Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Power Plants

Some folks working in the region generally referred to as the Midwest, under the name the Compass Group (including one of our own Travel Office agents), published a 2 sided map and quiz-card set that attempts to unpack the geography of corn and coal around the Great Lakes and Midwest. Coal-based utilities are identified by ownership type, and both coal mines and corn-based ethanol production facilities are located. Amidst this pretty overwhelming and depressing data are select organizations and communities who are exploring other forms of power generation. You can see a larger image of the map on Flickr and download the cards but if you'd like a paper copy of both the map and card, they're available this Winter at the Smart Museum in Chicago as part of the Heartland exhibition. The map is also available in the 9th issue of AREA Chicago: Peripheral Vision.
If you can't make it to Chicago, write us and we'll try to get one to you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Retouching Colonialism

We just came across this advertisement for an art contest that is asking artists to repaint 17th century etchings depicting pre-European inhabitants of present day Florida. An initiative of the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida, the contest is designed to promote the preservation of Florida's ecological and historical assets. The prints need to be repainted, they say, pointing to the obvious "errors" that are visible in the Theodor deBry etchings (supposedly based on observational paintings by French colonist Jacques Le Moyne), such as giant alligators with ears and European facial features on people who are not European.
The inspiration for the contest was apparently the work of another Theodore, a contemporary Floridian named Theodore Morris. He has embarked on a series of paintings of pre-European peoples of called "Florida Lost Tribes", in which he refers to current archaeological and anthropological knowledge to produce more "correct" visualizations. In a recent article on his work, Morris explains how he sees his project historically:

"I would like to create a body of work similar to George Catlin who painted early portraits of America's Western tribes," explains Morris. "My goal is to complete paintings that cover an entire community of people from each of the major tribes of Florida"

To get back to the art contest and its motivations, we are interested in the continued use of the ultimate Other - a people and culture that was exterminated almost 300 years ago - in the service of historical and ecological preservation. The Timucua and the European invasions that destroyed them were the narrative starting points for the eventual creation of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in 1988, an effort that started in 1920s. And now that much of the "evidence" has lost its claims to truth (the Fort Caroline Exhibit and the Ribault Monument never had much of a claim to begin with and the images attributed to Jacques Le Moyne have been severely questioned since at least 2005), the record has to be corrected. But, what is interesting is that it's being corrected without much in the way of more "real" data. Le Moyne's original paintings have not been found, and certainly no one has uncovered a frozen Timucuan. The Timucua are being treated like dinosaurs, their images updated as our theories and ideas about them (and colonization) change. As a colleague once said of the ever changing depiction of dinosaurs, the pictures of the Timucua will always be more of a depiction of those creating them than they can be of the Timucua themselves.
Of course, such things are never about accuracy. The preserve preserves a story and the space in which that story takes place. What we have been trying to propose with our unsolicited consultations for the Timucuan Preserve is to address stories and places that connect other ecological and cultural concerns with the historic narrative already being offered. How can the policy-practice of preservation facilitate active protection of ecological and cultural networks without preserving the ideology of colonialism and violence, with its very material consequences? Practical approaches like "environmental preservation districts" seem promising, and what we would like to see advocated by organizations like the Public Trust.
Perhaps we should hold our own contest...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Touring With The Torch

The Olympic Flame really gets around. After it's ceremonial ignition in Athens, it gets a whole row of airline seats to itself, then it's onto a mountain bike, across frozen bays, some tundra, and even for a surf in the Northern Pacific. The expense of keeping this little chemical reaction going across thousands of miles and in deliberately ridiculous situations is fascinating and disturbing. We'd like to see this whole process somehow re-enacted... what would it take to convince an airline to let you bring on six burning lanterns?
Thanks to Mr. Hamilton for forwarding this.
Photos credits AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Parking Public: Second Edition DVD Available

We just got our second edition of the Parking Public DVD back from the printer/duplicator, so if you didn't get one from the first run, you can get one now!
It might make for an odd holiday gift for the parking enthusiast in your family.
We'll also be leading a Parking Public tour in Chicago in March, so look out for upcoming information on that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Real, Desired & Recreated Geographies

