Friday, December 31, 2010

Oasis: Some Thoughts On Thoughts for 2011



Water and shade in a dry land


I read a few great posts this year written by bloggers reflecting on blogging. Two that really stuck with me and caused me to think more about what I'm doing here, and where I might seek sustenance and positive energy to move forward with it in 2011, were Jon Grinder's Feedback post on Two Wheels, and the always-interesting Chris Johnson's response post Pondero Un-Cropped? on Pondero. The comments on those posts also struck me as notably supportive and sustaining, in the sense I am using it in this post. 

I liked limom's Message in a Bottle image, too: write something personally meaningful today, put it into a bottle, send it out into the digital ocean to ride the inter-waves to a possible, but unlikely, distant and future reader. Yes, I also enjoy sharp analysis and spreadsheets produced from cutting edge studies like Steve A's, but for my own purposes, I have been seeking a theme which is locally relevant, and resonant for me. But this causes me to ask myself: what is it that I am doing here?

The short answer is, probably many things, but if I look back at the efforts that I think came close to actually accomplishing what I wanted, I find one common characteristic, one that I want to focus on a little more in 2011 at times, to explore, amplify, dissect, and expand it. This theme or idea is oasis. Let me explain a little more.

For One Speed: Go!, this idea is meaningful and important to me because what I hope to do is, once in a while, put out a short, meaningful, thought-provoking bit of word and image to sustain people in their journeys through what is often a barren and thin landscape of ideas out there. Probably bicycle people. So, a small audience out of a relatively small population. Out of that, probably a small proportion who would be looking for something like oasis. Because, let's face it, "What I thought about while riding my bicycle around today" is not about to be a hit movie or a top story on a hit reality newsertainment TV/blog/iTune. 

Shade for a cyclist in a bleak landscape

When I think of an oasis, some words that come to mind are restoration, shelter, refuge, sustenance, water in a dry land, shade from the relentless sun, a place of rest while on a journey, a place for travelers to gather where all are welcome, a campfire glowing in the middle of a vast darkness with people gathered around it eating, drinking, and telling stories before resting and then setting off on their own journeys. Oasis.

Art can be a kind of oasis
 
For me, art, too, can be a kind of oasis. The picture of above is from a work in the Scottsdale Public Art "In Flux" series where artists put work into windows in unoccupied properties, which we still have more of than usual. This particular example is called "The Ceramic Jungle" by Pete Goldlust. Imagine, or just go look at, the alternative: block after block of dark, empty storefronts with "For Rent" signs in the window. Or this:

Sustaining in lean times



In practical terms, oasis is something you need when riding a bicycle, or walking, through the desert. Water, shade, rest, shelter, sustenance, information passed on from one person to another about place, techniques, tools, distance, great trails, adventures, inspiring feats, and local facts. A meeting or gathering place. The human side of transportation. It's a perspective that I see generally missing from planning and construction in the Phoenix Metro area. There's lots of great stuff being done. But with all the growth ahead, with the challenges and unknowns we're likely to face, exploring the possibilities of oasis seems interesting to me. Some more visual cues for oasis:

Signage: how far to the next oasis? Where am I? Where can I go from here?

When I close my eyes on a hot, dry ride, I see this


In a desert of cars, an oasis for bicycles and pedestrians (though short on actual shade and drinking water)

A portable oasis of one's own, to carry around a beautiful plaza while conversing

And music! An oasis needs music, if we're lucky, a group of skilled musicians will be stopping by the same night as we are, or perhaps a lone player with a flute, or just some wind chimes hanging from a tree.







