Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Street Treats

We all know street art/graffiti is not a new concept. It remains an underlying strain on many urban centres around the world, with people always debating on whether it is a real form of art or vandalism of public/private property. Personally, I think that most forms of street art are positive influences on their surroundings, often turning ugliness into beauty and expressiveness.

This summer in particular, I can't seem to get it off the brain. There have been a few wonderful movements in the way of street art which I feel the need to compile into a nice little area here. Both Toronto, where I live, and Montreal, where I just visited, have excellent examples of street art that improve their cities and make life a little more creative.

Guerilla knitting is one of my favourite kinds of street art. People literally knit pieces of cloth right onto fences, hydrants, bicycle stands, trees, whatever. One of the reasons that this kind of street art is wonderful is that the process takes rather longer than spraying a tag onto a concrete wall. You really have to commit to the work you are doing, and give off an "I don't give a crap!" attitude while you work. I was extremely excited to see an example of this near Sherbrooke subway station in Montreal. Some of them (such as the examples below) are politically driven and serve as a form of peaceful protest for various issues.

To see more about this phenomenon in Montreal, check out this link. I also saw this done at the Melk Abbey in Austria (see below) this summer, but it was in a secluded area and there were other art pieces nearby so I think it was probably commissioned rather than just made for the sake of itself.

Also in Montreal was an ALARMING amount of murals. I stayed at a friend's apartment in Plateau Mont Royal, and there was a mural in sight no matter which direction you were facing. And all of them were beautiful. Montreal is a very art-forward city, and even holds a Mural Festival every year in June. Unfortunately I was there in the beginning of August, but the murals are (semi)permanent and can be viewed at any time. I get the feeling that the area I stayed in was particularly mural-esque, but who can say.

See? Beautiful! The website for the Mural festival is particularly interesting in and of itself. Check out the map page in particular. It's a little buggy but really cool to interact with.

While I do believe that Montreal is way more creative as a city than Toronto, we all know that Toronto has some interesting public art. Take the Graffiti Alley for example. Located on Rush Lane between Richmond and Queen (East of Portland), the Alley is an envelopment of culture and colour.

While the alley is wonderful, I need to note that the murals around Montreal are EVERYWHERE. Many of the beautiful murals painted around Toronto are eventually covered over for various reasons, so having a dedicated place for them makes sense. But on the other hand, why are we holding back a driving force of creativity when we could be changing our way of thinking to allow murals and graffiti and street art into every nook and cranny of the city? Toronto is cracking at the seams in some neighbourhoods, and some nice public art would rejuvenate those cracks tenfold.

Let's look at another city similar to Toronto: Seattle. You may have heard of the Bridge Troll or the Gum Wall, both of which are amazing examples of public art. Seattle is also home to a sprawling landscape of intriguing graffiti.

I like the way that the culture and creativity of Seattle's citizens isn't limited to any specific area (or even medium). The art and beauty simply exist everywhere. Speaking of existing everywhere, have you heard about site-specific street art? Circling back to those oh-so-specific cracks in the pavement: why not paint a pair of eyes peeking out of the crack? In that fashion, some very cheeky street art is popping up all over. The following examples come from UK street artist JPS.

While I find it painfully obvious that Toronto isn't the hugest fan of street art, it does not even need to be mentioned that suburban GTA has no place for such tomfoolery. Except in a beautiful ravine close to my house. I have often visited the ravine and greenway since we moved into the house around fifteen years ago, and use it for a serene running path away from noisy traffic. The most beautiful part of the ravine has been under construction and therefore blocked from pedestrians for the better part of the summer. This happens every once in a while, usually in short stints to remove graffiti from the underpass that connects the ravine under a main street. You can walk through this underpass, but I sense it as more of a coincidence than a real pedestrian walkway. Even though this round of construction lasted longer than any other to which I have borne witness, I was delighted to find that all of the graffiti was still there (with some new additions), and that the concrete floor of the walkway had been reset to a beautifully flat surface. Perfect for running! See images below (before they decide to cover over the graffiti again):

And a bonus: a picture from my angsty teen years. The graffiti underpass circa 2009. I will have you know that this picture was a very popular profile photo on Facebook for a solid three months.

While I am sure that there are beautiful examples of street art in and around Toronto that are just waiting to be discovered, I must take issue with the fact that these places are hard to find. The artisans of Toronto must come together and assert their power!