Along with our recent proposal for the mMigration Recreation and Research Center to top the iHotel and Conference Center, we also produced a micro exhibit to occupy one wall of the Conference Center Lobby area. The space of the conference center and hotel is one conceived for consumer-users that are frequently mobile populations who occupy the space for very specific and short periods of time. Not unlike airports, conference center hotels are places designed for people who are assumed to be universally mobile and act as temporary, modular inhabitants. We don't agree with conceptions of such places as non-places, put forward by scholars like Marc Auge, however. While such ideas provide a way of understanding a form of architectural and relational instrumentalization and homogenization, they only deal with the space from the position of mobile consumption. The idea that such non-places are spaces in which "no lasting social relations are established" overlooks the production of these places in very basic material and human terms. Airports, subways and hotels are places of work for large numbers of people who are not temporary, transient inhabitants. The workers who produce these places, or at least keep them operating, create and maintain meaningful, interpersonal relationships as most of us do when we work with others. Our mini exhibit at the iHotel Conference center was one way for us to think through this reality. Below is a basic description.

A Study in Migration Through the Real, Desired & Recreated Geographies of 8 Employees is a commissioned exhibit for the iHotel & Conference Center in Champaign IL.

Although we have maps of the world that show us the forms of oceans, land masses, and political boundaries, such maps can only be aggregations of the experiences and hypotheses of specific social formations. The flattening of the globe requires projections.

This map, for example, charts the experience, both real and imaginary, of land by eight employees of the iHotel Conference Center in Champaign, IL. These employees responded to short surveys, answering questions about where they have lived, where they have visited and where they desire to go. Land masses not named, are not pictured. They also described valued souvenirs collected from these locations. Some of these souvenirs are on display in facsimile form - they are represented by approximations purchased from the online auction house Ebay. The origin of the described souvenirs, and the location from which their facsimiles were obtained, are also located on this map.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Touring a Year in the Life of a Shipping Container

For the last year, the BBC has been tracking a shipping container as it travels the world. As it traverses the sea and land, reports on its status were logged: "Economic hardship greets the box in LA"; "Scotch wiskey exports buck downturn". But tracking the box has not been without problems, as the GPS tracking device installed on it has had to be repaired and, even after repairs, its signal has been intermittent. The story that this journalism-cum-locative media project points to however, is an extremely interesting and overlooked area where the economic crisis and global commerce intersect, at least it was for us.
As the BBC reports:
After 53 years of annual growth, the volume of cargo carried by container ships may record a fall in 2009. The May figures for westbound Asia-Europe services were down by a fifth on the previous year - an indication of the severity of the slump. The problems for the industry have been compounded by a boom in building large new container ships.

We're reminded of our favorite precedent to locative-media projects, the critical documentary project of Alan Sekula, particularly his expansive Fish Story and Lottery of the Sea projects:

It struck me that Smith (speaking of Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations") introduces the concept of risk entirely through examples drawn from seafaring and sea trade: the sailor who risks all for meager pay, incommensurate with his skills; the wealthy ship owner who "insures himself" against risk by funding a fleet large enough to offset the inevitable loss of individual vessels. The concept of risk emerges with a measure of human sympathy and understanding, based no doubt on Smith's own life-world at the edge of the North Sea, that is completely absent from the musings of our contemporary apostles of the free market.

As is the case in Fish Story, I follow a meandering path from ocean to ocean, and from ocean to sea, but with different landfalls and departures. The film begins in Japan, moves to Panama and concludes in Spain, stopping first on the oil-fouled Atlantic coast of Galicia, and ending with the redeveloped Mediterranean littoral of Barcelona. Along the way, there are a number of detours, to the ancient agora in Athens and to the port of Piraeus, to a "millionaires' fair" in Amsterdam, to a number of demonstrations in different cities against neoliberalism and then against the war in Iraq. In each of these contexts, "risk" takes on new meaning, is refracted differently by circumstances. The narration asks a question: "What does it mean to be a maritime nation, to harvest the sea, or to rule the waves?" This is posed for the inherently unstable power relations of the western Pacific, but applies less literally to choices faced in Panama and Spain, choices having to do with sovereignty and our fragile dominion over the sea.

