Friday, July 18, 2014

Quarterly quirks

Urbanism doesn’t necessarily lend itself to practical jokes.  However, as in most realms of human endeavor, it has potential for quirkiness and whimsy.  That’s close enough for me to offer a quarterly urbanist celebration of April Fool’s Day.

I try to schedule these posts for right around the first days of January, April, July, and October, but this one slipped away from me.  I was so distracted by the block party twists and turns that I lost track of time.  Perhaps the April Fool’s joke was on me.

In this post, I’ll look at the world’s largest game of Tetris, art based on the sky as seen between urban buildings, street fun that makes block parties look tame, a light show using shipyard cranes, and an imperfect and illegal use of transit.

Set aside a few minutes for this post.  There are videos you need to see.

Tetris: I know that watching others play video games has become a major source of entertainment for younger generations.  I don’t quite understand it, but I’ll admit that watching geeks play Tetris on a Philadelphia skyscraper was compelling.  I found myself as intrigued by the play as if I was playing the game myself.  And I was disappointed that the video was barely more than a minute long.

Sky Art: Most of us catch a glimpse of a bluebird sky between tall buildings and are pleased that we won’t need umbrellas.  French artist Thomas Lamadieu sees the sky as a blank canvas for elaborate doodlesMy favorite is the three artists inventing the cosmos in the second picture from the bottom.  It’s the new creation myth for our time.

Ultimate Water Slide: I was pleased to see water slides at Petaluma block parties.   Artist Luke Jerram blew right past inflatable water slides with a 300-foot water slide down a steep street in Bristol, England.  The allure of sliding for a city block on a thin film of water and soap was sufficiently alluring that tickets were allocated by lottery.

Lighting up the Shipyard: The Croatian city of Pula was considering removal of obsolete shipyard cranes to create a tourist center.  But lighting designed Dean Skira saw an opportunity to turn idea on its head by converting the cranes into a tourist attraction.  Normally I’m not a big fan of synchronized music and lights, finding the concept forced and unconvincing.  But about two minutes into this video, when the music turned to the theme from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, I was captivated.

A Bad Use of Transit: I’m a member of the Petaluma Transit Advisory Committee.  One of our goals is to boost ridership for Petaluma Transit.  However, one group we’ve never marketed is bank robbers looking to make their getaways on city buses.  Based on this historical review by Eric Jaffe of City Labs, our decision was probably wise.  Robbers making getaways don’t seem a particular well-behaved ridership group, nor are they likely to become repeat riders.  I particularly like the robber who had to use the proceeds from his robbery to buy a transit pass because he’d failed to do so before the robbery.

In my next post, I’ll tell a tale from my baseball past that has a moral for our cities’ futures.

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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