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Streetnotes is a biannual peer-reviewed journal for the interdisciplinary study of the city, its lifeways and social relations, with a special concern for the cultural and aesthetic forms that arise through its traffic.

From Above: The Practice of Verticality

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Articles

Introduction: From Above: The Practice of Verticality

Introduction to Streetnotes 26: From Above: The Practice of Verticality

On the Contemporary Visual Experience, Part One: Vir(tu)al Horizon(tal)

As an attempt to critically engage with the contemporary visual experience, this paper in three parts explores the horizontal, vertical, and virtual viewpoints. Its main purpose is to question the virtual realm as a place where technology allows for various visual experiences including new, digital and oblique perspectives on both horizontality and verticality. Various visual examples are taken from: selfie-taking, augmented and virtual realities (“Part One: Vir(tu)al Horizon(tal)”); architectural landscapes, aerial views, panoramas (“Part Two: The Vertical Gaze”); the photographic works of Sebastião Salgado, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and Terry Boddie (“Part Three: Oblique Strategies”).

 

The Flaneur Looks Up: Reading Chinatown Verticalities

While verticality seems intrinsic to the fabric of the modern city—a concrete second nature—understanding this dimension involves negotiations of people, functions, scale, and representations, especially as mobile people transform existing cityscapes. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Chinatowns worldwide, where generations of Chinese, interacting with complex cities around them, have created places for varied immigrants and dispersed descendants in public and private spaces above and below the street. Verticality here is both intimate and performative, internal and external, “real” and imagined, as this walk through the Chinatown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) illustrates. Deciphering layers and dimensions of verticality, at the same time, expands our perceptions of both Chinatowns as places and the growth and structure of modern cities.

Poetic Verticalities: Ice-Skating, Nightstands by the Curb, Hair A-Z, The Highline

These poems attempt to capture our experiences of verticality in the city, as a daily practice. “Ice-skating” attempts to capture what it means to glide on the ice rink in the city and connect to things beyond the immediate present; “Nightstands by the Curb” records seeing two discarded nightstands by the side of the road and how in their loneliness they stand tall and significant despite the fact that their owner found them useless. In “Hair A-Z,” I list all possible variations of hair styles and accessories, as a way of seeing how hair makes us distinct, unique, tall in the city. “An Urban Riddle,” written in the voice of the elevated park, the High Line, in Manhattan, investigates what it may mean to have such an unusual green “presence” in the city. Each of these poems is paired with a photograph: some were taken on the occasion of the poem, like the ice-skating one, others, like the photographs by my friend Nikola Bradonjic—not, but we decided that they went well with the poems (the “Nightstands by the Curb” and “Hair A-Z” poems). The photograph accompanying “an Urban Riddle” is of a site-specific artwork, Broken Bridge II, by El Anatsui, which graced the High Line park from November 2012 until October 2013.

When the Horizontal Goes Vertical or How Skateboarding Redefines the Urban Environment

What do you do when one of the essential elements of your livelihood is being taken away from you? You adapt. This is exactly the fate that is facing today’s skateboarders in major metropolises all over the world. The invention and implementation of Hostile Architecture has jeopardized the future of skateboarding, but this is not the first time the skateboarding community has faced extinction and due to the sports growing popularity in recent years and the new influx of creative, innovative, and brave skateboarders, the sports future seems safe in the hands of adaptation. After all, the skateboarding community’s most unifying trait is its adaptability.

The Seasonal Fir Tree Take-Over of New York City

The verticality in New York City can be observed through the erection not only of constructions made by the tree sellers for their stands but also through the sprouting of tall fir trees all over the city. For one month, New York City is no longer just a mineral environment of granite and stone but one of vegetation that takes over the city. The use of the sidewalks by tree sellers shifts the urban morphology, temporarily creating a new urban space where pedestrians can look up and around instead of pass through.

