JMM 04 - 03 - 2010

Identity Through Utility: Part of what we have been seeking to discover on this trip are identities of culture and place. Some of this comes through music, art, food, language or politics, but I would like to argue that a great deal of identity comes via the natural and built environment. There is no escaping what surrounds you as you walk the streets or trails of these places and often these identifiers grow out of pure utilitarian need. Amsterdam (bottom image): For me, three things define this city: transportation, tilting facades and hoist arms. Canals were dug just as often as a street may have been built and priority has been given to the bicycle making for a very sustainable city. Everywhere you look canals dominate the foreground with boats and kayaks parked on all the edges. Trams and busses are easier to use than taxis or personal vehicles. Poor design and planning has contributed to the other two points of identity. Weak foundations make for buildings that have begun to tilt out into the street composing a very dynamic urban edge. Narrow buildings and tight designs made it difficult to transport furniture and other large items into the upper floors of the homes which resulted in hoist arms reaching out from the tops of the buildings in order to lift these items up into the windows. Prague (right image): The Charles Bridge in Prague is maybe one of the most iconic locations in the city. It has become a tourist attraction and a monument to the city. It was born out of the pure need to get across the river and to defend. The towers on each side of the bridge were once in charge of keeping an eye on the bridge, but now stand as landmarks for tourists to photograph and sketch. Each of these examples represents a cities ability to sustain its culture through the built environment. They stand as part of the identity through which we as outsiders learn about each city and its past.

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