From an interview in Bomb Magazine

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Parking Public in Columbus, OH

We were invited by the Bureau for Open Culture's James Voorhies at the Columbus College of Art & Design to present our Parking Public tours there. A "virtual" version of walking tour of Hollywood CA will be on display within the Agency for Small Claims (seen above) until October 3.
On October 23, we'll be presenting a screening of our short Parking Public video essay and giving a brief illustrated talk on some of the other guided Parking Public tours. We will also likely have a discussion about parking in Columbus that ties into the work of Learning Site, who are in residence at the Bureau as part of the exhibition Descent to Revolution (also featuring Red 76, Claire Fontaine, Office of Collective Play, REINIGUNGSGESELLSCHAFT and Tercerunquinto).
image below: a drawing by Learning Site for their work Audible Dwelling.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

House of Cars

Believe it or not, there are some benefits to being on the mailing list of the National Parking Association. At least if you're into parking. One benefit is finding out about things like an upcoming exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. titled House of Cars. Opening October 17, the exhibit takes a look at the architecture of parking garages as an overlooked, yet important element of the built environment in the U.S.. The Museum is planning to host a lecture series and film screenings that survey "the many roles played by the parking garages on screen, from extreme action to avant-garde expression".
The NPA is the "presenting sponsor" of the exhibition, which opens immediately after the NPA's Annual Convention and Expo, also happening in D.C. this year.
image above: First LEED certified parking garage, the Santa Monica Civic Center parking structure (from

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Radical Hip Hop Tourism

We were just sent a link to the Emergence Travel Agency, "the world's first hip-hop travel agency" and a project of Emergence Music, a DIY hip hop enterprise by Detroit-based MC Invincible.
On the site, they have videos that cover the history of displacement and resistance in Detroit ("Locusts" see below) and Palestine/Israel ("People Not Places"), mixing music video and documentary interviews to some pretty great effects.
Also check out their collaboration with the Detroit Summer Collective on an audio documentary on the effects of Superbowl XL on the city.

Friday, July 31, 2009

mMigration Research and Recreation Center Proposal

Our proposal for an architectural addition to the iHotel Conference Center and a site owned by Ameren in Champaign, IL has finally been "released," meaning the poster and model of the proposal are currently on display in the iHotel. Below is a brief summary of the proposal, more info and images here. is necessary to examine the social relations that the means of mobility afford and not only the changing form taken by the forces of mobility.
-- John Urry, Mobilities

For we live in the maps that the colonial surveyors bequeathed us.
-- Paul Carter, Dark Writing

One of the problems in studying "cancer clusters" - statistically high rates of cancer in a given area due to environmental conditions and contamination - is the increasing rate of migration of people over the course of their lives.
-- Richard Huggett, Fundamentals of Biogeography

The mMigration Research & Recreation Center will be a multi-use entertainment and educational facility serving the greater Champaign-Urbana area, and would be focused on various forms of migration. Multiple narratives of human, animal and geological movement in the region would be explored and documented through a media library housing videos, books, oral histories, photographs and digital archives.

The form of the mMigration Center will further visualize and encourage thinking about migration and mobility. Its primary facility will be prominantly located over the current iHotel and Conference Center South of the University of Illinois's flagship campus. Entry to the center will only be available through a satellite portal, located approximately 2 miles to the North, in a lot at the intersection of 5th and Hill Streets. From there an underground walkway and elevators will take visitors under the city and up to the center's 120 ft high facility.

The structure of the main building itself, hovering over the iHotel and Conference Center, is based on soil samples that document ground contamination of the lot at 5th and Hill Streets, where the entrance to the center will be located. This lot was once a manufactured gas plant that operated during the first half of the 20th Century, supplying lighting for Champaign and powering its interurban rail system.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Superfund or Superfun?

