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Posts Tagged ‘cities’

I like stories like this since they give encouragement to cities that do a good job of supporting the arts. No doubt, once you list 20, the situation is already changing and other cities are emerging, but it’s still a good idea to give credit.

N. Rallo reports at Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research that the new study divides the pool of cities into small, medium, and large.

“SMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) announces its third annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which ranks more than 900 communities across the country, examining the level of supply, demand, and government support for the arts in each city.

“This year, 20% of the communities on the most-vibrant list appear for the first time – a total of eight new communities, including one new state, Alaska. … For the first time, community rankings are organized into three distinct lists based on size. …

“In addition to the Arts Vibrancy Index, NCAR provides scores for every U.S. county on its interactive map, based on measures of arts dollars, arts providers, government support, and socio-economic and other leisure characteristics. …

“Supply is assessed by the total number of arts providers in the community, including the number of arts and culture organizations and employees, independent artists, and entertainment firms. Demand is gauged by the total nonprofit arts dollars in the community, including program revenue, contributed revenue, total expenses, and total compensation. Lastly, the level of government support is based on state and federal arts dollars and grants. …

“Among cities with populations of 1 million or more, the five most vibrant arts communities are as follows:

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ
San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA
Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI …

“[Winning] communities with populations 100,000 to 1 million: …

Pittsfield, MA
Santa Fe, NM
San Rafael, CA
Missoula, MT
Burlington-South Burlington, VT …

“For small communities … the top five cities are:

Breckenridge, CO
Summit Park, UT
Bennington, VT
Bozeman, MT
Hudson, NY.”

More at SMU. How many of the cities do you know well? Have you enjoyed the arts there?

Another Hat Tip to ArtsJournal.

Photo: Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research

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Photo: Chuck Wolfe
Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. Photographic urban diaries can help residents absorb what there are seeing and can ultimately influence city planning.

Cities are organic, changing, blossoming, decaying amalgams of individuals, buildings, dumps, businesses, trees, animals — so many elements that it is impossible to put your finger on what makes a great city great. It is even hard to get agreement on whether or not a particular city is great.

Seattle is a city that is very conscious of its idealistic character. And it’s one that keeps reaching higher.

Knute Berger at Crosscut writes, “No one wants a ‘better city’ more than Seattleites. … If anything is in our civic DNA, it is the drive of commerce and the determination to build not just a better city, but the ideal one: prosperous, just, beautiful.

“Tall order, and one around which there is much dispute. Charles Wolfe, a local land-use lawyer, author and urban observer has a suggestion to help us sort through some of our conflicts. He touts the personal documentation of the city we live in, urging us to create urban ‘diaries.’

“This isn’t self-indulgent ‘journaling’ but a thoughtful process of observing and recording a city — what works, where human activities thrive and what evokes our emotional responses.

“Wolfe’s latest book is Seeing the Better City (Island Press, $30), which is described as a tool kit for ‘how to explore, observe, and improve urban space.’ Wolfe — who has written for Crosscut and who is a friend — says the answer to a better city doesn’t start with a white board, an attitude or a bushel of land-use ordinances; it begins at the level of human experience and how we train ourselves to see it and understand it.

“Wolfe’s main medium is photography, aided by technology — geo-mapping, social media — to record his impressions and observations, which might range from how bikes, trains and pedestrians share space in Nice, France, to a homeless person’s tent with a grand view of Elliott Bay. …

“Why is keeping an urban diary worthwhile? Wolfe argues that it trains us to be better citizens, to care more and understand more about where we live. Therefore, we might be more motivated to attend meetings or offer insights and solutions into the planning process. …

“Wolfe’s book tells us urban diarists can also be useful to planners and policymakers. An urban diary ‘walk and talk’ workshop in Redmond created diaries of the town’s historic core — and that then informed the planning process. … When we all act like flâneurs, ‘trickle up’ urban planning can result. …

We don’t need to travel the world to be an urban diarist. Our own stomping grounds offer an infinite opportunity to feel and observe.”