When I'm out there riding in a typically hot, dry place like Arizona, these concepts behind oasis take on a reality and depth that I want to explore further. While doing that, I'll post some of what I see and think, while trying to build my own little oasis here. I think many of the blogs I like and read regularly are trying to do something similar. Please wish me success with my own little oasis project here in 2011. I wish you success with yours, and hope that you experience some great rides, with some great people, in the coming year. Happy New Year, friends and fellow riders. The rest of the program stays the same, however. Get up. Go ride.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Free Trolley Warms the Heart, Neighbor



Bike rack near a free trolley stop in Scottsdale

Scottsdale has some free trolleys that buzz around the downtown area and some nearby neighborhoods. I had three places to visit that were very close to trolley stops, and since I wasn't sure about the bike racks at the other two stops, I locked up at one, and tried it out. I could have walked, but they come every 15 minutes, and I happened to see one pull up almost immediately. It worked well, nothing else to report, except that they stop running at 6pm, and I knew that, and was hungry, so I got something to eat and walked back to my bicycle. A free trolley! It's an excellent thing, in a Mr. Rogers sort of way. Get up. Go ride.

   

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Phoenix Sharrows: A Rare Treat!



Howdy, paint


Splashing sharrows down in one or two places in a large city is like handing out two medium-sized pieces of kangaroo jerky to a sold-out crowd at an NFL game to pass around.

Perhaps dried and seasoned roo meat would make a popular foodstuff for American sports fans. Perhaps not. We'll never know. Get up. Go ride.

 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Announcing My Approach (Third Alternative)





I have tried "on your left!" I've tried the gentle, yet insistent, ding ding from my brass "incredi-bell". This White Industries 16t freewheel is my third alternative method for announcing my approach. It is very possible that my former setup was too quiet. I rather enjoyed tooling along in almost complete silence. But I surprised people, whether with my "ding! ding!" or my "on your left!" probably because my ninja-silence caught them unawares. They'll hear me coming now, boy! And if they don't notice the freewheel, I can add on an "on your left!" along with a "ding! ding! ding!" and some furious backpedaling, which raises the pitch. I may miss the quiet sometimes. But possibly the ninja silence was inappropriate for the bike path. Except, you know, when I had ninja business to take care of.

May never be this clean again, ever

When I shot the video, I noticed I had done a decent job of cleaning up around the freewheel, so I took this shot, to remind myself what it looks like when semi-clean. A couple miles of canal dust will fix that up quickly. But that sealed bearing should keep it out, at least. Get up. Go ride.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Well-built Precision Stuff Makes Me Happy



From the top position on my list: White Industries 16t Freewheel for the single speed

I am amenable to the concept that stuff, in general, weighs us down. That desire for it, as a subset of desire in general, and attachment to it, is the source of everything from discontent to unhappiness to the diminution of the greater or higher aspects of our being. See more at mara. More stuff will not relieve sadness, depression, acedia, or ennui. As an end in itself it is a dead end. 

Stuff may become, upon even casual analysis, a need that cannot ever be filled. Stuff can easily represent a bottomless black hole of wanting that is never satisfied. Desire for stuff is the heart of unease. Much of advertising can be seen as tools for amplifying and directing this unease to entice us to buy more stuff. The channels of all types on TV (the 3 main ones are play-TV, pay-TV, and pray-TV) which claim to fill this hole in the soul actually aim to deepen it to draw us in farther, and obviously, they are quite successful at it, and continue to find new stars, and new methods for those stars, to entice us more effectively.

I have too much stuff, certainly. I vowed to give away twice as much as I got for Christmas this year. I already gave away a bunch of hardly worn clothing because there's significantly less of me now and it didn't fit. A box of other give-away stuff is in the works. The reasoning behind this two-for-one giveaway is probably half pragmatic, since I have accumulated too much stuff compared to the space we have and need to get rid of some, and half philosophical, since I feel my current tonnage of material goods exceeds a reasonable cargo volume by a considerable amount. One unit in, two units out, seems like a good way to attack this project, until a more reasonable tonnage of cargo is achieved.

