Photo via International Institute, University of Michigan
"Once upon a time, Houten was a tiny village clustered around a fourteenth-century church. But in 1979 the Dutch government declared that Houten needed to do its part in absorbing the country’s exploding population. The hamlet of 5,000 needed to grow by 10 times in 24 years—an expansion similar to what many American suburbs would experience. Faced with such an overwhelming change, the local council adopted a plan that turned the traditional notion of the city inside out.
The new Houten was designed with two separate transportation networks. The backbone of the community is a network of linear parks and paths for cyclists and pedestrians, all of which converge on that compact town center and train station (and, incidentally, a plaza laid out with the same dimensions as Siena’s Piazza del Campo). Every important building in the city sits along that car-free spine. If you walk or cycle, everything is easy. Everything feels close. Everything feels safe.
The second network, built mostly for cars, does everything it can to stay out of the way. A ring road circles around the edge of town, with access roads twisting inward like broken spokes. You can reach the front door of just about every home in town by car, but if you want to drive there from the train station, you need to wend your way out to the ring road, head all the way around the edge of the city, and drive back in again.
The only way to get from one district to another is via the ring road which circles around Houten, thus preventing through traffic in residential areas. Maximum speed on most of the ring road is 70 km/h
Where bicycles and cars do share roads, signs, and red asphalt make it clear that cyclists have priority. It is common to see cars inching along behind gaggles of seniors on two wheels.”
Contrast this with the state of work travel in the US:
NPR talks about how today, only 5 percent of workers take public transportation, down from 11 percent in 1960; only 4 percent walk to work, down from 7 percent in 1960.
Would love to see how these numbers stack up for Urban India.
In a move to make housing more universally accessible, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, has banned doorknobs in private homes and apartment buildings. Starting in March 2014, the doors of new buildings will be equipped instead with more ergonomically friendly, easier-to-use lever handles, the Vancouver Sun reports. It notes that while the bylaw passed in September is not retroactive, City Hall has set an example by replacing its art deco brass doorknobs, which date from 1936.
As University of British Columbia professor Tim Stainton explained in the article, the doorknob ban is in the spirit of a concept known as universal design, which holds that environments should be built to be usable by a majority of people regardless of age or capacity, rather than adapted to meet the needs of the elderly or disabled.
Design that makes everyday things easy to use even for those with physical challenges is the same principle that IDEO designers used when redesigning an OXO Good Grips potato peeler to be easier to use for arthritics. The designers noted that the human-centered design exercise “solved a specific problem for a specific group: Namely, helping people with reduced grip strength to peel things easier. Turned out, it offered a benefit to everyone.”
An article in Popular Science pointed out that turning doorknobs can be challenging for arthritic hands, citing a troubling statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that 67 million adult Americans will have arthritis by 2030.
I am 20
A film made in 1967 of the hopes and ambitions of Midnight’s Children when they turned 20.
Young men and women born on Independence Day in 1947 were selected from different parts of India and interviewed to discover their hopes, desires, ambitions and fears. They spoke about love, they spoke about their heroes and they spoke about their frustrations. The result is this unique film.
40 years on, there is still an India and there is a Bharat and the twain…shall never meet? Indians then and now speak of similar frustrations- bribes to be paid for “seats in a college or school”, security and stability in the form of a government job, sitting in a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned room, a desire to “be a cog in the machine.”
It seems the more things change, the more they remain the same. "We have a hopeful tomorrow but our today is very precarious" as one wise PN Subramaniam says in the film.
Monohara ceramics collection by House Industries
From their blog:
Artisans in the Nagasaki prefecture town of Hasami have been manufacturing ceramics for over four centuries, and their revolutionary climbing kilns once produced the highest volume of daily-use cups, bowls and plates in Japan. In late 2012, Hasami’s Kyohei Baba asked us to create a new brand by designing a tableware collection. Kyohei recognized our acute appreciation for Japanese culture and our unique typographic perspective after the aesthetic and commercial success of our Hasami Morning Collection.
We found much of our inspiration quite literally in Hasami’s backyard—the trench filled with 400 years worth of cast offs and blemished items. Artifacts from Hasami’s ceramic trash pit are the best link to the past and one of the keys to Hasami’s future, so Kyohei named his new brand Monohara, which translates colloquially to “The trash pit next to the climbing kiln.”
Our efforts centered around preserving and celebrating Hasami’s collective culture while helping to establish a perpetually viable business and promoting it on an international level. We created custom artwork for each of the 15 pieces and did our best to backfill Hasami’s fabled trash pits by working through countless prototypes before achieving the best balance, scale and continuity in each item. The Monahara wordmark references the brushwork of Edo Era Hasami village artisans, whose latin letterforms evoked Hiragana sensibilities on Japanese products that were exported to Europe in the 19th Century.
