To those Stubborn…. One

December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Big news this last week was that the couple, Luo Baogen and his wife, took a $41,000 buyout to let the government of China tear down his home and complete a huge road that already links a rail station with Wenling.

 

I love an underdog story, but what’s more interesting is that this story came from China.  China, the home of authoritarian committee and local government that tells rather than listens, let a lone duck farmer hold the machine of progress hostage. China…   the fastest growing economy in the world. China felt it was best to not bring in the military or police but (in a very capitalistic approach) choked the homeowner out in a siege-like tactic minus trebuchets and added asphalt.

China let a small old man play chicken with them for years. And that is very – Boagen gangster.

This is the same country that controls the internet, holds an entire country openly hostage (Tibet), and saddles tourists during periods of party gathering ridiculous rules of privacy.  No open windows in taxi cabs? No cameras? Do they have the secret KFC recipe wrapped in the secret Coke recipe written on the sidewalk outside the Forbidden City?

In 1991 the city of Wallace, Idaho held the last stoplight on Interstate 90 which connected Boston to Seattle.  The small mining town was a vestige of its former size, following a huge fire and years of the mining industry slowing down.  The people of Wallace did not want their town destroyed by this enormous interstate so they mounted a campaign to have it rerouted.  Their last stand eventually won (thanks to Historic Preservation Society). The design was changed so the interstate traveled over Wallace by using huge pillars and enormous engineering gymnastics.

The point is, I see Wallace happening in places like America – but I do not see a duck farmer holding out in America.  Maybe China is incredibly paranoid of the duck farmers and tourist cameras, or maybe China isn’t so dissimilar than the US when it comes to machine of progress.

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Leaf Blower(s)

May 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Springtime 2012 is well on its way. In Texas, all two weeks of it.

There are so many great things about this time of year. Even in Austin it’s a little nicer in the morning, a little greener and the air is just plain more fresh. The large rains coming through even make it feel like I’m back in the Northwest, if just for a night or a couple hours.

Spring also brings the yearly big clean for everyone, the yard work and the house maintenance bring out both the casual weekend warriors and the large yard crews professionally clearing leaves and cleaning the gutters of the winter leaves.

Which brings me to the annual pain in the butt nuisance – leaf blowers.

For the life of me I cannot understand the point of them.  Sure, I have heard they can clean a silo out, or remove dirt from a concrete floor shed – but all everyone sees are small groups of tiny men with huge jetpacks strolling around outside blowing crap up into the air.  Where are the leaves, grass clippings, and small pebbles going?  Oh, just a few feet away, to then be further blown into a general direction (usually a public street which then gets cleaned by more machines who do more rustling than cleaning).

What a waste, a waste of gasoline, of quiet, or air quality, and time.  Every so often there are disgruntled citizens complaining about the abuse of lawn mowers, prompting many to stick electric cords to theirs and making them hum with the indirect use of energy, but lets do away with leaf blowers.  Next to people waving signs on the side of the street during tax season, this appears the most pointless and irritating “job”.  Brooms, there are brooms and rakes.  These tools actually let you control the noise and the debris that comes with moving vegetation.

Elevators.

October 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

I made a grave mistake a while back. Looking back at this small moment in time I cannot help but be embarrassed. It’s pretty difficult to even talk about it.

Ok, here goes.  I used to believe Elisha Otis invented the elevator.

What an idiot.

Well, I was corrected that day by a very blunt friend of mine. Otis did not invent the elevator. The elevator is about as old as dirt – the Greeks had Archimedes while the simple idea of using ropes and pulleys to ascend a height likely predated even the great Greeks.  If I studied Asian culture more, they probably had this “invention” before the ice caps melted.

Nonetheless, elevators are about the most influential technology for the built environment. Sure, stairs are classic. Of course, doors keep out the weather and unkempt neighbors. Don’t forget simple rocks – they make walls alright. What’s so great about elevators is that they single handedly allowed us to inhabit space above the ground. They allowed us to transport goods as well as people, the elevator gave the tendon to the steel bones of our modern society.

The elevator is far from static in it’s trajectory as the bicep of architecture, the space elevator is so freaking cool that it still intrigues me a decade after I first heard about it. And how about elevators transcribing the Pacific or Mediteranean oceans? Forget about the “Beam me Up, Scotty” – that’s totally a particle elevator.

So, to wrap up the best of all my blog posts….. Elish Otis did invent the safety elevator at the 1854 Worlds Fair in New York – not a small feat when you think about the possibility of an elevator failing on top of the Petronas Towers.

Detroit Population Falling. Surprise.

March 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

I subscribe to Detroit article alerts through the New York Times. It’s a good way to make certain I receive at least one email a day. These alerts usually follow with the headlines of some politician being under investigation or another school district failing to come close to their annual budget. I was forwarded (by the NY Times) their article last Tuesday where they reported census numbers for the city of Detroit. In Ms. Seelye article there feels an almost happy undertone to which they can again show that Detroit is still the ole trusty “failed city”. Even before finishing the article I was tired of this recent lack of insight and perspective and I went back to read some more of Jerry Herron’s work, a man actually living and believing in Detroit.