The Christmas message I synthesized myself this year is this, though: most of us (including me) are not ready to become Jainist monks and go around naked with no possessions. Although there is much I admire about Jainism, that life is not for me. A house, clothing, the trappings of what we consider a normal existence, all this stuff I have made my peace with owning, within reason, and with perspective. The perspective runs something like, stuff is certainly not the most important aspect of my life, but it is not trivial or without value to me, either. Stuff doesn't matter most, but it does matter. It matters for its utility value, it matters for the fun that I have while using it, and it matters to a certain extent because of the tangible and intangible value I place upon it. The message I synthesized for myself is that this third type of value, the kind of valuation we place on stuff for tangible and intangible purposes, is the kind that should be most closely monitored, controlled, limited, and where the value is unwarranted, zeroed out. Because it is this third type of valuation that is most likely to eat us alive.

In a trivial, yet somewhat intransigent example, that bigger-sized clothing I gave away had no more utility value for me, there was no conceivable way for me to get enjoyment out of it any longer, and it was taking up space and weighing me down like stuff can do. So I zeroed out its perceived value to me and cut it loose. The more I can do that reasonably, the better, I think, but that is a far cry from me saying that I am prepared to adopt some minimalist approach to life and zero out my perceived value of everything except, say, a hundred necessary things. That sounds like a great project if that move works for you, but unless, for example, I can count all the books I own as "one thing", I'm a failure at the own 100 things project before I even start. I own more than 80 Grantas, for example, and none of them are going onto the giveaway pile.

So that's where I'm coming from when I parade a few delicious bicycle-related Christmas items before you. I am more or less committed to a certain level of owning stuff, and have therefore concluded that it is better to own stuff that lasts, that works well and for a long time, and which can, if need be, be repaired or adapted to other uses when the time comes. The White freewheel is certainly in this category of stuff, and I will give further reports of my riding with it once it is installed and used for some time.

Air pumper of a most effective type

This SKS Airbase Pro pump was also a Christmas present. It is made in Germany, and built similarly to a Unimog. It's what was in the "mystery box" I mentioned a few posts ago. It's mostly metal, including the base, and it tall enough that I do not have to bend over to pump or to read the dial, both of which are great for me as a taller person. The head is both sturdy and smooth in operation. And pumping air with it is so easy that I have no excuse for ever going out with tires not at the optimal pressure. Similar to the White Industries freewheel, it appears to be both well-built and designed to be repaired. 

To explain myself more clearly, junk that is cheaply made, falls apart soon after you use it, and is designed to be thrown away rather than repaired, tends to piss me off. Therefore, stuff like these two objects make me happy, in comparison.

This is not a new perspective for me, though. As I was taking pictures of the pump and freewheel, I happened to walk past another Christmas Day project, testing the batteries in the UPS which seem to be at End of Life. They've been doing their job for two or three years, though, so that's pretty good. This isn't about the batteries, or the UPS, though, but about the instrument I used to test them (see below).

Archerkit (Radio Shack) meter 28-4013

The meter I used to check the voltage on the sealed lead acid batteries from the UPS is one I made from a kit with my dad forever ago. We soldered a forest of resistors into it together, and calibrated it using some equipment he had at work. I have other meters around, including $1.99 digital meters that I don't even understand how they can package, ship to the United States, make shelf space for and sell for $1.99 in a store with utilities, rent, and people working in it, but I bought two when they were at that price, even though I knew they would piss me off and go into the garbage can eventually, as all such junk must. Maybe I should give them away before they break. I think the way they can afford to make and sell the digital meters for so little is that they make them in the same locales as everything else like them, and ship them over together too, our present cornucopia of throwaway gadgetry like smart phones and electronic books. Many bicycles and bicycle shaped objects, too, fall into this category. It's not the supply, though, it's the bottomless and insatiable demand, which drives this throwaway cycle of crap. It's a value we may want to consider zeroing out, though, when we consider it carefully, and determine it to be unwarranted. 

How many Gs does a phone need, anyway? 3? 5? How many before I don't have to throw it away every year?

Ride reports on the freewheel, and pump reports, in the future. Get up. Go ride.
   