The nesting ceramic collection includes five plate options, six bowl sizes, teacups, teapots, a compra bottle and a tenugui cloth. Three different hand-crafted Japanese Paulownia wood boxes are also available: One for the entire collection, one for a set of plates and one for a complete tea service.
I want. Then I have my #IndianMiddleClassMoment, “What if this slips from the househelp’s hands while cleaning these?”
These are not meant to be eaten off, these go into the crockery cabinet for display…yes?
This is the best data viz I’m seen in a long time.
Basically, the case against cars in a single GIF.
Someone should do this for India and try to fit in the cows, dogs, bullocks and other paraphernalia that spills into our roads.
On the streets of Gangtok
My friend Boo has a keen eye. For people, long hair, cats.
For 40 years, a medium-sized Brazilian city has set the international standard for environmentally conscious urban planning. But can it grow and remain green?
The Wire Opera House (1992), completed in about two months under the guidance of Curitiba’s visionary architect-mayor, Jaime Lerner.
Today, Curitiba remains a pilgrimage destination for urbanists fascinated by its bus system, garbage-recycling program and network of parks. It is the answer to what might otherwise be a hypothetical question: How would cities look if urban planners, not politicians, took control?
Discovered these beautiful handpainted type fonts converted from street signs.
Here’s how the project run by Hanif Kureshi works:
Look for hand painted signs in your area. In the right hand bottom corner of any hand painted sign are the signatures of the artists. Street painters consider each work a labour of love and an art in itself. Which is why, they sign each piece they do with their names and their phone numbers. If there are no phone numbers, ask the shopkeeper.
Once you get in touch with the painter, have him draw all the letters from A to Z as well as all the digits from 0 to 9. If possible, also get all the symbols and characters that are used in keyboards. A print of all the characters also helps tremendously.
Always remember to explain the nature and purpose of the project. This will get them more excited. If you feel the painter is not excited and is only doing it for the money, do not hesitate to walk away.
I got to watch a rough cut screening of this when I was still working at Yale, and it is completely incredible— like, I am sick to fucking death of the Michael Pollan-level arguments about culture and fat people and microwaveable food and getting back to the land and blah blah blah but this is a really beautiful, fascinating take on the actual science of why organic food matters on an ecosystem level.
Symphony of the Soil
I want to watch this. And then sit with Geetika, a glass of mulled wine in hand and talk a thousand soil stories. (Miss you, Gee!)
Colour blocked buildings in Singapore.
At once, inviting and adorable.
This happened last evening: I’m standing outside office on the dark lonely but traffucked street that runs by Alliance Francaise, trying to hail an auto. I see a guy in a white maruti 800, yawning and at the same time, driving towards the pavement. Everyone has had a long day, I think to myself.
Next minute I see the car next to me. There’s a bearded guy in a black tee waving frantically asking me to get in. WTF. My god, the guy’s grinning AND waving. *blink blink* WTF. It’s strange the ways your brains has all these thoughts buzzing around for that fraction of a second: I could get a lift till the signal. OMG, what am I thinking. That guy could be a rapist. Why is he so persistent.
Then it strikes me. That’s my friend, Nakul. Absolute horror to serendipity in 30 seconds.
Standing on that stretch of the road always leaves me afraid, vulnerable and defensive. I don’t want to stand too close to the edge of the pavement while I’m hailing a rickshaw because I don’t want a guy on a bike to grab my boobs or mow me down while he attempts to beat the traffic by driving ON the pavement. I shouldn’t be distracted by my phone while I hold my bags close so that nobody has easy access to my body parts. And god forbid, somebody tries grabbing the phone while I’m busy ensuring I stay aloof and my body, defensible.
Nakul makes for a good anti-climax, a friend remarked.
Yup, that. I don’t like being on my guard all the time. I don’t want to think the worst of every man who passes by. It also makes me very angry- when these very real fears are dismissed as paranoia, the workings of an overactive imagination, when good intentions are almost always overshadowed by the what-if. On my worst days, I wish upon them nothing more than what I go through: why must I alone be full of fear, be up for grabs every time I’m out in public. Y’know, I just want to hail an auto-rickshaw and go home. Why must something as mundane as that be so hard, so agonizing?
In the crowded city, final resting places often lie next to skyscrapers, creating a unique urban landscape.
Hong Kong is an incredibly packed city, so why should its cemeteries be any different? Shoe-horned into the urban hillside, these terraced monoliths of granite and bone dominate the skyline like the architecture of a forgotten, death-obsessed civilization.