More here.

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Composer Tod Machover never stops experimenting. He’s known for music that combines his electronic inventions with traditional instruments, he records street sounds to capture the ambiance of cities, and he works continuously to engage regular folks in the process of creation.

Linda Poon writes at CityLab, “It’s easy to disregard the hum of a city — the incessant honking or indistinct chattering — or to cast it off as noise pollution. … To the likes of Tod Machover, a composer who combines music with technology at the MIT Media Lab, these sounds are what makes a city sing.

“Machover has turned the sounds of Toronto and Edinburgh into symphonies that reflect the characters of each city. His first piece for an American city, Symphony in D, invited Detroiters in 2015 to contribute over 15,000 sounds unique to the city—drumming from the streets, sounds from factories, and spoken words by local poets—that were combined with instruments played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

‘Like so many things in our culture, there’s a growing gap between experts and ordinary people, and I thought music is such a great laboratory to show how things can be different,’ says Machover.

” ‘So I wanted the project to be a representation of connecting people—no matter what their background was in music—as equals.’

“His latest project, called Project 305 and funded by the Knight Foundation, takes him to Miami, where he’s teamed up with the city’s New World Symphony [NWS] academy to create an audio and visual masterpiece. He’s helping lead community tours to collect sounds and videos, and working with schools to teach students how to do the same. …

“Typical urban noise, like the revving of a car engine, the ringing of a bicycle bell, or the pitter-patter of pedestrian footsteps, can be found in virtually any city. So how do you make an audio portrait feel particular to the town it’s supposed to reflect?

“Sometimes, it’s about incorporating the sounds that reflect a city’s history. Detroit, for example, was famously dubbed the Motor City for being the heart of America’s auto manufacturing industry. So Machover asked the community to send in recordings of different car engines, which he merged with Motown riffs, in homage to the city’s music scene. …

“NWS is also gathering clips of human chatter, a way of capturing the diasporas within Miami. The city is often called the capital of Latin America with immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and other Spanish-speaking countries making up the majority of the population. Spanish has become a dominant language, but ‘you hear the same words inflected with all kinds of different accents,’ says Machover.

“When all is done, the entire performance won’t be confined to the halls of the academy. Instead, it will also be projected onto the facade of the building and simultaneously broadcast in different neighborhoods throughout Miami.” More here.

I have attended two of Machover’s operas. I thought the one based on a story by Tolstoy was lovely, although the one written with former poet laureate Robert Pinsky didn’t work for me. Something about an inventor seeking immortality by entering his electronic system after death.

Photo: Bowers & Wilkins
Endlessly inventive composer Tod Machover is incorporating sounds of the city in his new music.

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When I was at the magazine, I often sought out authors from different regions who could write about the benefits of community gardens to low-income neighborhoods. Kai remembered that and tagged me on Facebook when he posted an article yesterday about a comprehensive farming initiative in inner-city Detroit.

Robin Runyan writes at the website Curbed Detroit, “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End.

“Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.

“MUFI’s agrihood spans three acres on Brush Street, a few blocks up from East Grand Boulevard. MUFI runs a successful two-acre garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. They provide free produce to the neighborhood, churches, food pantries, and more.

“The big part of the announcement was the plan to renovate a three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacant building that MUFI had bought at auction years back. …

“The Community Resource Center will include office space for MUFI, event and meeting space, and two commercial kitchens on the first floor. A healthy cafe will be located on vacant land next to the CRC.

“Tyson Gersh, MUFI President and co-founder, said at the announcement that they want to be the first LEED certified platinum building in Detroit.”

The article credits Sustainable Brands, BASF, GM, and Herman Miller and Integrity Building Group for providing much-needed help on the project.

More here.

Photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

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Chalk up another one for art and culture. According to Lisa Contag at the website Blouin Art Info, a UNESCO study has found evidence that art and culture improve safety in cities, in part by building social cohesion.

