Monday
Apr262010

i'm still here!

I've been shamefully missing lately, but it's because I'm really busy.  I have a few posts coming up soon, and hopefully new things will settle into place.  

Last night was my gamelan concert - it was so much fun, and I realized how long it has been since I performed in any way besides speaking.  (Keep an eye on that flickr set, more photos are coming from our rehearsals this weekend.)  

Also, my brother and dad are awesome, again, climbing mountains in NC in Jerry's Baddle, a gnarly kayak and bike race, pedaling up a mountain and paddling down.  

I'm so proud of them!  :)  

p.s. check out Dad's sweet Tati jersey.  

If all goes as planned, I'll be inaugurating my yogurt cart next weekend with Cristina in the Chicago May Day Art Parade.  More to come on that front, too - things are actually moving forward!  

Wednesday
Mar172010

slums win the LEED award - an update to "resourcefulness"

Speaking of informal economies bringing life to Turkish cities -- 

I read an article that's been on the top of my to-do "pile" (of browser windows) for at least a week: "How slums can save the planet."  I'd like to be more coherent than I'm likely to be on this subject, but I'm also so eager to get something out about it that I'm going to give it a shot.  

In the article, the author Stewart Brand argues that slums, in essence the densest and most basic urban conglomeration, are the most sustainable and least wasteful communities - the denser we live, the less opportunity we have to waste.  Which certainly is all well and good.  But what I liked was his thoughts on informal economies; he puts into words my thoughts about less developed countries being more resourceful.  

The homeless people who "live" in East Hyde Park occupy their days trying to bum money off of passers-by.  In Turkey, you saw no homeless people, for two reasons that I can tell.  

One, they spent their days being industrious - selling something on a street corner, collecting recycling, or making a home or some other produce to hawk on the sidewalks downtown.  In the US, there are such strict laws about selling things in public that there is no way a homeless person would be given a permit to sell anything on the street.

The second reason you see no homeless people in Turkey is because they make their own homes if they can't rent or buy one.  Gecekondu means "built in the night" and is the word for the structures that result from some loophole in Turkish law that says if at dawn there is a shelter and someone is sleeping in it, then it belongs to them.  Squatting is legal, therefore.  

None of this means squatters and gypsies and "homeless" in Turkey aren't ostracized, but that's a completely different post.  

Back to the article - unfortunately (in my opinion) Brand's arguments about slum-dwellers being the "Greenest" city-dwellers devolves into an argument for more sterile high-class soluntions for how to counteract our "developed" and wasteful lives by building green roofs and urban gardens.  Don't get me wrong - I love all of these probably more than the next person, I was just so excited about street-level entrepreneurship and resourcefulness that getting preachy was disappointing.  

Then, of course, there are the contradictions of crime and wealth - slums hold puzzling combinations of high crime and drug rates, as well as high rates of television and mobile phone ownership.  But again, that's perhaps another post, and one that Jan Chipchase, a thought-provoking inspiration of mine, would likely appreciate.  

Wednesday
Mar172010

shameless plug

Calling all visionary Chicago-area communities and planners:

Now through April 8, MPC is taking nominations for its 2010 Burnham Award for Excellence in Planning. Learn more: http://bit.ly/awJjd3

pass it on...pass it on..

Sunday
Mar142010

resourcefulness, or getting rid of the rules

Resourcefulness: it’s what I say I love most about Turkish people.  It’s what I miss in the sterile communities I see in community development projects, even the ones I am helping to develop at MPC.  It’s what I feel is so often being trained out of us in our laziness - we have come to expect luxuries like cars and buses running on time and not having to wait in line at the bank and paying your bills online and reliably and ordering food and getting what you know you will get and expecting that there will always be ripe bananas and your favorite kind of yogurt at the grocery store.  

MPC and the Chicago Dept of Transportation ran a workshop last week on designing complete streets (I designed a fancy fact sheet, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, or just want to see how proficient I am becoming at lining up boxes of text in InDesign, check it out!).  Complete Streets sound like a great idea - make streets safe for all people by making sure everyone knows when and where they’re supposed to move.  '

Copenhagen Cycle Chic

But I have two major problems with them, I realized.  

1. Designing complete streets STILL means designing for cars, it just means designing so that the cars don’t hurt or kill so many people.  

