CategoryThe Kiez

Parks and The City

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High Line Park, NYC High Line Park, NYC

Sadly I wasn’t in town for the opening of the High Line Park in New York. It opened right after I left. Still, redefining those old rail tracks as a park seems like a tremendous idea, and like a great way to evolve a city over time.

As it says on the High Line blog:

City officials have predicted that development sparked by the High Line as a public park will bring $4 billion in private investment and $900 million in revenues to the city over the next 30 years. “Measuring the Economic Value of a City Park System,” a report released by the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land, found that ”numerous studies have shown that the more webs of human relationships a neighborhood has, the stronger, safer and more successful it is.” Good parks assist communities in creating viable human relationships, which in turn lead to stronger and more cohesive neighborhoods. This can “reduce a city’s cost for policing, fire protection and criminal justice.” Good public space is an imperative part of a good city, but in order to yield positive results, cities must invest in their parks.

It’s not just the financial gains for the city. In fact, I’d claim that this is just a minor aspect. More important is the social difference that a park can make as a community space. And yes, that may need investment.

Living in Berlin, and preferably in or around Kreuzberg, the next park from my apartment is Görlitzer Park (Wikipedia), a park on the grounds of a former train station. Görlitzer Park is incredibly popular in Kreuzberg (as is every park in a big city), despite it’s pity state.

Besides nice Café Edelweiss, there’s a derelict fountain, a barbecue area and a hole in the ground where students and other Kreuzbergers hang out, affectionately called The Crater. (It’s a crater left over from blowing up the ruins of the former trainstation there, parts of which still are visible.) The grass is rarely green in summer since it doesn’t get watered. Usually it’s mostly brown dust and hardly grass at all. It is, all in all, in a bit of a sad state. (And it speaks for the Berlin crowd that they still make it such an enjoyable place.)

Back to the point: Parks are important for a city. Berlin’s parks are partly well maintained, partly sadly neglected. Berlin’s broke, and has been for a long time. Still, the city should take much, much better care of parks like Görlitzer Park. At least water the grass. Pretty please?

More photos of High Line park on Flickr.

Photo by Jason Arends (Creative Commons).

Hedonist International: Reclaiming public urban spaces

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Now this is awesome. This group, going by the name Hedonist International, organizes flash mob-style events, reclaiming urban spaces. Well, actually, it’s pretty well organized for a flash mob. Anyway, this video mashes up two events: A mobile rave squad in the underground shopping mall under Potsdamer Platz, and a spontaneous rave in Berlin’s famous trademark TV Tower. Rumor has it that for the TV Tower rave, they actually built a disposable modular sound system which they chained to a massive steel handrail on the viewing platform about 204 meters about ground level – and so managed to keep dancing up there for more than two hours before it got shut down. What a hack!

Rock on!

re:publica program is online

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The conference program for re:publica 07 (April 11-13, 2007, Berlin, upcoming.org link) is online. (Sorry – German only, so far.) If you happen to be in Berlin at the time, I’m sure it’s worth dropping by. Markus and his folks sure got an interesting bunch of speakers together (including, hopefully, Larry Lessig), and it’ll be a nice way to meet the faces behind all those blogs and podcasts.

Make sure to say hi!

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digital life conference in Berlin: re:publica

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re:publica – Leben im Netz” is a conference about digital life, focusing on cultural aspects:

“Social networks, blogs, podcasts, videocasts, online and offline communities and services – all of these aspects will be covered at re:publica, just as well as the backgrounds, philosophy, general principles and legal aspects of the social (r)evolution on the web.”

The conference is organized by newthinking and Spreeblick, so it’s going to be worth your time. If you happen to be there, make sure to say hi!

re:publica, April 11-13, 2007, Berlin.

re:publica blog, wiki.

(via)

The Beckoning Cat

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Now, reading up on the history of the waving cat as a symbol, you find all kinds of stories. Mostly localized versions based on the same common theme. LuckyMojo features some really nice & detailed background info about the history of the waving/beckoning cat, this one from Japan:

As explained by Patricia Dale-Green in “The Cult of the Cat” (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1963), the Beckoning Cat is associated with an ancient cat-shrine on the grounds of a temple known as Gotoku-ji near Tokyo. She writes:

“This temple was originally a very poor one, no more than a thatched hut run by poverty-stricken and half-starved monks. The master-priest had a cat of which he was fond, and shared with it such little food as he had. One day the cat squatted by the roadside and, when half a dozen Samurai appeared on splendid horses, it looked up at them and raised one of its paws to its ear, as if it were beckoning to them. The noble cavaliers pulled up and, as the cat continued to beckon, they followed it into the temple. Torrential rain forced them to stay for a while, so the priest gave them tea and expounded Buddhist doctrine. After this one of the Samurai — Lord Li — regularly visited the old priest to receive religious instruction from him. Eventually Li endowed the temple with a large estate and it became the property of his family. Visitors who pass under the temple’s gateways, walk through its broad avenues of towering trees and enjoy the beautifully laid-out gardens, discover, near the cemetery of the Li family, the little shrine of the beckoning cat — which, it is said, still draws pilgrims from all parts of Tokyo.”

Because the Beckoning Cat had lured a wealthy patron to the poor temple, images of this cat soon became talismanic emblems and were particularly favored by shopkeepers. According to Dale-Green,

“At the entrances to their shops and restaurants, the Japanese place clay, papier-mache, or wooden figures of the seated cat with one paw raised to the side of its face. Such cats are believed to promote prosperity, their beckoning paws inviting passers-by to come in and do business.”‘

Today one can purchase Beckoning Cats made of porcelain, papier-mache, or clay in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most are calicos, like the orignal temple-cat, but occasionally black ones are found. Some are realistic, others are conventionally “cute.” Some are left-handed and some right-handed. Some simply wave a paw, others both wave a paw and hold a gold coin to their chests. Some are statuettes, others are piggy-banks. There are even little spring-mounted cats made to be glued to the dashboard of your car, where every bump in the road will set them to waving their beckoning paw.

Read the whole story here.

(file under “history of self” )

Wizards of OS 4 in Berlin, this weekend

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In case you’re in Berlin and haven’t made any plans this weekend (and even if you have), don’t miss out on Wizards of OS 4. It’s the conference on free knowledge, information freedom and open collaboration.

From Thursday until Saturday, there’s going to be pretty much non-stop program at Columbiahalle (Google Maps).

Among the speakers there will be top-notch people such as Lawrence Lessig (creative commons), Yochai Benkler (Wealth of Networks) and Larry Sanger (Wikipedia co-founder).

Also, a bunch of netlabels organize parties.

Here’s the weblog, and for those who can’t participate, there’s a live stream, too.

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