Demarcating Fences: Power, Settler-Militarism, and the Carving of Urban Futenma

The following images highlight how the chain linked fence surrounding military installations represent power, surveillance, and verticality. By day, community members of the densely populated Ginowan-shi in Okinawa claim space on the land in front of an entrance to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma, with protest signs visible to all U.S. service members and Okinawan-civilian contractors of the injustice present from the settler-military force. By night, the focus shifts to an unforeseen U.S. military intervention, in conjunction with Okinawan law enforcement and construction workers, to quell the protests by reoccupying the sidewalk, pushing protesters further from the gates of the contentious site and attempting to contain their efforts away from the base.

 

This series illustrates how the fence is used to reconfigure base boundaries. The fence demarcates a line between a suburban, America-occupied space and an urban, racialized and indigenous other, where colonially derived forms of surveillance render their bodies visible. It represents a wake, a marker of settler-militarism that reproduces conditions of containment, regulation, punishment, and occupation. As a wake, it also masks the settler-soldiers who occupy the space within, while instead making Okinawans on both sides of the fence visible towards the maintenance and justification of the military presence. This reaffirms the impact of settler-militarism on either side of the fence: by community members who choose to engage with and protest against the occupying force and the dangers of their presence, while in constant negotiation of individuals who affirm their necessity as a form of economic stability and security. The images also highlight the limits of the fence and gesture to its role in the projection of settler-militaristic power vertically. While the fence is temporarily rooted in the occupied land, the aircraft operating from MCAS Futenma project a power that has detrimental effects to the security of the land and people around the base Although they are not present from these specific images, the notions are ever-present in the protest imagery, the history of U.S. military incidents in Okinawa, and the deafening sound that lingers throughout the day and night around these occupied spaces of American influence.

The Busy African City: Down Below

Aerial paintings of African Cities.

Airplanes and Apprehension: Nature-Society Hybrids in Planetary Perspective

This photo essay considers the question of what it means to see the world from above. Taking airplanes as my point of departure, I discuss the ways in which flying can both galvanize and dismantle binary conceptions of nature and society. I compare the humanist version of reality inside airplane cabins with the external world, as seen by passengers through plane windows. Viewed from the sky, the boundaries of urban landscapes appear porous, highlighting the fact that cities are embedded within a wider planetary context. Nature-society hybrids are visible from above, and yet require a particular form of attention to be recognized. Human symbolism inside the cabin’s social world distracts and disenchants passengers’ environmental perceptions. However, by looking out the window, we are reminded of the fact that we are all entangled within a wondrous network of life on earth. Though associated with power, class, and economics, perhaps airplane travel can foster a change in how we apprehend the planet, and our place within it.

On the Contemporary Visual Experience, Part Two: The Vertical Gaze

As an attempt to critically engage with the contemporary visual experience, this paper in three parts explores the horizontal, vertical, and virtual viewpoints. Its main purpose is to question the virtual realm as a place where technology allows for various visual experiences including new, digital and oblique perspectives on both horizontality and verticality. Various visual examples are taken from: selfie-taking, augmented and virtual realities (“Part One: Vir(tu)al Horizon(tal)”); architectural landscapes, aerial views, panoramas (“Part Two: The Vertical Gaze”); the photographic works of Sebastião Salgado, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and Terry Boddie (“Part Three: Oblique Strategies”).

The Forest and the City: Rio as an Immersive Landscape

This essay aims at reflecting upon the ways aerial perspective and verticality were instrumental in reiterating a rich traditional iconography that persisted upon an image of Brazil (and South America) firmly based on traditional dichotomies such as city/jungle, wilderness/civilization, nature/culture. For this purpose, I look at a sequence of the third travel documentary (travelogue) produced in the mid-1950s using the new technology of Cinerama, Seven Wonders of the World (1956). A breathtaking aerial sequence shot in Rio epitomizes aforeign North American literal and symbolic point of view during the immediate post warperiod, combined with the overwhelming sensorial immersive realism championed by Cinerama around the world during the immediate post-war period.

