Thursday, April 30, 2015

Changing Plans

"Shhh, stop yammering.  Just take me to the crag." she whispered.  Her smile, I knew was meant to tell me, "I know already" and I needed to tone down my enthusiasm a little.  I held my cup of coffee, gulped down the last of it, smiled back, and tried to hold the last bit of excitement I have in describing the way the routes at the "Junkyard" ran across the huge orange wave of solid sandstone.  We were on our way to the very first crag I ever climbed lead on when I got to Sydney.  At least that was our plan.   

A friend and I partnered up for a long climbing holiday.  We would be stuck on each other's random quirks as we climbed across Sydney to the Blue Mountains.  On this particular trip, we planned heading to "The Junkyard" with Matthew and Jess.  On the way, however, Matthew wanted to show us this other new crag he furiously developed over the last few months. He called it "The Hideaway."  As excited about new crags, we had to make "The Junkyard" wait a little.

We walked down a path through the forest marked only by little ribbons tied onto small branches that arched down to eye level.  The forest went in all directions.  Without the ribbons it would have been easy to get lost in.  The dry ground didn't show signs of a highly distinct trail.  

We eventually made our way to a narrowing path that led us down to where a sandstone cliff rose.  The cliff band started to tower over us as we made our way to even ground.  As soon as we arrived at the base, a huge cave greeted us. The wave of sandstone covered us in shadows and kept the entire crag cool despite the warm summer weather.  

A striking route ran across the entire roof of "The Hideaway."  It seemed to traverse 20 to 25 meters of roof.  We walked past it as Matthew led us to more routes on the other side of the crag, all the while my mind stayed on the long roof climb.  

On the way back to the car I suggested mildly for us to stay at the area instead.  It felt like a long pause as I waited for reactions to my seemingly out of place suggestion.  The plan after all was to head to "The Junkyard", the crag I was excitedly pimping about earlier the day.

I expressed my huge intention to get on the long roof climb.  It was named "Ghetto Superstar." It was a route on a perfect horizontal line and was about as appealing as a new 9.2mm 80m. Sterling rope, a new rack of Petzl quickdraws, and Prana Mojo shorts in every color.  Like in what many climber stories say, "it called out."  I had to climb it.   

And so we stayed.  We had our own routes to try and I got to climb "Ghetto Superstar."  It wasn't at all easy.  Funny the way lyrics of the song from where the route got its name from still rings in my head.  I still hear it in my climbing partner's voice as she sings it.  It's one more of those quirks I got used to.  I'll climb it again for sure even if it means singing it with her again.

As what little Maxie, the three legged wonder dog, has taught me, nothing is impossible for a ninja dawg.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Urban Design

I haven't written about Urban Design I think.  I haven't on this blog.  If I did I have already forgotten about it and I do not wish to scroll down at this time to find out.  It maybe worth a look but I'll save it for later.  

This has solely been an adventure blog or more aptly a blog detailing the things that drive me.  I've written things on climbing, aikido, camping, hiking, and photography.  Sometimes there's the occasional rant or maybe some personal story underpinned by some metaphors that may sometimes sound almost lyrical or proverbial but as I've said it's more on things that become me.      

Urban Design is one of those new things I'm growing passionate about.  I know this because I've been sleeping late because of concepts, drawings, renderings, readings and such but not because of deadlines as I'm well ahead of them but mainly because I just can't bring designing to a sudden halt when the ideas keep coming.

It also brings me back to when I was a child.  At 7 I already knew how to hold a blanket and let it fall onto the bed so it resembles a hillside.  I knew how to fold creases on them to form roadways for my Matchboxes.  This is called form finding I believe.  I'm also a Lego nut.  I've been designing space stations as early as 10 years old.  In the recent years, I've also designed my very own climbing gym that met climbers needs even before they knew it.  All these I think means I'm meant for this sort of job.  Only, it doesn't feel like it is a job and that makes it perfect.