We were recently in New York, where we took a really great tour of the Flushing Meadows Worlds Fair site (Now the NYC-run F.M. Corona Park), and also checked out Damon Rich's intervention (as part of his exhibition Red Lines) into the Queens Museum of Art NYC Panorama, built by Robert Moses for the 1964 Worlds Fair. It's pretty spectacular on its own, but Rich's intervention provides a less utopian chapter in the development of the city - - mapping the geography of foreclosures onto the Panorama.
We also attended an event about the initiative to get the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn designated as a Superfund Site by the US EPA. We won't go into that initiative here... readers can look into it more at the previous link, but we were inspired to make this post after reading a story in the New York Times about a "secret" (how secret can something in the NYT be?) urban pool made out of dumpsters. The pool is a project (dare we say, business venture) of a company called Macrosea, that appears to be a sort of avant garde development firm. Interestingly, one of its key partners (as Project Director) is artist and writer Jocko Weyland, whom some readers may recognize for his writing on skateboard culture, or for his contributions to the art-culture-intellectual curiosity magazine Cabinet. The NYT story on this much blogged about trendier form of dumpster diving discussed an after party for Cabinet magazine held at one such dumpter-derived swimming hole located in Gowanus, and featured sound bites from artists and curators like Nina Katchadourian and Aaron Levy. Macrosea is, along with their more lucrative ventures, working on plans for re-uses of strip malls, perhaps putting to practice the research of Julia Christensen's Big Box Reuse project. The story also alludes to the abundance of unused dumpsters as the result of construction lulls during the recession/depression.
Perhaps it's simply an indication of our reading art and culture sources, but the recent instances of artists colonizing economic misfortune in such parasitic ways (such as artists buying cheap houses in Detroit) is both interesting and troubling. This seems markedly different from what is generally thought of as gentrification. The construction of party pools for neo-bohemians out of dumpsters on vacant industrial sites next to a potential Superfund site merges the utopian and dystopian in a way that makes cynicism seem completely ridiculous. We think it would have been even better if the pools were made as party ships, complete with glass bottoms, so party goers could swim in fresh water (trucked in from a New Jersey aquifer, of course) while looking down through the murky, inhospitable canal below and the wreckage of capital all around.
image of the Gowanus Canal by Listen Missy!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Taking Earthwork to the Streets of Chicago

Some colleagues from Chicago and around the midwest recently completed a political street stenciling project in support of the Tamms Year Ten Campaign. Tamms is shorthand for a supermax prison located in a town by the same name that has been operating under conditions considered torture by many human rights organizations and Tamms Year Ten is a grass-roots campaign to bring attention to it and at least bring it back to its original, legal mandate. As you can see from the pictures, they created an outline of the state of Illinois locating the location of Tams within in. To make the image they used giant stencils and mud, a technique learned and borrowed from artist Jesse Graves. Chicago-based art historian and writer Lori Waxman has written on the action, discussing the relationship between the stencil action and the issue of Tamms in more detail.
image above from Jesse Graves' blog.

Friday, June 12, 2009

London Olympics Runs Over Iron Age Britons

Looks like a road being constructed for the 2012 Games in London has been built atop a mysterious, ancient mass grave, speculated to be the remains of Britons killed by invading Romans. From Reuters.

Staging Stadiums

We have been following (of course) NPR's Anne Garrels' coverage of the build up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, and other reports about the economic situation there. Of course, the official Russian line is that everything looks good, and the Olympics are being touted as the means to convert Sochi into a world-class resort town, with all the amenities it currently lacks.

We also ran across this Denver Post article on a Kansas City firm named Populous (formerly HOK Sport Venue Event) and their role in designing Olympic venues (along with other mega sporting facilities). Apparently, the firm has been involved in every Olympic Games since 1996, including the Chicago 2016 bid and the upcoming London and Sochi games. The firm is responsible for projects like the Autodrome in Dubai, design for the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver and the new Yankee Stadium.
For anyone wanting to follow the role of construction in mega sporting events, we highly recommend Neil deMause & co's blog (and book) Field of Schemes.
image above: Populous' designs for London 2012 Olympic Stadium.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Upcoming Event, June 25

We'll be giving a presentation on June 25 at the Orientation Center in Chicago, as part of the Public Culture Lecture Series organized by InCubate and Randall Szott.
We will be talking about some newer developments and projects as well as discussing our broader interest in tourism as a form of public critical culture. Perhaps a teaser image from a recent project will entice you into coming?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pocket Guide to Hell Tours

We've posted before about the walking tours by Paul Durica (aka Pocket Guide to Hell) of the "Crime of the Century" - the infamous Chicago murder of Bobby Franks by Leopold and Loeb. We've since been in touch with Paul, who also lead a tour recently titled "A Working Man's Guide to the World's Columbian Exposition", an exploration of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. While we haven't been on one of Paul's tours (yet), we're really excited by them and hope to have the pleasure of touring Chicago with him soon.
Perhaps we'll attend his next Crime of the Century tour which will be June 7 at 11am, starting at the corner of 49th and Ellis in Kenwood (the tours are free, but Paul would really benefit from $5 donations). Email him to reserve a spot.
And read up on Paul's tour to see what you're in for.
image from Distances Between Ports

