Tag Archives: urban planning

“Hey batta batta…”

Sure, there’s the clam chowder, Ivy League schools, and a thick, distinct accent, but you can’t talk about Boston without acknowledging its huge sporting motif. It’s a big sports town: both professional and college leagues of baseball, basketball, football, and hockey coming out the wazoo.

And you can’t live as long as I have in Boston and not check out at least one Red Sox game. I’ve done just that and ironically, for 9 of the 11 years that I’ve been in Boston, I lived literally just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Fenway Park stadium. But last week I did something I didn’t imagine I’d ever do: I caved attended a baseball game. A good friend enticed me with tickets in the owner’s box – an offer I couldn’t refuse. It’s part of the local culture. And when in Boston, do as the locals…

I take issue with the sport itself, or rather, the game. I know the ground rules … yeah, I got ‘em … but I still don’t like it. Soccer has always been my sport of choice, and with the current World Cup fever running rampant, I’m in good company. I like its speed, the strategy, and the realistic duration of a match …whereas I find baseball drags needlessly… But I digress.

As opposed to a megaplex outside of the city, I do like the fact that this classic ballpark is located in an urban neighbourhood, though its constrained location creates parking nightmares and its renovations and additions over the years are limited in scope and quirky in form. It is the only one of the original standard ballparks that is still in use. (Actually, they say that about the subway here too, the ‘Green Line’, which, in my humble opinion, is nothing to brag about). The park has also been the site of some cultural events, concerts where outsiders like myself are camped outside, partaking in a little Springsteen, par example…

I’ve always dreaded all things baseball: walking past cheesy souvenir shops (Yankees suck! T-shirts: the rivalry is positively cutting) and hotdog/pretzel stands, profuse sports bars filled to the brim with ‘cap people’, inhaling the smell of beer-soaked pavements the morning after a game. Many a time I’ve been that one lone unfortunate soldier walking home against the current just moments after the crowds exited the stands – the most miserable person of the lot.

But to my surprise, I enjoyed the event more than I expected. Sitting in the A/C infused ‘fishbowl’, snacking on chicken tenders and Caesar salad, sure, the game was fun. All 4 hours of it. I participated in a couple of rounds of ‘the wave’; cheered and booed at the appropriate times; stood for the national anthem… Perhaps even more than the other sports’, baseball fans here are hard-core and their dedicated, steadfast support is admirable. Every Red Sox home game has sold out. It could be minutes leading up to start-time, with torrential rains, and still, the masses would be sweeping in, buses with hordes of out-of-towners descending upon the site, public parking attendants waving the cars in with their orange flags and $40/game signs…

I do have a beef with the term ‘World Series’ but I won’t get into that here, and risk alienating my readers!

Design Hub

Recently, I’ve been paying attention to those moments when I lose sense of time and place because I am so immersed. The following is one such time: I participated in a book review organized by the Boston chapter of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Artists) in which Ellen Lupton’s Design Writing Review was discussed. Although I was familiar with the author – to say she is well known in the design world would be an understatement – this particular book was new to me. Nevertheless, the title had caught my eye and I went, so that I could learn a little something, perhaps even absorb by osmosis. Meeting in a local pub, the group consisted of graphic design freelancers, a journalist slash painter, a professor of graphic design at Boston University, and myself. The conversation began with a discussion of the merits of the book, followed by the value of graphic design, touched on the vastly different formats of New York Times vs USA Today, and the inevitable decline of newspaper circulation in general in this digital age (a topic bound to come up, natch), and ultimately wound up in a heated debate over selection of the next fascinating body of work to set our voracious sights on.

As the evening wore on and our topics broadened in scope, it had felt to me as if our gathering were taking place in a literary café in Prague in the late 1800s, instead of a sports bar in contemporary time. Alright, perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to compare it to coffeehouses where the city’s intellectuals and literati met, conversing in Czech and German, but it was a fun way for us like-minded folk to spend an evening over beers and fries. You know you’re among friends, kindred spirits anyway, when you can share design ideas and influences. After all, how many people get excited about a movie about fonts? (i.e. we all concurred Helvetica was one fine film). It was inspiring and energizing and it summarized where I find my interests these days – at the crossroads of design, writing, and culture.

A big reason why I moved to Boston years ago was even more access to this good stuff. As a young architect, it was a thrill to see some of the world’s most interesting and influential architects and designers come here to present their work and ideas, primarily at the prestigious Harvard and MIT design schools. The [best] of them are committed not just to well-designed buildings, but also to the public spaces they shape and the communities they serve, and their innovation serves as a source of inspiration. As a working professional (hesitant to use the proverbial student of life), I’ve found stimulus in the lectures, exhibitions, and publications. I’ve enjoyed the city’s many forums of discussion, at auditoria, libraries, museums, galleries, and professional associations. And it doesn’t end there. There are lots of organizations whose mission is to promote design excellence and shape the future of the built environment by stimulating debate and provoking design thinking about the critical issues of our time. Endless websites, design blogs, and e-zines raise the level of discussion and provide a platform of ideas.

Continually seeking lively discourse, I went to a talk at the Boston Society of Architects given by Patricia Leigh Brown, a writer for the New York Times & Architectural Digest, whose work straddles architecture and design. After a slideshow of images highlighting the changing demographics of suburbia in central valley California and its implications on physical space, comments from the audience steered the discussion off topic to Boston’s own Greenway project, particularly relevant here. This city has undergone a major transformation with the completion of the Big Dig and the Greenway District development seeks to activate newly opened green space, enhance surrounding neighbourhoods and, by combining the best practices of architecture, urbanism and related disciplines, to make meaningful connections by stitching previously isolated parts of the city together. Another initiative with emphasis on the public realm is the SHIFTboston ideas competition that encourages future possibilities for the urban environment by engaging the city and tapping (radical) ideas. With these and other initiatives in place, and public forums fostering community discussion, it seems that Boston has become a hub for design.