2. There are way too many rules!   

This is the foundation of my frustrations these days.  Relegating everyone into their own spaces, their own channels marked with a dotted white line or a painted bicycle and arrow or a raised sidewalk and blinking white walking man in a crosswalk may contribute to life on the street, but it certainly won’t guarantee vitality.  And really, where else in the world will a broken sidewalk prevent people from walking down the street?  If there’s something worth getting to, people will get there.  

And so, perhaps the problem doesn’t really lie in crappy streets designed for four lanes of fast-moving traffic.  Of course, that’s an issue, but it’s a symptom of cities designed too strictly, of a lack of open spaces filled spontaneously by peddlers or musicians or little gardens, if only transient, cities where every space is zoned to such a detail that all dentist offices the country over are as sterile as the next, and you’ll never have the idiosyncratic hubs of commercial activity, of friendly competition that exists in the blocks in Istanbul for instance, where you find all of the teapot manufacturers, or bike shops.  (That’s a run-on sentence, but why not let a few of those slide, too, in appreciation of the frustration I feel with staying between the lines.)  

I’m wishing for something that runs counter to so many concepts taken for granted - we should be able to get from one place to another reliably, in a relatively straight line, we shouldn’t build factories next to elementary schools and enormous Big Boxes next to quiet historic neighborhoods.  Sure, these are things I want, too, but I think the rules have gotten out of hand.  Is there a way to get people to appreciate the unexpected?  

I’ve quoted him before, but I think a reminder of my dad’s wise words is warranted: “We need a language of enthusiasm for life's casual moments and spontaneous encounters."  Who’s with me for enthusiasm and spontaneity?  

Sunday
Mar072010

turkish balance

There’s been a lot in the press lately about Turkey and a possible impending political shift.  Are we about to see a renaissance of the military or a political crackdown?  I can’t say either, or yes or no - although I’m reminded of how well I understood Turkish politics two years ago, when I was working at the Turkish Daily News.  I was there for the “headscarf issue,” the brief months when headscarves became legal in Turkish universities.  I was in the office and pretty confused in a large room full of Turks chatting and watching tiny tvs scattered around for the secret Turkish invasion of Iraq to catch up with the PKK, and I was also there for the removal of information about all of that from our papers after the request of the government and probably, although I honestly don’t remember, the sly “semi-official” Anatolian News Agency.  I was there for the big Ergenekon trials (the foundations of what’s come up these last few weeks), and the bombings in Istanbul that the PKK was blamed for but denied.  I won’t go into the details about that then, but in an email to my family after those bombings I wrote the best political analysis summary of the situation I have ever written, and will probably ever write.  

Atatürk overshadows dinner, Kadıköy, Istanbul

It’s hard for me to be interested in American politics - they’re too grand, too complicated, and probably too close to me.  Turkish politics were more immediate in a different sense, to be sure, since I was working at a daily paper.  But they were interesting because they were melodramatic, and because pride seemed so much more important than logic and games of pretense played in the US.  

But I don’t want to write about politics.  I want to write about the New York Times, and how well they have covered Turkey.  I tried to comment on the NYTimes website to compliment Sebnem Arsu, who does most of the reporting from Turkey, but comments were disabled.  I have long been impressed with how well she covers Kurdish issues - everything is complicated, and Turkey is in the American press infrequently enough that some background is needed in nearly every piece.  Arsu consistently does a great job of setting the stage so that the key recent events can be viewed in context.  She makes no accusations, in a country where blame often is being thrown wildly in all directions, it is nice to read her multiple possible truths.  

I was inspired to write this in response to a recent piece of hers from 20 February, “Arrest of Prosecutor in Turkey Exposes Tensions Between Secular and Religious Turks.”  There has since been a spate of arrests (this one’s from 2/22) of military officials - officers, even active ones in the most recent wave - accused of being part of the so-called Ergenekon group plotting to overthrow the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.  These two men frighten me; they say they want Turkey to be a free, Western country.  And I believe them.  But they are also incredibly unpredictable, and the apparent motivations behind their every move are elusive.  

boys in Sulukule, Istanbul

This may very well be the beginning of an autocratic Turkey, the military losing its leaders to political justice.  I will admit that the military was frustratingly archaic in its insistence on upholding various dated, incredibly dated, elements of Atatürk’s Constitution from the 1920s.  So, I’m not married to the military nor the AKP as either progressive or traditional leading powers.  But, the atmosphere I sense from the media here in the US is also familiar - so, perhaps this will all blow over and the recently arrested military leaders will be released in silence in the near future and Turkey will return to its familiar, precarious balance of modern, traditional, free, and insular.