Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Quarterly Quirks

Urbanism doesn’t particularly lend itself to practical jokes, but it has moments of quirkiness and whimsy.  That’s close enough for me to offer a quarterly urbanist celebration of April Fool’s Day.

Photos from Japan: We’ll start with a couple of photos from urban Japan.  (“Urban Japan” comes close to being an oxymoron, doesn’t it?)

The first photo is of one of the world’s smallest parking lots.  If not truly the smallest, it’s tied for the second smallest.  Upon a car being backed into one of the two spaces, a metal flap pops up to restrain the car until payment is made for the elapsed time.  The flap then drops and the motorist drives away.  It’s an efficient combination of high tech and parking.

Also from Japan is this photo of bicycle style double-parking.  As a commenter recently noted at a Petaluma City Council meeting, a good approach to downtown traffic management might be more bike parking.  This structure could be a place to start.

Although not relevant to urbanism, I should note that both Japanese photos were taken by Anu Garg, proprietor of the A-Word-A-Day website and emails.  If you enjoy a daily dose of lexicology, combined with occasional digressions into travel and other interesting topics, I suggest subscribing.  If you can tolerate small ads, there is no cost.

Monopoly: Perhaps the ultimate urban board game is Monopoly, with its gradual accumulation of urban structures and its ever-present risk of price-fixing driven by monopolistic land-holdings.  Presumably, most readers know that street names were taken directly from Atlantic City.  A writer for Scouting New York recently toured Atlantic City, taking photos of the streets that most of us know only from rainy childhood afternoons around a card table.

San Francisco Street Art: There seems to a new trend in San Francisco vigilante street art, with unauthorized mobiles appearing unexpectedly at locations around the city.  I expect they’ll soon be overdone, but for now the mobiles seem an attractive addition to city life.

Chairs for a New York City Park: The bounds of imagination were pushed by a design competition for seating in New York City’s Battery Park.   Some of the ideas seem inspired, other seem contrived.  I was pleased to see that William H. Whyte’s conclusions about the value of moveable public seating haven’t been forgotten, but suspect that theft might be a bigger problem than the park supervisors expect.  Especially if the chairs become iconic.

Singing Streetlights: To compete with San Francisco and New York City, Seattle rolled out singing streetlights.  The lights, in addition to providing illumination, respond with sounds to the approach of pedestrians.  It might seem like a gimmick, but reports show that the public is enjoying the interaction.

This was fun.  I’ll be back in three months with more quirkiness.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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