Wednesday, July 30, 2008

People's Atlas of Chicago

Our compatriots over at AREA Chicago are plugging away at their People's Atlas of Chicago project. They have taken another step towards improving community feedback and input, incorporating drop-sites where maps can be picked up and dropped off for incorporation into the Atlas.
If you're in Chicago, these locations are:
Backstory Cafe: 6100 S. Blackstone Ave
Women and Children First Books: 5233 N. Clark St
Southwest Youth Collaborative: 6400 S. Kedzie Avenue
Quimby's Books: 1854 W. North Avenue
The Map Room Tavern: 1949 N. Hoyne

Mail maps to AREA Chicago PO Box 476971 Chicago IL 60647

Monday, July 28, 2008

Countdown to Beijing

So, it's no surprise that with the 2008 Olympics opening next month there would be a dramatic increase in journalism focused on Beijing. From the apparently policy-resistant smog to that human rights dilemma that just won't go away, and of course, the endless lists of who is or isn't going to be at the games, there's more than enough to chew on.
As the New York Times often does, they found an interesting cultural angle from which to approach some of the vast changes unfolding across the city and China at large. A recent story focuses on a struggle over the preservation of the historic hutong neighborhoods. While the writer does point to the class inequities that usually accompany architectural preservationist movements, at least in the U.S., the piece tends to find sympathy with the connection between architectural preservation and the preservation of disappearing social traditions and conventions. Interestingly, this is also applied to the socialist-modernist housing projects built during the heyday of China's socialist regime in the 1950-60s. The similarities, and differences, among this architectural narrative in China and the U.S. is striking... modernist, government housing projects in China are still, according to the NYT article, a desirable place to live:
So ingrained is the bias against hutong living among middle-class people that Yan Weng, a forward-looking architect who once lived in the Qianmen neighborhood, told me that he had recently moved into a high-rise. "For those of us who grew up in Mao's China, the government complexes were always the ideal," he said. "And that has not changed much."
Certainly not the case with state-sponsored housing in the U.S. But then again, our housing projects were built with completely different objectives in mind, and our tag-team racialized and capitalist state has produced such a ghastly image of government housing, that it's hard to imagine it being rehabbed.
The article continues, getting to the fact that the hutong neighborhoods are being reoccupied by wealthy foreigners and Chinese alike. Sounds very similar to the process of gentrification that has been happening in cities across the U.S. for several decades - upwardly mobile small families and couples renovating previously working-class bungalows in close-in urban areas. We're sure there are differences, however, given the extreme divergences in history between the two countries.
One place we're looking to for information on how the games and Beijing's development is effecting housing there in more politicized terms is the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, who just released a new report entitled "One World, Whose Dream? Housing Rights Violations and the Beijing Olympic Games." We havn't finished reading it yet, but the findings seem in line with the overall trend of displacement in the wake of urban redevelopment schemes designed around the Olympics.
Image above from COHRE website, apparently it reads "
Demolish quickly, Welcome the Olympics, Switch to a New Look"

Saturday, July 19, 2008

They're No Laff-A-Lympics

We don't know if many people are following the Olympic narratives currently unfolding... it largely seems like they're mostly a non-event for folks outside of journalists, sports enthusiasts, Olympic boosters and those unfortunate enough to live in host cities. And, we guess, those like us with some weird obsession with the intersection of tourism and mega-event found in the modern Olympic Games.
At any rate, some of the stories this past week about Olympics caught our eyes. For example:
The remnants of industrial production coming back to haunt London in its preparation for 2012.
The Australian Press' fears of a sterile Olympics in China.
And reports that over 1600 people have been arrested since June in Hong Kong alone - who knows what the number of arrests are in China at large, but it has included so far some inarguably egregious crackdowns on critics of the state.
We've come across some books that we're looking forward to getting into, in trying to come to a better understanding of the mechanics of the contemporary Olympic Machine and localized resistances to it. A few of the more recent ones that we are particularly excited about are:
Helen Jefferson Lenskyj's Inside the Olympic Industry: Power, Politics and Activism that seems to be written from a scholarly position that is simultaneously invested in resistance to the inequities enacted in Olympic host cities.
Mike Weed's Olympic Tourism
Andrew Billings' Olympic Media
and more generally related to the political economy of sport arena construction, Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause's Field of Schemes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Truck Is The Message