What is Urban Design?  It is not solely architecture.  It has parts of it in it but it is more than just building something.  It is about design of the city's pubic realm, the places in between buildings, the spaces that occupy your time when you step outside your house and before you reach school or the office.  There are a lot of ways to define it but here's one entirely my own.  Urban Design can be the way of redefining the public realm so that it beckons one to stay outside of the house, outside of the office, outside the mall, outside the cinema, and outside the confines of four walls.      

What is good Urban Design?  Again, reference textbooks will define it in so many different ways.  Jane Jacobs, Paul Spreiregen, and Kevin Lynch are just few of the many influences that continue to mark me. They have both technical definitions and romantic visions of how these spaces should interact to bring about a healthier city, town or district. 

Here's a bit of reality.  In a few more years worldwide population will rise dramatically.  People in cities will increase.  Imagine cramming a hefty few or more aptly a heavy thousands of people more where you, city dweller, are already living.  Prices for premium space to live within the city will increase.  Your apartment will either be more expensive or will be really small.  Either way it will become sustainably difficult.  

Of course you can move out of the city.  That saves you, but not your son or your son's son from a future dilemma.  Where you move will probably become a city too.  People flock to cities and where people flock become cities.  Sooner or later that room will become more expensive or become smaller.

That's where good urban design comes in.  Shared space.  We design shared public spaces.  There could be a park outside your house.  It may not be your own but you have a share in it.  Good urban design can give it to you.  It can feel like you're just sitting down on a bench in your own garden.  It can feel like you're having coffee and reading a book in your own living room but you're actually at a quaint cafe overlooking a nice waterfront.  You won't need to be stuck in your future small or expensive room.  The public space will save you.  Urban Design will save you.  

So, what's with all the Sydney photos?  Two things.  One, at first glance it's wow! It is screaming Urban Design well practiced, implemented and reinforced.  Effect, happy people. Two, though yes it does look and feel so good in Sydney, it's still not perfect.  I'm sorry to say that but at the same time I'm happy I can get to see past the initial wow.  Take the Sydney Opera House.  It has brought many people to it only to find out that it is snobbish.  Majority of the landscape on which it stands is a vast expanse of solid pavement.  Who would want to hang around on a sun reflecting, heat amplifying, runoff generating expanse of solid pavement?  It looks good for photos and is the subject of a lot of them but quite frankly it's not a very accommodating kind of place.  I'm better off where there are more trees, greens and shade.  Unless there is a greater purpose for that space as it is, probably to land several helicopters, I personally think it can serve the public better.    

Manly Beach.  I like Manly Beach.  It's actually so accessible you can go walk out of your apartment in a bikini, take a swim and go back, shower and go to the office.  How cool is that?  That is Urban Design working.  

Who ever thought of old buildings as ugly had it wrong.  You do not need to demolish pretty good historic buildings as long as they are still structurally sound but then even if they're not, there are a lot of brilliant engineering solutions that can retro-fit it.  A few rusty steel accents, as long as they don't pose as a hazard looks interesting.

That is art.  Art is not just anything you stare at and go intellectual on.  I'd rather have installation art that you can actually both physically and mentally interact with.

This place.  Take the ferry and cross the harbour.  Plus you can walk around this wharf with your chest out while swinging your shoulders up like so manly (Schwarzenegger accent). 

See the tall looking tower?  The one that looks like a wand?  As long as you see it from within the city streets, you won't get lost.  Follow it and it'll take you back to the heart of the city.

So that's a bit of Urban Design.  There's a lot more to it.  Some of it will take a whole lot to digest.  It considers politics, economics, etc. but it is easier to explain as I have.  I sharpen my tools for it just as much as I sharpen myself for climbing.  Every crease, fold, edge,  and feature on a route on rock that I will climb on, I would want to know.  Climbing becomes easier that way.  For Urban Design it's much the same thing.  Know the city fabric, the way people move, the spaces in between buildings, energy, transport routes, community traditions, cultures etc., even history.  It's fun, just like climbing.

(The San Antonio, Makati SPUR site - The solid block there in the middle of the park? . . . yup, I just can't help it.  It's an all-weather public outdoor climbing wall.)