And as a bonus, my last example of interesting street art isn't really street art at all. It just happens to be art found on the street. Designers Isla Bell Murray and Jessica Saia have taken a delightful spin on your average public art piece by literally dressing various different objects found on the street. Examples: a mail box, an orange pylon, and a tree. And their puns are maybe (probably) the best part of it all. View more of the collection here.

“I don’t think my style is anything to write home about. Hawaiian prints are on all my male friends this season.”

“I’m really inspired by clothing from the ’60s; I feel like I would have fit in much better back then. The silhouette of this dress does wonders for my butt.”

“Yeah, I know I look good. I’ve already stopped like 30 cars today.” 

I told you this last post was a bonus. Those puns just slay me. So if I were to wrap up this post with a nice neat bow, I would urge you to take a piece of your neighbourhood in need of some TLC, and use your creative prowess (or lack thereof) to beautify it into something everyone can enjoy. Although I think it might be best to leave the orange pylons unclothed, since they have an important job to do. You know, keeping cars from crashing. That sort of thing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Waiting For The Bus

Having lived in the suburbs for pretty much all of my life, I am an avid user of public transportation. If you've read any of my other posts on this subject, you'll know that my penchant for pleasant user experience leaves me feeling more than a little overlooked by the urban planners of my city. Many of the bus facilities are not well designed at all, and some of the design choices seem to have been made without any thought towards how they would actually be used.

The VIVA shelters are an obvious example of this, designed with a theme of uncomfortable angular lines, glass and metal. The benches angle downwards at a 30 degree slope, giving your behind a nice slow slide to the floor, and they are made of metal which feels colder than ice during the winter. The shelters themselves, while very interesting to look at, fail to block wind or rain from coming in. I should not need to point out that blocking out weather is a bus shelter's main purpose.

While many YRT shelters have been recently redesigned (progress!), the choices again make me scratch my head in confusion. They look (and perform) more angular like the VIVA shelters. While mostly made of transparent glass, the obvious choice for bus shelters, they do contain one opaque beam that unfortunately situates itself right in front of the view of where the buses come from. Plainly, if a person were sitting in either of the two bench-seats in the shelter, they would be able to see all around themselves, EXCEPT in the direction of where their bus will come from. I think you can understand the head-scratching behaviour now.

I could go on all day, but this blog is not meant for my ranting (usually). I prefer to direct attention away from the negative and onto the positive. So without further ado, I bring you an amazing look at the bus shelter:

Currently located in Baltimore, this beautiful structure looks like a fine mix of form and function. There are more than two (!) places to sit, two overhead coverings for rain, and it looks more comfortable than any bus shelter I have had the displeasure to waste my time within. Learn more about the origins of the structure here.

Breakdown of all three letters:

B - You can stand in the lower counter, sheltered from the rain. It's probably not the best place for sitting, since it's so low to the ground, but it would do in a pinch. Bonus: as long as you're not a forgetful person, you can leave your briefcase (or baby?) in the top counter while you wait. Personally, I could never do this because that briefcase and/or baby would not be remembered when the bus came.

U - A very comfortable place to sit (probably the best of the three) with a nice view of the sky. No rain protection, but I feel like the high walls on two sides would block out a lot of the city sounds for a peaceful bus-wait. Bonus: It's the perfect impromptu loveseat for a first date. Just look at it! Imagine holding hands with a sweetie all up in that U.

S - Another comfortable sitting place (unfortunately looks like it can only seat one person where strangers rubbing shoulders are concerned). This one also has a covered ceiling for rain, but I wouldn't put any belongings in the top curve. It looks too open and angled to be a good place for that birthday cake or freshly dry-cleaned pantsuit. Bonus: imagine hanging your legs off of the open left side and reclining back into the curve. I may have to change my mind about which one is the comfiest.

In light of the recent redesign of the YRT shelters, I do have to shed some light on the fact that most of the resting places made available within this structure make it impossible to check for an oncoming bus. Therein I would hope that bus drivers would at least slow down as they pass and check for possible riders in and amongst the letterforms.

And as for weatherproofing, I've done my research on that one, too. According to this forum, Baltimore winters are very mild and needn't be worried about, as far as waiting for a bus. I can see that the wind would be pretty well blocked (except for the obvious open side), although there is one missed opportunity here: why not space out the letters to approximately double the current amount of room, and make the connecting bars at the top into full overhead coverings. That way, at least two more people would be able to stand in the shade or be protected from the rain. This is a solution that would bring more usability to riders, while at the same time not deter the visual quality of the shelter itself.