Sure, the NY Times over the years has a view of Detroit as a failure in process. A failure because it was the city that invented and defined the American middle class. A failure because it built the infrastructure for an explosion to the evil suburbia. Because instead of it promoting millions of autonomous economic bits the city nurtured condension into a few large complex systems of production lines and assembly plants.  It failed because it could not keep it’s best and brightest young people in the city. It failed because it didn’t follow the formula for city centers in the way every single major city does (at least east coast). It failed. It failed. It failed.

But……. isn’t the middle class kind of an important social invention? Is not Detroit extremely successful in raising up one of the most densely diverse and populated regions in the U.S? Didn’t it promote early efficiency in manufacturing? Shouldn’t we be grateful of the brain drain Detroit bought and developed? Wasn’t it the city where the African American families could make a good wage, buy a home and car, raise a family? Isn’t Detroit still in the heart of the single most productive and resource rich regions in North America?

The city of Detroit is still shrinking, we get it New York Times. But the Detroit metropolitan area is growing, and has been. I really am tired of the media’s creation “decay porn” industry that Detroit, Flint, Gary, etc. are the poster children for. And although I really like seeing the city in commercials and shows, I’m tired of being told by those same shows that Detroit is some cold wasteland of empty lots and rusted metal. It’s aggravating to watch that Chrysler commercial asit portrays  their all black tinted windowed urban tank speeding along in thumping silence as it blows along the familiar freeway signs and monuments of a freezing cold Detroit. Or the gritty cop show Detroit 187, showing a jagged camera bumping along Detroit’s potholed roads as its characters continually race after the young street kid or knock on the door of the rich baron’s home all the while bracing for the constant cold and gray. You would think this is hell unless a person had been there for a baseball game in August.

The sun shines in Detroit, and the city should be viewed as at the beginning of the next cycle rather than relic of what’s wrong with everything or a romantic decline of civilization. Don’t believe everything you read.

My good friend, a candidate in the urban planning department, has a terrific blog where he examines both Detroit and Wayne County in a much more indepth and insightful way.

Blue Starlite Drive In

January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have questions that at times take years and years to unravel. Before coming to a point where that question can be understood and possibly solved, I have normally continued to some other equally dire distraction. However, one I return to periodically is a beast I know as a drive-in movie theatre.

Yes, the type of drive-in Michael J. Fox runs his Delorean into on Back to the Future III, the place where anyone over 45 had their first heavy makeout session, and where anyone under 45 wishes they could have their first makeout session.

Why are they so terrific? Why are there none around anymore? When will they make an official comeback? Should they even make a comeback? Why do we need drive-ins?

Well, it’s more than one question I guess.

Drive-in theaters, also called ozoners, today are above all else the ultimate delivery nostalgia. They’re nostalgic because not many are around anymore and yet their mere existence is embedded in our past and contemporary culture. Somewhere in the late 80’s (I blame bucket seats and Reagan) the ozoner lost it’s audience of teenagers and families. The clunky huge, four screen, 1200 car drive-ins out in the countryside became ripe for the growing hunger of 90’s urban sprawl, namely housing divisions and super communities. Cars became bigger, we all got bigger televisions in our media rooms, and entertainment became a very private and isolated pastime. We lost the fun of making a “night of it”, getting all the blankets and chairs into the back of our pickup and sitting under the stars half watching the movie and half interacting with our friends, family, and perfect strangers a car next to us. It was just no fun I guess – or the idea of fun was misplaced.

Well don’t look now, but the drive-in experience is kind of making a viable comeback. In Austin Texas, the drive-in has found a home in the heart of the city – at the Blue Starlite Drive-in. This is not your granddad’s drive-in though. At the Blue Starlite Drive-in you can enjoy all the things that made the drive-in incredibly awesome, and you can throw in some new twists for free. The fresh air, the buzz of community, the enormous screen with Austin as it’s backdrop, the vintage speakers, the stars overhead, the popcorn, and the double feature. It’s enough to make anyone pine for the simpler times of 1950’s high school, classic cars, and that first kiss.

Of course, to live in nostalgia is super cheesy and the Cleavers are far from the family that I truly identify with, but I do think the drive-in offers a link seeded in a deep cultural psyche of many people. The drive-in was an extension of freedom and at the same time a fear/excitement of adulthood. Drive-ins are one of the few places where that universal process is central to the experience.

I’m sure the drive-in will never capture the landscape as it did 80 years ago, but here in Austin I think it can capture a small bit of the urban landscape. That’s right, to hell with noise ordinances and Hummers. Now with two locations, one on E.6th and the original on Cesar Chavez Blvd, the Blue Starlite is entering the fray of an American tradition. And it’s doing so by updating it, Richard Hollingshead is probably rolling in his perfectly angled grave at not patenting this idea.

The owner of the Blue Starlite, Josh, took it upon himself to hunt down outdoor speakers and paraphanelia from online, paint the side of a building white, buy a projector and trailer, and run an urban boutique drive-in. I love this on so many levels. The time is right, the place is right, and the drive-in is right. People are looking for genuine experiences, and they are finding drive-ins a perfect fit for an alternative and cheap way to get out and enjoy some freedom and adulthood making.

So I have a new question.

What’s better than watching Teen Wolf under the stars with a crackly old speaker hanging precariously inside your car ?

Nothing.

It’s an exciting time in Austin, the drive-in is coming back reincarnated after being gone for decades. Check out the website for all the details on showtimes, prices, and renting them out for a private event.

Blue Starlite Website

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