An Alphabet of Disaster: 9/11 From A to Z

This is a postcard performance project about the Twin Towers, language, and memory.

Utopian Verticality: the Skyscraper and the Superhero in the American Imagination

This essay examines the privileged status of verticality as a sign of utopian promise and possibility in two iconic, and often symbiotic, urban symbols:  the skyscraper and the superhero.

From God’s Eye to Ground Level: Aerial LiDAR as an Avenue to a Volumetric Understanding of Urban Spaces

Recent advances in high resolution, aerial LiDAR data collection can facilitate a more thorough understanding of three dimensional (3D) urban space across a range of viewpoints from the God’s eye view to the ground level. Using an extremely high resolution aerial LiDAR dataset collected over a 1.5km2 area of central Dublin, Ireland as a case study, this work pursues new vertical and volumetric understandings of the controversial Spire of Dublin. Viewing this structure in a fully elaborated, 3D environment with the capacity to experience the space from a range of perspectives enables a clearer understanding of the monument’s relative proportion to the space of the built environment both in terms of verticality and volume. Arguably, this in turn provides insight into relationships of power, modernity, tradition, and enclosure that inform a richer understanding of the arguments of both supporters and detractors of this piece of modern, public sculpture. This essay concludes with a suggestion of potential future work in high-resolution, aerial LiDAR collection to aid in developing resources in urban studies more broadly.

Mexico City Morphologies

This essay uses Google Earth images to examine urban morphologies in Mexico City. Vertical views of the world embraced by cartographers and planners have long legitimated claims to authority, truth, and temporal power. Since its introduction in 2008, Google satellite view has only reinforced such presumptions, particularly given the company's entangled relations with the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Nevertheless, aerial photographs provide an undeniably useful source for architects and urbanists to study city form and metropolitan expansion. The vertical view is particularly valuable for its capacity to illuminate spatial relations that are otherwise difficult to trace on the ground, but which nonetheless shape everyday human experience. The goal of this essay is to discern a range of city forms in the rapidly expanding metropolis, and to contemplate the ways in which urban morphology frames everyday life in one of the world's largest conurbations. It is part of a longer-term study of Mexico City's urbanism based on fieldwork, mapping, and spatial analysis.

Pantoum from the 44th Floor, True Story w/ Morning Dove

"Pantoum from the 44th floor" is written in a poetic form. Pantoums originated in Malaysia in the fifteenth century.

Standing, Walking, Dancing Tall

This is a poetic examination of how verticality becomes a threat in the context of race in the city.

Urban “Clutter”: Stairway Landings of Shanghai

This piece presents a photographic documentation of the staircase landings of a high-rise apartment building in Shanghai in which I have been residing since August 2017. On these stairway landings rest various “stuff” that appear to be merely, “mess” or “clutter.” Amid the rush of daily life in Shanghai, I pause to think through this series of photographs. The photographs and accompanying statement reflect on the mundane objects left on the staircase landings which do not map too neatly within the urban order laid out in rapidly rising Shanghai. This piece seeks to open conversations into what could be a deeper understanding of the messiness of urban life in post-Mao China – an aesthetic or a mode of life that is constantly being revised, organized, fixed, and upgraded.

 

On the Contemporary Visual Experience, Part Three: Oblique Strategies

As an attempt to critically engage with the contemporary visual experience, this paper in three parts explores the horizontal, vertical, and virtual viewpoints. Its main purpose is to question the virtual realm as a place where technology allows for various visual experiences including new, digital and oblique perspectives on both horizontality and verticality. Various visual examples are taken from: selfie-taking, augmented and virtual realities (“Part One: Vir(tu)al Horizon(tal)”); architectural landscapes, aerial views, panoramas (“Part Two: The Vertical Gaze”); the photographic works of Sebastião Salgado, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and Terry Boddie (“Part Three: Oblique Strategies”).