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Freshkills Park Blog

We just came across this blog (via) for the Freshkills Park in NY. It's maintained by "members of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation team working to develop Freshkills Park."
While we may suffer from blog overload, this is a really great find, with posts ranging from Freshkills specific topics to larger issues of ecology and renewable energy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

World Information City Conference, Paris

We just received an announcement for what promises to be an amazing conference in Paris, hosted by World-Information Institute for Futur en Seine. The conference title is "In/Visibility, Access and Urban Zoning," and features John Urry, Eyal Weizman, Brian Holmes, Bruno Latour, Saskia Sassen, Stephan Graham, and more. Takes place Saturday May 30 and Sunday May 31, 2009 14:00-19:30, and admission is free.
We don't think we could have dreamed up a more interesting line up. Unfortunately, we're not in Paris and it doesn't look like there are any simultaneous broadcast streams. Bummer.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Regime Change in Love Land

A sex theme park, called Love Land, set to open in October in Chongqing, near the Yangtze River in China will, alas, not get the chance to greet visitors with its sexy statue.

via NY Times, China Daily and

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tours for Tough Times

Our friend Nick recently sent us the Mother Jones list of tourist destinations for recessionary times. Definitely some good suggestions - we visited the Herbert Hoover Museum and Presidential Library earlier this year, and it's definitely worth the trip to Iowa (really great models!).
If none of these are your cup of tea, there's the suggested "Drug Tunnel Museum of Nogales, Arizona". Or, if you prefer your drug tourism above ground, and can get to Spain, take really, really deep breaths.

Scouting the War on Terror

The NY Times reports on an Explorer Scout program that "trains" young scout to "fight terrorists".
Here's how the article describes the program and its attraction for youth:

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out "active shooters," like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

"Put him on his face and put a knee in his back," a Border Patrol agent explained. "I guarantee that he’ll shut up."

And what attracts youth?

One participant, Felix Arce, 16, said he liked "the discipline of the program," which was something he said his life was lacking. "I want to be a lawyer, and this teaches you about how crimes are committed," he said.Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns.

We could go on about the convergence of individualistic/libertarian fantasies, digital games and the dual role these fantasies play in reproducing legal and illegal violence... but that's not really our goal here. But we can't help but be reminded of the stories from a couple of years ago about the production of touristic experiences surrounding illegal border crossing.

Photos: Todd Krainin for The New York Times

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Olympic Round Up

Whew... there's a lot of media being churned up around the Olympics! Here's a quick report back from some of the recent material that we've been trying to keep up with.
The Chicago Sun Times on Mayor Daley's gambling Chicago's future on the 2016 games. Interesting that he cites all these international cites as success stories and none in North America. Wonder why that is? Could it be that Montreal JUST paid off it's Olympic sized debt a couple of years ago?
The Chicago Trib on how the games would actually obstruct recreation for Chicago residents.
Obama is the "quarterback" of Chicago's bid, according to Mayor Daley, as quoted in USA Today.
The AP covered the IOC visit to Chicago, and mentioned that 205 volunteers held up flags to show the footprint of the proposed stadium. If anyone has pictures of this, please let us know! We'll be looking for them.
The Trib on the pothole protesters, apparently foiled when the city "coincidentally" headed them off by filling potholes on Garfield Blvd just before the protests were scheduled.
Japan's answer to the Chicago bid... we're more peaceful than you. Tokyo's governor says: "Japan hasn't been in any kind of war or conflict since the end of World War II. That's why Tokyo is the most appropriate city to stage the Olympics."
Despite the Oprah, Obama, Michael Jordan endorsement team, some Chicagoans aren't convinced. Maybe they've actually looked at what happens in Olympic host cities.

In news closer to home (for us at least), we'll be working on more tours and analysis of Olympia with collaborator Sarah Ross, now teaming up with long time comrade Lize Mogel to look at the spaces of Olympics and World's Fairs together. Vancouver and Chicago will likely be first on our list of comparative projects.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Adventure Tourism in the Colonial Present