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I See Small Things Like These, Xmas Edition



Christmas Gift from my daughter. Get up. Go ride.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Picture of Back Windows While Waiting To Turn Left



First in a series

TRANSIT connect: is that a model? A glance through the back window looked like he was carrying ping pong paddles on a shelf inside a cage. I saw the light was about to change so I snapped a photo so you could decide. Yes, I looked it up, it's a model, some kind of courier van. Couriering packages around for last minute gift deliveries. Glad I'm behind him. I already ran into too many drivers in too big a hurry before I saw this one. I think I rode about 25 miles on the streets today which were rife with frantic last-minute shoppers. Tis the season. Get up. Go ride.

 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

With an Egret's Grace Through the Dark Rains





The rains did come to Phoenix today, after they visited limom in Hawaii. The water came down and soaked me (sopping, dripping, like a wet dog) on the ride home on one of the longer darker nights of the year, with enough coming down that it limited visibility and pooled in the streets. But it felt warm and soothing as long as I kept moving (faster=warmer), and my family was waiting for me with dry towels and hot food. I felt a lot like the egret: I liked the water. My lights were bright, illuminating the drops as they splattered in front of me (ting ting ting on my bell), and I felt that all the drivers who passed me in cars were thinking the same thing: damn, that dude is crazy. But he moves with a certain egret-like grace. Get up. Go ride.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Quiet Pictures at the End of the Year





For this post I am feeling all quiet and tired. Like the end of the year, far too many things coming due and getting done to have much fuel left in the tank for the town line blog sprint. So, maybe just some nice pictures, and few well-meaning words to go along, to close out the end of the year. I did receive a mysterious, long box as a Christmas present from the brown truck. I believe it to be bicycle related, but it seems too long to be what I thought it might be. Of course, it is what it is but I do not know what that is until Christmas day, when I will let you know what it was that was in the long mystery box. It's about the size, length, and weight if I had ordered some replacement 853 steel frame tubes, but I didn't order those. So, we'll just see. Get up. Go ride.

 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Letter for the Holidays



Made in Arizona

My mom figured out how to make these "Dutch Letters" by practicing over the years and trying out various recipes on her family until we confirmed that she had duplicated and then improved on the letterbanket product that you can purchase at Jaarsma Bakery in Pella, Iowa. Jaarsma's are fantastic, although I prefer my mom's now, because she doesn't put as much sugar on the outside, and makes better almond paste (which is what goes inside the letter. Also, hers are flakier, and lighter. They are like eating sweet almond clouds. 

She doesn't make them every year, but sometimes at Christmas she feels like making cookies and pastries. Among the different types she makes, I think these are a pain in the ass to fabricate, so I really appreciate it when she shows up with a box full. It feels like Christmas when she does that.

As she presented me with this batch, I asked her why they are always in the shape of an "S". She said that it stands for St. Nicholas. Or Sinterklaas, I suppose.

It looks like you can order letters from Jaarsma Bakery now, over the web, which I don't need to do since my mom makes them better, but you could. Although, if you were going to order something from Pella, I might start you off with some Pella Bologna from Ulrich's. 

This of course is not particularly bicycle-related, although letterbanket do come from the Netherlands, and I will have to ride a lot of miles to burn these calories. Get up. Go ride.

 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Phoenix Winter Weather Bulletin



Local residents coping with the winter conditions as best they can

PHOENIX: December 19. A blast of 70F sunny winter weather struck the Phoenix area today. Local residents demonstrated their community spirit by banding together to help one another cope with these conditions. This family picked lemons off their own tree, juiced them to make lemonade, and sold it to neighbors and hardy bicyclists for 25 cents a glass. "We put ice into it to help people deal with these conditions," the man explained. "It's important for neighbors to pitch in to help neighbors any way we can."

Local cyclists were particularly hard hit by conditions. One, John Romeo Alpha, who went on a 30 mile canal ride, helped to illustrate the impacts he felt: "I couldn't decide if I should wear a t-shirt, or go shirtless. With these type of conditions, it can be tricky. For example, the wind can pick up, sending the windchill plummeting into the 60s. Or, the sun can go behind a cloud, which can be a real hassle if your shirt is tied around your waist, or worse, if you left it at home beside the pool next to the BBQ," he said, while flipping burgers on the BBQ.

