtones” from the forthcoming David Byrne/Brian Eno release, entitled Everything that Happens will Happen Today.

Decorated buildings

Horse head

The photo above is from Antwerp, the one below from Barcelona.

Plane Ship Car

Street art from Barcelona

Barcelona grate art

One of the things I noticed in Barcelona were the paintings that become visible when stores and cafes pull down their grates after closing hours.  Here are a few I liked.

Barcelona grate art

Barcelona grate art

Barcelona grate art

Generally I didn’t see a lot of random graffiti in Barcelona.  In Brussels, however, there’s plenty of crap graffiti which gives the city a pretty shabby feel.

More from Casa Battlo

Front of Casa Battlo

Here are a few more shots from my visit to the Gaudi building Casa Battlo.  Some say the place is inspired by Jules Verne, and one does sometimes feel that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea feeling.


Utrecht Signs

Big Sign

A few signs that caught my eye today…

The one above and at the bottom are from a series along one street just off the main canal.  Not sure how they all tie together…  they don’t seem to be related to any one shop or enterprise…  but seem to have some good advice!

The one below is for a Jazz CD shop.

Jazzwinkel Sign

 Don't Start sign


Interesting article by Gregory Clark (professor Economics, UC Davis), “Life After Peak Oil” from the Sacramento Bee today, on the ramifications of expensive energy. Maybe not so bad…

So the future after peak oil will involve living in such dense urban settings where destinations are walkable or bikeable, just as in pre-industrial cities (the city of London in 1801 had 100,000 inhabitants in one square mile). Homes will be much smaller, but instead of caverns of off-white sheet rock, we will spend our money in making much more attractive interiors. Nights will be darker. We will not have retail outlets lit up like the glare of the midday sun in Death Valley.

Such a lifestyle is not only possible it will be much healthier.

I think that making this come true is largely about starting to shift mindsets and lifestyles now, so that the transition is not so painful.

Bike Friendly Cities?

Bike lane

Found a link to a listing purporting to name the eleven most bicycle friendly cities in the world. Amsterdam is not so surprisingly listed at number one. But I was pretty shocked to find no less than four U.S. cities on the list, headed by Portland in number two, along with Davis, Boulder and San Francisco. I’d just have to say that it’s crap. Most every city here in the Netherlands that I’ve visited is more bike friendly than any city in the US – dedicated bike lanes, with dedicated bike traffic signals are a norm here, it seems. Don’t believe the hype! The U.S. has a long way to go – but I am proud that Portland is making strides.

The picture comes from another American city that is trying: Spartanburg, SC.

All about bricks!

Utrecht bricks

Wandering around Utrecht, one can’t help but notice all the streets and sidewalks in the old part of town are made up of bricks and stones. As simple geometric patterns they are often quite lovely, so I’ve taken a few shots.

Utrecht bricks 2

What I’ve discovered however is another angle on this subject. Like in many places, there is often work that involves digging up the street. Here that often means pulling up all the bricks and stones. What’s nice though is that when they’re done, they put the bricks back in place, and within a few days you can hardly tell that any work was done at all.

One more shot, this time the old Canal, Oudegracht.

Utrecht Oudegracht

What can you walk to?

Walk Score

Via The Oil Drum I note this site called Walkscore, which is simply a Google map overlaid with a variety of everyday businesses and services in the local area, then scored to give a ‘walkability’ index for the address. It’s pitched as a real estate service, and it does seem like it would be helpful to scope out some neighborhood if you’re unfamiliar with it. But it does have (and acknowledge) a number of limitations, so obviously you need to look at a neighborhood for yourself!

It’s no accident that almost every previous address of mine scores very high on walkability – it’s one of the main factors I’m looking for in a place to live.

Of course preferences vary, and some folks would score walkability very low, though it will be interesting to see how gas prices relate to that preference.

The Edifice Complex – Deyan Sudjic (2005)

The Edifice Complex

The Edifice Complex by Deyan Sudjic is a book on architecture, architects and their patrons. The subtitle, “How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World” may make you think it’s some sort of communist rant, but no, it’s actually quite literal. Overwhelmingly the choices of what buildings are erected are made by the wealthy and powerful people in society. The interesting question is to what end, and how well does it work?

The book examines the building programs of some of the more powerful political figures of the century, starting with Hitler, Stalin and Mao, and then moving along to related topics like the U.S. Presidential libraries, iconic structures like the Bilbao Guggenheim, other museums and government buildings, and ending with a chapter on high-rises, starting with the WTC. Sudjic is interested in the relationship of the patron and the architect, the egotism of both, and the impact of the finished work on both them and the rest of the world.

The book touches on interesting bits of history and biography. I’d recommend it, though I did find that the book jumps around quite a bit, as shorter bits on people like the Shah of Iran and the Marcoses get slotted in to various themed chapters.