We're currently reading Derek Gregory's The Colonial Present, so the recent NY Times story and video on the development of tours in Iraq was particularly interesting. Gregory's historical analysis of the "war on terror" and its ideological foundations as ultimately colonial in nature (especially as it continues and reanimates Eurocentric Orientalism) got us thinking about the development of commercial tourism in this geography of the colonial present.
The statement from the first gentleman interviewed in the video, essentially that his favorite trips have been based on State Department warning lists, is echoed in the question posed to readers by the Times: "What is the most dangerous place you have ever traveled to?" Some of the comments point to what could be considered obvious places for US-based tourists: Uganda, USSR, Vietnam, Albania, North Korea...
But some people made some interventions into such expectations - suggesting that Detroit, Philadelphia, Houston, Jersey City. Of course, such interventions mostly followed the conventional depiction of urban centers (especially where there is a relatively large non-white population and/or large disparity in wealth distribution). One Berliner's comments sum up this sentiment:
Most terrifying experiences I had visiting San Francisco the multiculture city of love in the 90ies.
Iraq is changing and although I would not go there on my own I am pretty sure that you are much more safe on a well organized tour in Iraq then in some quarters in US cities (to be fair this goes for other cities like Paris ot Rio too)
These comments reveal the colonial present within the local spaces of empire, but are rarely called upon as authentic in the same way. They remain spaces that have simply resisted control and management, or perhaps more accurately that have been abandoned by colonial interests, except for attempts to cordon them off as much as possible until they're needed for something else.
The travel company featured in the story, Hinterland Travel, offers packaged tours through Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Kashmir and other contested spaces. There may be something useful in a comparison of adventure tourism in spaces of extreme military intervention and the "internal" spaces of organized abandonment. We're not sure yet...
Image above from Hinterland Travel

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shame Tourism

After reading the NY Times story on the Working Families Party sponsored tour of bonus-receiving AIG executives' homes (such as Douglas L. Poling, who allegedly received the largest bonus of $6.4 million), we thought there had to be some other people who have written about "Shame Tourism".
There are lots of examples: Michael Moore's Roger & Me, a documentary travelogue of his quest to find and confront former GM Chariman Roger Smith, followed by all of his other similarly shaming film and television antics; various instances of activist organizations like the San Francisco Bay Area Toxic Links Coalition's Cancer Industry Tour; and of course, it relates to the age old protest tactic of taking the complaints to the door of the oppressor.
Like other forms of tactical tourism (e.g. toxic tourism), shame tourism is about located witnessing, conditioning our view of something through an experience in a place. Where toxic tourism locates the abject in spectacularly polluted landscapes, shame tourism locates the abject in morally compromised individuals and companies. The visible disparity between the wealth of the exectutives and the economic hardships of the tourists, shifts from jealous admiration (that is the basis for the Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous and tours of celebrity homes) to moral outrage. As in toxic tourism, a major rationale of these tours is to draw attention to the spatial aspects of inequity and conflict - it's easier to confront something/someone if you know where they live. And the tourist act marks these spaces/places as somewhat "public", at least open to public (re)viewing.
But a more usful tour might link the homes of AIG exectutives with those of legislators who own AIG stock. Or maybe with the myriad other businesses that are AIG's lenders. The questions for us are, "How can the shaming of exectutives also add to our spatial understanding of economic inequity? What are the missing components that can be added to the itinerary? And what do we do when the causes of inequity are impervious to shame?"
Image above: activists/tourists pass the home of James Hass, an AIG executive, Saturday, March 21, 2009 in Fairfield, Conn. From AP Photo/Douglas Healey, via the Huffington Post

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Olympic Sized Problem

With the 2010 Olympic Games bulldozing ahead in Vancouver, we've been trying to keep up with the news surrounding resistance there and in the other upcoming host cities of London and a likely Chicago.
We just watched The Five Ring Circus, a story about resistance in Vancouver to the 2010 Winter Games, specifically focusing on the environmental battles at Eagle Ridge and struggles over housing in the city. The film portrays a diverse group of citizens engaged in direct action, from squatting evicted low-income hotels and apartment buildings to campers blocking the construction of roads to vocal protests at city council meetings.
One thing that we were surprised was left out, however, is the claims of indigenous communities, specifically that a good deal of the province of British Columbia is actually non-surrendered Native lands.
Just a few days ago, on March 8, indigenous protesters disrupted an Assembly of First Nations meeting where tribal bureaucracies were apparently making deals with Olympic organizers and developers.
The BBC, as part of it's Building the Olympic Dream series, featured a story about resistance to development around the historic (going back over 100 years!) Manor Garden Allotments in Hackney Wick. The area would be surrounded by the proposed Olympic Park.