I’m glad I’ve gotten into this discussion here and am looking forward to continuing it as I move on to my next project: Toronto, another dynamic city using design as a vital cultural force!


Bear with me, readers.  For the time being, I’m in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada – perhaps not the most exotic of locales but highly deserving of recognition nevertheless.  My forthcoming foreign travels and thus glamorous blog posts will have to wait because, at present, I’m making a (re)connaissance mission:  spending long-overdue, ‘quality’ time with my parents and childhood friends, and by (re)visiting the old haunts and new ones, I’m (re)discovering the city of my youth.

This is uniquely precious time that I haven’t had at ‘home’ in over a decade of living and working in the United States.  Being a ‘resident alien’ with only a work-permit visa, my identity was entirely wrapped up in my job.  As I’m not currently practicing architecture, I realize it’s no longer my career that defines me and I should step back and think about what’s important – life in general.  Some close friends of mine have come to similar conclusions but from another perspective:  newly stay-at-home mothers – being somewhat domestically-focused has provoked thoughts about what they’re doing with their life, transitory as it is, and how best they want to live it.

Whereas in the past my typical 3-day weekend trips to the motherland would be crammed with numerous rendezvous, I now find myself with rare, relaxed, unscheduled time to seize the opportunity to make those leisurely neighbourhood strolls with my father, get cooking lessons of Spanish and Latvian family dishes from my mother, and share long talks about the state of the world and ‘whatnot’.  My parents still reside in the same abode of 27 years, so yesterday I biked the familiar route that I took for ages, the same path that diverged and led to 3 distinct places:  to elementary, to junior high, and to high school.  Ottawa is a lovely city of human scale, safe, bountiful in clean air, green space, rivers and waterfalls, and unlimited outdoor activities.  Memories of my happy childhood easily swell to the surface:  recollections of high school plays and Wednesday night ski club outings, French grammar and literature classes, snowball fights and wet woolly mittens on the radiator (that particular smell forever lodged into my psyche).

If there’s one element that any visitor recalls of Ottawa, it’s the Rideau Canal, famous in postcards as a scenic waterway which in winter magically transforms into ….wait for it…. the ‘World’s largest skating rink.’ It was recently designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, but then any tourist guide can tell you that and rattle off the city’s historical buildings and cultural highlights.  What excites me to see are good strategies taken by architects and urban planning committees to develop my native city in an innovative and meaningful way.bridge expanse

Three years ago, a pedestrian bridge was built spanning the picturesque Rideau Canal, connecting a significantly residential and commercial ‘Centertown’ with the University of Ottawa and a public transit system, previously only crossable at this point during the winter months when it was frozen.  Its value initially fiercely questioned, it is now one of the city’s most applauded public projects, allowing a few thousand pedestrians and cyclists to cross day and night, linking neighbourhoods and providing new views. There’s a proposal out for another two and I cross my fingers that the City doesn’t spend ages mulling it over nor that the approvals processes drag needlessly.  Not that it’s an equitable comparison by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever but I am reminded of the numerous bridge crossings in great cities like Zurich, Amsterdam and Paris, and the possibilities they afford.  Providing any infrastructure that encourages physical and visual connections challenges the senses and results in a more dynamic urban life.  Oh, to have more urban densification, especially in a city that endures a glacial -30˚C in the winter!  (Author’s note:  It was during those frigid days that we, as angst-ridden teenagers just shy of getting our driver’s permits, were resigned to take the L.C. or ‘Loser Cruiser’ (a.k.a. the bus), a term coined by my best friends.)bridge crossing

Since it is a more ‘formal’ city, genteel and orderly (often a problem of created capitals), Ottawa is home to a wealth of national museums, monuments and heritage structures that tell historical events that have shaped the very character of Canada.  I walked the grounds around the new Canadian War Museum, observing its raw, fragmentary structure emerging out of the earth; it emphasizes regeneration implicit as the grass greening on the building’s roof.facade

In true form, the Remembrance Day national ceremony took place here in Ottawa on November 11th, to honour those who pay the ultimate sacrifice.  To mark the solemn occasion, people gathered, on this sunny, cloudless day, at the National War Memorial dedicated to the Canadian forces that fought in the WWI&II and Korean wars, against the backdrop of Parliament Hill.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, thousands paid tribute to the fallen, the inter-generational crowds growing yearly as international peacekeeping efforts continue.war memorial

Marching in unison, resplendent in uniform and medal, were different regiments, many of British heritage.  Speaking of Brits, Prince Charles and Camilla, on an 11-day whirlwind tour of Canada, attended this and other commemorations honouring Canada’s persons, places and events.  Fortunately, no unsightly gaff happened in their presence, nor on the part of the royals themselves.  It will be interesting to see who will play the role of the next official head of state and whether or not we’ll remain the last monarchy in the Americas, with Charles (!) as king or transition to a new institution altogether.

In contrast to the neat alignment of military formation upheld during the service, throughout the remainder of the day, a sea of people randomly came from each and every direction to lay their poppies, in true Canadian tradition, on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Lest we forget.sea of red

grassy knoll

ramp up

war museum overall

Fun fact:  Ottawa’s shapely coordinates:  45˚25’15”N  75˚41’24”W