Have a look at how the living city exists in the same super-dense environment as its dead. There are 10 portrayed in the full series, including ones in Tsuen Wan, Fanling, Chai Wan, and (for the purposes of this story) the rather unfortunately named Happy Valley:
It was actually the similarity between these structures and those of ancient civilizations that attracted the interest of Manuel Alvarez Diestro, a self-described “photographer of cities” from London. He explains over email:
The inspiration for the specific angle to conduct this series came some years ago when I was visiting the Roman amphitheatre of Leptis Magna in Libya right before the Arab Spring. From its top after climbing its many steps, I would see the different seating levels (the cavea) surrounding the stage right next to the Mediterranean Sea. Looking at this particular ruin right next to the sea, I remembered the Hong Kong cemeteries that I climbed some months before in order to view the city from the top. I saw a clear resemblance with the similar scales, levels, and circular shapes. There’s also the fact that the cemeteries, like the Classical ruins, are normally next to nature and in a prominent location where they can be easily seen.
How long before these cemeteries disappear to make room for more skyscrapers?
When runawaybicycle launched their Tumblr blog (peppered with gifs of fairy-like @AninditaGhose waving around leaves in an orange dress, now running in a white dress), I was taken in by the cotton and khadi dresses that looked “comfortable, cheery and as cool as an afternoon breeze.”
An Orange A Day Dress
A Mangalagiri cotton dress made for simple joys like sitting in the grass and eating an orange.
I’d wear this to a Monday morning meeting with my boss, paired with my white spectacles and white pumps. Mondays are just like Sundays, only much louder.
A toile ‘mock up’ fabric dress with pleats and a front pocket, for you to wear with colorful nail paint.
I bought this and then went back to RB again and again to see if they had it in multiple colors. I’d spend all my waking hours in this and then dress it up with scarlet red heels and dance the nights away too.
Speaking of nights…
A Midnight Feast Dress
A Mangalagiri cotton dress with box pleats and a pocket, for midnight feasts with friends. *100% handloom cotton
Pair it with gold and you’d be the midnight sky.
I hadn’t been to Delhi till October this year. When I went to pitch at the Global Impact Award, that was my first time and then in a matter of 2 days, I was back for the Inaugural Janaagraha L C Jain Memorial Lecture at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. (Both of these were amazing experiences and deserve posts of their own. Will get to that later.)
When I went to Delhi in the last week of October, Delhi was sunny. There was freshly mowed lawn, primary colored bean bags, endless cups of coffees and friendly geeky people in the nook that was the Taj Mansingh and Taj Ambassador.
A gap weekend of Diwali and so much had changed. Everything, everybody was jumping out at me. I was in Dally.
Smog veiled the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the trees, the planes, the people, everything. So much like the polyester grey dupatta aunties wear over their nighties when dropping kids to school - so boring, it’s not even a distraction. But that’s a pity because (New?) Delhi is a mesmerizing city - there are rich people, famous people, armed people, babu people, safari suit people, politician people everywhere; there are barbed wires and red sandstone buildings; there are regular people lazing in lawns in roundabouts; there are people afraid of cops who will pull them up for not wearing a seatbelt, there are people who are driving and taking notes on their hands. CAPITAL City.
I felt severely underdressed, even for walking down the street. And then when I did get to the street, I felt undressed. The unstopping, penetrating gaze of the regular Delhi man never left me: The cab driver, the hotel staff, the shopkeepers, the pedestrians. Rupali at one point told me I’d stop noticing it. Or maybe she meant I’d stop feeling so naked. Or maybe that with time I’d forget that all-consuming sense of violation. Inviolate City?
If I squinted at the rows of sparkly lights in Khan Market, all I could see were shiny, happy, angry, powerful cars. A corner restaurant that smelled of freshly butchered meat served the softest Kakori Kebabs that I’d ever eaten. My bar wasn’t too high, I’d just eaten the most bastardized version of mutton biryani the previous evening. Plump bush-tailed dogs kept guard, children with sun-bleached hair burst firecrackers on pavements. So many white people smoked on the streets, so many young Indian couples tottered around hand-in-hand. Lal battis with black caps had young girls with scrunched noses who drove away without paying for parking, attendants banging on their tintless rolled-up windows. Segregated City!
At the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, signs in varied fonts - a Times New Roman here, a sans serif font there - asked you to keep quiet. Monks walked around, activist people in handloom clothes asked for free books to stuff into their swinging jholas. Someone mistook me for someone else. Monkeys swung from tree to tree, a noisy bird had no takers for its mating calls. Mrs Prime Minister was given 6 different options for tea - with milk, without; with sugar, without; with milk & sugar, without. All she wanted was a separate saucer to place her teabag. Vrinda Grover kept introducing her daughter to everyone around, someone air-kissed so loudly I jumped. Socialite City, Socialist City,
Dally. Batter than Bangalore? Batty-er than Mumbai.