She writes, “UNESCO makes a strong case for systematically fostering culture in city planning in its new ‘Global Report, Culture: Urban Future.’ …

“In more than 100 case studies, the survey analyzes the situations, risks, and potentials for cities in a number of regional contexts, with a particular interest also in Africa and Asia, where urbanization is expected to continue increasing rapidly in the next decades.

“ ‘Culture lies at the heart of urban renewal and innovation. This report provides a wealth of insights and concrete evidence showing the power of culture as a strategic asset for creating cities that are more inclusive, creative and sustainable,’ Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO noted in a statement, stressing that ‘culture gives cities social and economic power,’ especially with the help of the creative industries.

“As an example, the report refers to Shanghai, China, which has held the status of a UNESCO Creative City of Design since 2010, and is considered ‘one of the world’s major creative centers, with more than 7.4% of residents employed in the creative industries.’

“Cities in conflict and post-conflict situations, such as Samarra, Iraq, which was confronted with the destruction of a number of invaluable sites such as the Al-Askari Shrine in 2006, are also taken into consideration and seem to benefit similarly. ‘Reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts have demonstrated the ability of culture to restore social cohesion between communities and improve livelihoods, paving the way for dialogue and reconciliation,’ the authors explain.”

The authors observe that culturally diverse, safe, and thriving cities are people-centered and culture-centered and feature policy-making that builds on culture.

More here.

Photo: UNESCO
Screenshot from Reza’s UNESCO video “Culture – the Soul of Cities”

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Around the country, art is playing a role in improving the livability of cities and towns.

Peter Brewitt writes at Orion magazine, “Over the past decade, communities across the nation have taken to beautifying their roads and intersections with hand-painted murals, slowing drivers as they go. Murals like these come at minimal cost — just buy some street-grade paint, get whatever permits your city requires, and figure out how to reroute traffic for a few hours. As people motor through the neighborhood, murals catch the eye, situate the mind, and lighten the right foot.

“Many of these creations did not begin as traffic-control devices — the goal was often to engage the neighborhood with itself, to display its spirits and hopes for the future, and to embrace the spaces that bind people together. But art touches drivers as well as neighbors …

Paint the Pavement [PtP], a street-art program in Saint Paul, Minnesota … offers support and advice, but the groups of friends and neighbors creating the art are self-organized and volunteer-run.”

Learn more about enlivening your neighborhood with pavement painting, here. Hat tip to Mary Ann on Facebook.

It’s an interesting art form. More lasting than children’s sidewalk chalks — which doesn’t mean that chalk is passé. In my work neighborhood, grownups have been taking up sidewalk chalk art, and I can attest that people smile when they see it.

Video: Vimeo and Orion magazine

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People interested in imaginative uses of space to make cities more livable should get over to the Boston Society of Architects on Congress St. before September 29, when an intriguing exhibit closes.

Eight of us visited at lunch today, and the BSA’s marketing director went around the Reprogramming the City exhibit with us pointing out highlights and answering questions.

We saw photos of a lamppost that doubles as an umbrella, a staircase in Hong Kong (below) made into a public lounge, bus stops in Sweden using sun lamps at night, a “low line” community space under a highway (like New York’s high-line concept but under not over), a repurposed parking machine that spits out “tickets” describing how a nearby problem area has been fixed by the city of Boston, street mosaics in Portugal that have a QR code for accessing tourist information, and a Dutch solution to recycling teddy bears and other usable goods curbside for passerby to pick up. The list goes on.

I tried to round up more people to join the excursion, but business meetings at lunch seem to come first. It always surprises me that folks don’t take advantage of cultural activities at lunch: we are surrounded by really nice ones. At least the farmers market is popular. People always have time for that.

More on Reprogramming the City at the BSA website, where you can take an audio tour.

Update 9/18/13 — See some great pictures from the exhibit at the Boston Globe, here.

Photo: Scott Burnham
The Cascade by Edge Design Institute, 2007, Central Hong Kong.
Right, Urban Air by Stephen Glassman, 2010.

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