We're getting lots of interesting announcements from our friends this Summer, like this from Ken Ehrlich about the Active Trucking project, with long time collaborator Branden LaBelle:
Tracing the infrastructure of trucking and transport, the project is an examination and meditation on the truck and the trucker as a slippery signifier. Oscillating between the pure functionality of the movement of goods and the poetics of being on the road, trucking generates an array of mythologies that in turn are tied to concrete policies regarding trade. The project attempts to playfully represent this spectrum through videos and drawings installed at FIT, Berlin, a project space housed in an old petrol station.

The project has already taken place in Los Angeles and Tijuana. And as their collective website, Errant Bodies explains the project further:
Based on the networks and infrastructures of trucking and roadways, Active_Trucking maps and notates idiosyncratic aspects of this system. Acquiring information from a variety of sources including trucking companies, notes from excursions on the road and interviews with truckers in the Los Angeles area Active_Trucking seeks to present narratives about the existing system and structure of trucking in the United States and give form to these infrastructural expressions as both economical and alchemical. We are particularly interested in the movements and intersections that occur on the roads of the US both as material embodiments of trade policies, that is, as an example of the constantly negotiated abstract dynamics of transport and markets that have significant local impact, and the mythic fantasies of the open road and the desire for freedom. In the spaces of the highway, we imagine narratives of "Free Trade" intersecting with Easy Rider: multiple narratives that mark the road both as a site for cultural mores and economic activity. The labor of the trucker, the mechanics of trucks, and the workings of dispatchers and related transport companies, feature as efficient systems always on the edge of disruption, distraction, and delay according to the complications of laboring bodies fixated on the roadway.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Interrogating Public Space with Fritz Haeg

Travel Office friends Nato Thompson and Fritz Haeg recently had a conversation about Fritz's hybrid art-architecture-education practice and how it interfaces with notions of the public and the private. We like this response to questions about public v private space:
Right now I am most interested in private spaces that have the capacity to be public. It’s not that I have given up on public space (though maybe I have!) but I do think that private property, and in particular the home, has become the focus of our society. We are obsessed with our homes as protective bubbles from the realities around us. Today's cities are engineered for isolation, so starting a salon in your living room or growing food in your front yard become ways to subvert this. Perhaps at this moment working from private space out may be more useful than working from public space in.
We're currently working on, with our long time associate Mark Cooley, an upcoming curatorial project based on artistic, collective and otherwise coordinated uses of agricultural methodologies to transform the political and social dimensions of place. Fritz's work will be included. This should happen in Wash D.C. area in the Spring of 2009. More on that later...
pictured above: Edible Estate Regional Prototype Garden #3: Maplewood, New Jersey, established July 8th, 2007 / as viewed from the upstairs bedroom
Photo: Fritz Haeg

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pollution Tourism

We were just sent a link to Visit Sunny Chernobyl - a blog about "Pollution Tourism". Not sure why we hadn't come across that one before, but we're glad we have it on the radar now. They have a post linking to Good Magazine's piece on man-made disaster tourism spots. The place we're most interested in (not sure why, exactly) is the underground coal fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Centralia was just another sleepy northeastern Pennsylvania town until the local coal mine was filled with a raging inferno that burned unabated for decades. Even that didn't disrupt the peaceful Centralia life until 1981, when a smoldering sinkhole nearly swallowed a 12-year-old boy. In the wake of the national attention that followed, Centralia became a cult travel destination. To this day, the subterranean fire is still burning. "You can drive through and not even notice," says Chris Perkel, who produced a documentary on the place. "But when the fire's close to the surface, the trees are blackened, and steam and smoke billow from the rocks."
The area's anthracite coal stoked the furnaces of the industrial revolution, but by the mid-19th century, companies left the region - and their messes - behind in favor of cheaper energy sources like petroleum. In 1962, burning garbage in an abandoned strip mine sparked a fire. In the years that followed, the flames grew as debate raged about whose problem it was to fix (the debate remains unresolved). Suddenly appearing sinkholes and carbon monoxide poisoning continued to threaten residents until
the 1980s, when Congress paid to relocate them and bulldozed their houses - though a handful of hard-core Centralians can still be found there.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Land Grab Relay, The New Olympic Sport