Meanwhile, down the road to the speculative 2016 games in Chicago, the problems of that campaign are becoming more and more visible in the media. Just today, the Tribune ran a story about controversy surrounding the improvement of select roads in preparation for an early April visit by the International Olympic Committee.
Philip Hersh over at the LA Times Sports Blog, has an interesting post about the IOC's threats to the Chicago bid over the ratio of revenues shared between the IOC and the USOC. Basically, the IOC is threatening to withdrawing its revenue sharing contract with the USOC unless it agrees to a cut in its share. Hersh points out that the USOC probably holds an advantage when it comes to holding sway with the largest advertisers, i.e., as goes the USOC, so goes Coca-Cola. While we think Hersh's main point is largely irrelevant - we don't think either the IOC or the USOC should be getting ANY revenues at the expense of anyone - it only goes to point out what the Olympic Games are all about from the get go.
We hope that orgs like Communities for an Equitable Olympics 2016 get more coverage as the likelihood of Chicago winning the bid becomes larger. But we also don't put much weight on promises for community benefits. Games after Games have revealed the willingness of host cities to reneg on any and all promises.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Today Your Host Is...

Recently, we've re-encountered some familiar artists that have got us thinking about the politics of mobility and privilege in relation to our interests in tourism. Specifically, they've got us thinking due to the unflinching confrontational nature of their gestures.
A writer friend reminded us of Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, as we were talking about Stephanie Black's documentary film Life and Debt that borrows from Kincaid's book. A classic post-colonial work, Kincaid's 1988 polemic (critiquing both colonial Antigua and its "independent" tourist-destination descendant), uses "You" and "I" to such direct ends that it's hard not to squirm in your seat. Even if we can believe we are "better" than the narrator's accusations, we are reminded that it is simply because we haven't been there.
Last week, we had the extreme pleasure to be in the company of Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds, who was visiting the campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Heap of Birds installed a new sign project titled Beyond the Chief along a prominent campus street and was here to deliver a couple of talks about his work. Beyond the Chief, like his previous sign works uses the orientation of written language - specifically writing words backwards - to call into question the subject position of the viewer in relation to the land they occupy. Heap of Birds' work reminds us that, even for those if us staying at home in North America, we are already invaders, colonizers and tourists, occupying land that was never really "free".
Both Kincaid and Heap of Birds present the humanity of confrontation in the face of indifference, inertia and a past that simply cannot be reasonably reconciled. The humanity they ask us to consider can never be universal, as it is always grounded in the reality of displacement and violence that takes place by taking a place. The specifics of the colonized matches that of the colonizer.
So what is the potential for the tourist? For those that offer only a mobile gaze? We'll get back to this with a discussion of John Urry, Gregory Ulmer, Dean MacCannell, Renee Green, Phaedra C. Pezzullo and some others...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Park and Fly

Our lovely friend Sarah Lewison just sent us a story about expats living in Dubai, who are now in trouble due to the global economic crisis. Apparently, airport authorities there have found more than 3,000 abandoned cars, left by people fleeing debts that they can no longer pay.
Some stats from the story:

3.62 million expatriates in Dubai

864,000 nationals

8% population decline predicted this year, as expatriates leave

1,500 visas cancelled every day in Dubai

62% of homes occupied by expatriates 60% fall in property values predicted

50% slump in the price of luxury apartments on Palm Jumeirah

25% reduction in luxury spending among UAE expatriates

We wonder if that explains this.

When Will Iraq Be Safe For Tourists?

That's the question a recent NY Times article asks, inspired by an odd Italian tourist named Luca Marchio, who decided taking a public bus to Falluja sounded like a good idea. That question should have been followed by: "Who cares? When will Iraq be safe for the folks who live there?"
According to Iraq Body Count, the number of civilian deaths caused by violence since 2003 is just under 100,000. While the number of civilians killed seems be going down - the number for January 2009 was 254, the lowest since the invasion in 2003 - it still seems a long way from being considered anything near "safe."
A friend of the office, Chicago-based artist and organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War Aaron Hughes, has made some emotionally provocative comparisons between his tour of duty in Iraq as a soldier and the process of sightseeing as a (involuntary) tourist. Along with the analysis of the infamous Abu Ghraib pictures as being quintessentially tourist pictures, presented by many writers (and Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure film), there is certainly a more complex relationship between tourism and Iraq (and contemporary war waged by post-industrial societies like the U.S. in general). As Dean MacCannell wrote a few decades ago, "Our first apprehension of modern civilization, it seems to me, emerges in the mind of the tourist."