There's no sign in the forecast of these conditions letting up, either. Meteorologists are warning that this weather may continue through the upcoming holiday weekend, and are directing people to make the necessary preparations for an extended bout with this weather. "People may just want to take time off from work and stay home in order to deal with this unseasonable warmth. It's just not smart to go into work when it gets like this," one said. "I'm going stop at the store to buy some extra beverages for the cooler, just to be on the safe side," he said as he headed out himself for a two week break.

When asked what precautions he planned to take, Mr. Alpha said that eventually, you get used to these conditions. He said that he has advice that he usually gives people to help them cope. Get up. Go ride.

LATE-BREAKING WEATHER UPDATE: Following the advice of local authorities, ribeye steaks were substituted for hamburgers. "When it gets like this, you can't be too careful," authorities stated.
 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Other-fog



Minds in cars in fog

Out there in the fog, I recalled the conclusion drawn from the wide reading of my youth: that we can never really know the mind of another person. As if in a fog, we wander through life encountering others, working with them, playing together, marrying them, or raising them from birth through adulthood, or being raised by them, exchanging words, laughter, touches, expressions, but we never really know their minds in completeness, with certainty. 

Most likely, just because they won't let us know. Much is concealed on purpose. Also because we probably wouldn't want to know if we could. But in any case, we can't, strictly speaking, at a given point in time, have access to every thought, emotion, and whatever else it would take to "know" another mind, let alone store or reflect on such information. There's simply too much, and too many barriers. So, the conclusion that we interact with others through an impenetrable fog of not-knowing is probably true.

Out there in the fog, I recalled how much force that conclusion had on my young self. Quite a lot, it seemed then. What mystery! What tragedy! What tragic mystery! The other! Right next to me, yet, might as well be on the other side of the universe, for all I know. Because I can't actually know.

Out there in the fog, though, here and now, the distance between us doesn't hold as much significance for me as it did then. For a couple of reasons. 

First, while it's true that we can't possibly know it all, we often know a great deal, and often with very little to go on, often to an amazing level of detail. Our powers of intuition, of memory and recall, the significance of our common ground, of our non-verbal communications and our innate powers of mirroring others, connect and inform us of what's on the other's mind. We can't know everything, and often what we think we know is wrong, but we have evolved to be able to figure out a lot of what matters, very quickly, and put that to our own virtuous and less-than-virtuous uses in every moment of our social lives. 

Second, though, and what this post ends up being about, the other reason that other-fog holds less force for me these days, is that I eventually figured out what was really underneath the feelings I experienced when I contemplated the uncrossable canyon that separates minds.

Out there in the fog, the real question returned to me: can we even really know our own mind? This inward query, this recursive investigation, this poignant self-pointing, is actually what gets me going. For one thing, if we can't really know our own mind, what's the point of stewing about the minds of others? Even ignoring the infinite regress out-of-memory error (I cannot know myself knowing myself knowing myself knowing myself knowing myself....), which seems like something perilous to ignore by the way, kind of like ignoring the effects of friction in an experiment about friction, we have no good basis or foundation for claiming to know anything about anything if we can't make the claim of knowing our own minds.

Yet. And yet. In the cold light of a December morning fog in the desert, sitting on my bicycle on a quiet street with the traffic creeping past, I asked myself: for what reasons do you do what you do, feel the way you do, act the way you do, will the things you will, imagine, hope, dream, want, crave, desire, fear, miss, hunger for, believe, cry for, love, question, quiver, aspire, ponder, understand, prioritize, plan, laugh for, tire of, find routine, do naturally, feel comfortable with, struggle against, wonder about, seek, find, overlook, misunderstand, doubt, rock out to, blend with as smoothly as if it were already a part of me yet I've never seen before? What can you say with confidence about those, and everything else there is up there in the mind? Quite a lot, don't get me wrong, but explain fully? Predict accurately? Control completely? Direct like a pilot at the controls of a jumbo jet? No. Not quite. Not enough to be able to say I know my own mind completely.