So it seems that Chicago, one of four cities up for the 2016 Olympic games, is already beginning to put some real estate development in play, even before it's anywhere near certain where the city will actually be chosen or not. According to a recent Chicago Tribune piece, the city is planning to pay $85 million for the soon-to-be-closed Michael Hospital property, to be used, potentially, for part of an Olympic village.
According to an earlier and more detailed Tribune article on the property, Chicago's
Olympic bid proposes a $1.1 billion complex that would be privately developed and converted to private housing after the Games. The city intends to pursue this development regardless of whether it beats out Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo to host the Games.
The city is definitely putting some redevelopment in motion regardless of the Olympic outcome, unless you have a conspiracy theory that Daley knows something about the bid selection we don't. Also interesting, the company who currently owns the property, Medline bought the hospital property for $24 million, so they're making a hefty sum off the sale as is.
In These Times has a great summary of what's at stake in Chicago, bid or no bid.
And check this out, another use of activist tours in Chicago.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Pushing Against the Weather

So, we came across this series of photos while scanning news related to the Olympics, photos by Chinese photographer and television host Ou Zhihang.
In other odd China Olympic news, the Chinese authorities are planning on "dispersing" clouds if needed to maintain good weather. Another instance of state-based attempts to "Own the Weather." Also see this documentary on weather modification history.
Climate modification, once the sole domain of James Bond's enemies, has been getting increasing amounts of attention (though we suspect that most would still consider it aluminum foil hat thinking) as a strategy for climate change. Thankfully, as the ETC reports, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity has agreed to a moratorium on "ocean fertilizing activities" - a process of geo-engineering that would reduce carbon in the atmosphere by manipulating oceanic chemistry. It will be interesting (and disturbing) to see the frenzy of corporate activity to deal with climate change, as it becomes more and more a reality that can't be ignored... naked push ups won't seem so wacky.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Future of Travel

As tourism "consultants," we're obviously concerned about the future of travel-based tourism... and what tourism isn't based on travel? According to a story in today's NYT, rising costs of airline operations, such as an 80 percent rise in jet fuel over the last year, the airline industry as a whole will cut back its flights by 10 percent starting this August. The story quotes one analyst's predictions that the cost of air travel may go up 40 percent over the next four years. As we've seen with the rise in oil prices, however, it wouldn't be surprising if it exceeded those expectations - airline tickets have jumped 17 percent in the last year alone.
From the NYT story:

By year's end, roughly 100 American communities will be left without regular commercial air service, and that number may double next year, according to the Air Transport Association, the industry trade group.

"The guy who is used to taking a nonstop flight on a small airplane now has to drive an hour to an hour and a half to an airport to take a trip," said David Castelveter, a vice president with the trade group. "It is a crisis of great magnitude and it is having an impact already."

"I implore American Airlines, as well as the other carriers considering various cost-saving scenarios, to take into account more than profit when they evaluate routes," Gov. David A. Paterson of New York said this week after American announced a series of cuts affecting La Guardia and other state airports.

How about considering energy usage and climate change? Well the EU is building airline travel into its carbon trading scheme, with U.S. resistance, of course. And how easy will that hour and a half drive to a nearby airport be?
Well our friends in Boston, iKatun, just sent us info about how they're thinking about climate change - getting ready with a parade! Their "Parade for the Future" (organized through their collab project Platform2) will inundate the city of Boston with a wave of people wearing blue, demarcating the predicted flood line. It's been postponed to Sat. Sept 13th... ironically for inclement weather!
If you're not in Boston the Fall, but will be in Chicago this July, you could talk about energy policy with the Futurefarmers and a group of energy experts they've organized for their "Energy Plans" series.
[image above from]