Iraq Body Count web counter

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Final Parking Spot

A friend just sent us a link to a blog post by Wesley Treat about cemeteries that have become surrounded by parking lots... a land use conflict we hadn't considered in our Parking Public research. Of course, there have been plenty of land use disputes involving sights of significance, including burial sites and heritage-related claims, but this is such an odd way to see such a conflict "resolved". Also such a strange way to remind ourselves that there is earth under there, and it has a history.
Lots of comments to that post point to even more examples.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Touring Urban Food Production Zones

The Futurefarmers have just launched a "garden registry" component of their extensive San Francisco Victory Gardens initiative, which will enable a map and connectivity tool for city gardeners there. The online map shows the area's micro-climates, visualizes how much land is farmed versus available and also shows "surplus alerts" - when someone has an overflow of produce.
We have been working with some folks in our own 'hood on some neighborhood growing strategies, and have been looking at Ted Purves and Susanne Cockrell's past Amity Works projects as a source of inspiration.
The production of these "everyday" produce-places as simultaneously exploratory and touristic is something we'd like to look more into, as it's something we've been engaged with for a while in various ways. The relationship between these more DIY, participatory forms and more conventional agri-tourism (which occurs at a variety of scales, from the small to global) is equally interesting.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Military Natures

Last October, the Travel Office presented with some other fine folks at the Public Memories Project's Visible Memories conference at Syracuse University. Our session, titled "Remembering Military Natures" was co-organized, and included presentations by Nick Brown + Sarah Kanouse, Laurie Palmer and Shiloh Krupar, along with ourselves. One of our goals was to discuss the manners in which environmental languages and policies are utilized for militaristic and otherwise violent regimes. In order to help facilitate and distribute our concerns and ideas a bit more, we (the organizers/presenters) produced a poster/map. We've decided to make it available here as a document/record. Download the PDF.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Positive Speculation

So, we just got a message from the Yes Men - their much anticipated (at least by us) self-directed follow up film to Chris Smith & Sarah Prices's 2003 film is apparently completed. You can read more about it and see a trailer on their site. The Yes Men have crafted a combination of critical irony, satire and utopian gesturing that is hard not to appreciate. While their work has rightly been discussed in terms of tactical media and pranksterism, including the problems that plague a lot of that work, we think it deserves to also be considered in terms of speculative fiction, utopian prefiguration and uncoventional documentary. The Yes Men may be responding to current developments in capitalist disasters, but their ironic speculations certainly recall aspects of literary disaster fiction, like Poe's Conversation of Eiros and Charmion, even as they ironically pretend to "fix the world" rather than depict its spectacular end.
We'll be thinking, and writing, more about speculative fiction and pre-figuration in the near future, as we continue our "consulting" work with the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Jacksonville, FL.

Black Gold, Texas Tea

Lots of great announcements coming into our inbox! The Center for Land Use Interpretation has been busy down in the land of big hats and armadillos as the first artist-in-residence at the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center. They've been working from a field station (built with the help of students in the School of Art, College of Architecture and the Creative Writing Program) at the site of a former junkyard, located near a metal scrap yard at the juncture of the bayou and the Port of Houston Ship Channel, an important nexus for the refining and transportation of oil in America.
The exhibition at the UH's Blaffer Gallery, Texas Oil: Landscape of an Industry will be the culmination of the CLUI’s study of Texas and will show how the extraction and refining of oil has sculpted the state’s terrain. The exhibition will open with a “landscan” video, an extended aerial shot of petroleum refineries and shipping yards that shows the massive scale of these places. In addition to this projection, the galleries will be filled with CLUI photographs and texts on many different sites across the Lone Star State from west Texas oil towns such as Odessa and Kermit to petrochemical processing centers on the Gulf Coast and everywhere in-between. These places tell the incredible and often surprising story of an industry that fuels our civilization by using deposits of hydrocarbons to create gasoline, fertilizers, plastics, and many other products.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

An Unnatural History of the Golden Gate Bridge

The SF based Studio for Urban Projects has produced an audio tour of the Golden Gate Bridge area. At their project site, you can download PDF maps and download the audio tour (via a podcast) or access it with your mobile phone by calling a provided number.
image above by Anirudh Koul