That's why, standing out there in the other-fog, I know the trouble with never being able to really know the mind of another: I am myself the first example, to myself, of an unknowable other, and that bothers me. Even if I more or less understand it. I am somewhat comforted by the idea that I can make progress against the problem with practice, investigation, thought and imagination. 

Because when I grapple with the sorts of problems that I am given to understand are impossible to solve totally, I have learned to find some contentment in the notion that I have done everything I could do, have succeeded more often than not, and have learned along the way. This thought gives me encouragement to continue the process, even while acknowledging that I shall not complete the task. Get up. Go ride.

 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Abstract on Concrete



The panels are cool, and wet, indicating cool, wet weather. When it snows, they turn white.


My wife txted me late afternoon: "Need me 2 pick U up?"

How do you scoff macho-ly at a notion via text? A pick-up due to a bit of rain? Give in to a mere drizzle, collapse in the face of a light shower? I've had sneezes wetter than this! I have a jacket which seldom gets used. I have lights (several, redundant, with extra batteries, just in case). I mounted fenders so that I could blast through puddles without undue fear of splashes. There will be no need of a pickup today. Ride I shall.

"It's pooling in the streets. Be careful out there," she responded.

The silt cast panels at the SBP soaked up water in an interesting way. 

Abstract on concrete.

The silt cast calls for rain. 

A cool, yet refreshing, December rain in the desert which just nudged us over our yearly average 8". The only thing I don't like about the rain is that it makes my knees hurt. Now, there may be no actual basis or reason for that, but I'm telling you: when it rains, my knees hurt. 

Therefore, what you're looking at in these photos is a record of knee pain. Spreading inexorably. Sneaking up to surprise me when I bend to pick something up. Fortunately, there seems to be no impact to pedaling a bicycle. It rains just infrequently enough here that I don't always make the correlation right away. Oh, my knees hurt. Hey, a txt from the missus, what? A pick-up? Why, it's raining? No, not necessary, there's not three feet of water running down the road, 80 mph winds, a blinding haboob, or anything. Man, that knee hurts when I bend...OH YEAH. Shoulda known.

I did blast through the pooled water in the streets. The fenders fended off the spray. I arrived home in an unchanged unified whole. OK, technically, respiration, perspiration, metabolism and whatnot changed me on the way home, and my neurons certainly altered as I fired up the subconscious to write this post. Like the river, you can never enter the same ride twice, and the person who set foot into the water is not the same person who leaves. But it is written in the stones: my knees still hurt, so I expect more rain tonight. Which is fine by me, because it makes the flowers grow, and because there's no use in worrying about the weather. 

Panels made of dust. Like us. Get up. Go ride.



Bones connected by pain flows.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rio Peñasco



A river of rock. Get up. Go ride.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When My Heart To Wilder Places Wanders



Not wild, but evocative

Why is it when deadlines are looming, meetings are scheduled back-to-back and top-to-bottom, and my schedule is full, my heart wanders to wilder places?

Could it be that my heart knows what my soul needs?

A short ride in a direction opposite from the traffic. An hour of playing hookie. Up the mountain, down the mountain, a trail that is most definitely not on the way to work. Directly the opposite direction from work, in fact.


Alternatively, a brief diversion from commute to work to walk through the cool green grass barefoot. And the bare feet enjoying the feel of the ground beneath them urge me to walk to work, there and back, to feel earth's equal and opposite force.

Voyager 1 is entering the heliopause, I read today. A space probe that we sent up, on the verge of leaving our solar system. Wilder places. My heart beyond the blue blue sky above.

The heart wanders because it knows. Sure, I steer it back to today, the necessary, the structured, the scheduled tasks, the to-do list and the obligations. These structures make other things possible, so I do them.

But there's this place beside a lake. With pine trees aching in the summer sun, and loons calling. And endless paths through hushed woods across blankets of pine needles. My heart knows about that place because it took me there before. But that was in a time of sorrow, one deep, sleepless, and harsh, one which has now been assigned its corner to rest in something like peace. So my heart is saying that we should go back to those woods, a kind of wild place, a lake where motors are forbidden and the snow and ice lay deep right now. I'll go when the sun is shining again. Some day. For now, here, it's the local wild places calling. I had better listen.

The lake


But: what is "wild"? It's where my heart wanders. Where my brain thinks maybe we shouldn't go, because of the schedule, the calendar, the tasks, the due dates. It's right over there, though. Up that street. Down that path. Around that corner. Somewhere on a bicycle. Get up. Go ride.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bicycles at the Soleri Bridge Dedication: The Possibilities of the Parasol



Even if you were not spoken of during all the talks on sustainability, I noticed you there showing rather than telling.


You two-wheeled people-powered fitness engines lurking by the rack in the shade.

You carriers of friends to places of conviviality

I saw you lurking behind the DJ's table, you go-anywhere, take-anyone transports

You filled up the racks, then trees and fences worked just as well (internal hub noted).

Commuters, computers, basket-shoppers, and cruisers, from Point A to Point SBP

The ideal, energy-efficient people-movers for a high-density node. Fenders for when your node gets messy.

This final post of my series following the Soleri Bridge and Plaza through to its dedication had to conclude with bicycles in order to give a sense of closure and completeness. Paolo Soleri and others spoke of livable cities, sustainable practices, and the importance of health, fitness, and face-to-face connections, all ideas which in my mind pointed obviously in the direction of my favorite two wheeled, people powered form of transport, exercise, exploration and fun. But no. The speakers so far as I could tell were not thinking about bicycles, and were not taking hints from all these exemplars parked around them. It was puzzling.

Even more puzzling, Soleri decided to speak about walking, OK, I get that, walking is an excellent and underutilized way to get around, also sustainable, also supportive of fitness and a clear mind, but he seemed stuck on the notion of walking around with a parasol. A parasol?? I couldn't figure it out. They were handing them out to special parasol designees who milled around in the bright warm sunshine as if the parasol is a frequent sight in Scottsdale. I tried to see the point, I really did, but I kept thinking that bicycles were better, although possibly not, if they cause you to walk around in a big crowd wearing your helmet.

But then, I'm not sure what it was, something occurred which opened my mind to the possibilities of the parasol. Suddenly, I knew exactly what Paolo was talking about! It all became suddenly clear! Thank you Paolo, for the bridge, and for the possibilities of the parasol. Get up. Go ride.

Please consider the advantages of the parasol before judging it too harshly.
  
Some much better videos from the event than my paltry efforts:
krzystekproductions very slick short that really showcases "Vessel"
Scottsdale Public Art December 11, 2010 
 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Soleri Bridge Dedication in Scottsdale



Out on the bridge, as the ceremony was ending, and the people were leaving.

Paolo Soleri in his concepts and through his work issues a challenge to us that we are unlikely to live up to. By "us", I mean the billions of human beings on this planet who either own or dream of owning a single-family dwelling, one or more petrochemical burning cars, and who are or dream of becoming user-uppers of all the resources of this planet as if there will be no tomorrow for us, our children, or their children. By "challenge", I mean a vision of how we could live which would ennoble our existence while also establishing sustainable living patterns which would not write loans against our planet that our children will not be able to pay back.

By "unlikely to live up to," I mean that the ship has probably already sailed. China and India are hell-bent on out-American-dreaming us so fast it will make our heads spin. Cars, roads, consumption, Walmart itself, they are lighting the way forward on how to make hay while there's still cheap energy to burn and environment to despoil. 

I'm sure they know all about it, but the panelists in the discussion after the dedication seemed slightly out of touch when it comes to the historical significance, and probable near-future trajectories, of China and India. They have had "high density dispersed urban nodes" for centuries. What they didn't have was wilderness interspersed between those urban nodes; instead, they have dense, labor-intensive agriculture to feed the nodes. I am interested in where the food comes from to feed the mega-dense dispersed nodes that were mentioned in the discussion, but that's a question for another day, I guess.

The twentieth century saw the rural/urban balance do a rapid flip-flop in China as hundreds of millions flocked to the cities, which they are now doing their level best to fill up with cars and freeways and pollution. The China where I lived in the late 1980s is no longer there. It would be unrecognizable to me as China. But, I digress. The hutongs and courtyard homes populated with extended families are gone now, replaced with an architecture and a lifestyle aimed squarely at consumerism and ever-increasing individual wealth.

The donkeys that I saw pulling carts into the nodes bearing the produce of the countryside as the sun rose have been replaced with cars that we would all recognize as our own. More than anything else, that says to me that some alternative concept of how cities could be designed around Soleri's concept of arcology, combining architecture and ecology to create a sustainable and livable environment, has only one chance: if it can be manufactured in China, blister packed, and sold at Walmart at five pounds for $4.89 (or about 20 Chinese yuan, I think the price point would be there). Short of that, it looks for all intents and purposes that we plan on continuing to buy, consume, and use up, something like ants swarming a sugar pile, until there's nothing left.

Something like 50 years ago, Soleri recognized that possibility, and designed an architecture which challenges us to think of how things could be different. We didn't listen to him then, and we (people of earth) show no signs of hearing much of what he has to say. Except for this bridge in Scottsdale. Except for this bridge.



At solar noon, a dagger of sunlight slices between the pylons and lights up the red line down the center.

Community waterfall about to be poured (see video below)

One of the silt cast panels around the bridge, a Soleri surface decoration trademark.

Performers in "Vessel", directed by Rachel Bowditch

Another player in "Vessel"


Paolo Soleri, age 92: Bridge Maker.

Soleri cast bronze bells hanging in the smaller pylons.


Architect Will Bruder speaking.

Paolo Soleri holding the proclamation that was read by the Scottsdale Mayor
 
During the panel discussion, Soleri said something along the lines of "Humans can only make two things which are truly organic: babies, and what we make when we go to the bathroom." He said this in reference to the title and keynote of the discussion, which was about "Organic Architecture," yet it seemed he wanted to distance his own work from the term. As I was sitting there thinking, couldn't we at least have gotten that right about his thought and came up with a theme that he would consider himself directly part of, he started talking about technology. Not just cars, but computers, and the way that our high-tech cleverness has created distance between individuals, to the point that it is very conceivable that computers will render our flesh-and-blood componentry unnecessary, replacing the Dionysian with the digital. The way he said it, hearing his 92 year old voice say the words, brought tears to my eyes. Because I knew there's no way we will live up to his arcology vision. It's a miracle this bridge was built.

There were several points in the discussion when "bicycles" was the obvious answer, but no one used the word the whole time. Not once. One of the architects mentioned his usage of a motorcycle as more sustainable than cars, which they certainly are, but bicycles? Not once. Again, apparently out of touch with how China and India got around before they got so enthusiastic and successful about being like us. I was in multiple high-density dispersed urban nodes in China where the streets were jam-packed with bicycles which outnumbered the fuel-burners many times over. Again, those days are gone, lost, poof, but could have at least offered material for interesting discussion amongst the panel.

The crucial moment actually came very early, when a graph projecting that Phoenix might grow to a population of 28 million by the year 2050, and then a map of how much space would be required to hold that many people. What I don't think the presenter realized was that the map he showed was already nearly the same as what is already defined as the Phoenix metropolitan area: at 16,573 sq. miles, it is the same size as the Netherlands, but with a population density of 258 per square mile.

28 million would only put us at 1689 per square mile, which is certainly higher than the Netherlands' 1000 per square mile, but much lower than Amsterdam and many other cities already. I was jumping up and down in my seat: they use BICYCLES to get around those cities. Or could be more sustainable if they (we) did.

28 million: bring it. We have space, solar, and bicycles. Not sure where the water's going to come from though. I think it's on special at Walmart anyway. Looks like they ran out of arcology though. Videos below. I need a parasol. Get up. Go ride.