Esponjamiento urbano, a Spanish term that literally translates as “urban sponging”, refers to the process of aerating dense, historical urban environments so they become more “porous”. It involves demolishing buildings to make way for public space or public right-of-ways of some sort, thus reducing urban density. A similar concept in French is percement urbain, meaning to “pierce” new avenues through a city fabric; the most famous example being Baron Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. The pre-modern European city, enclosed by ramparts, was densely built up mainly for reasons of defensibility. However these ramparts eventually became ineffective against “improvements” in artillery, at which time they became perceived as a limitation on urban growth rather than a protective shield. Barcelona was late in tearing down its ramparts (Bourbon rule prevented Barcelona from doing so for a century and half as a form of collective punishment), which explains why its historical city centre is so dense. When its walls finally did come down, late in the 19th century, the city quadrupled in area following an urban plan –the famous Eixample grid by Cerdà– that was much more “spongiform” for reasons of public health and transport efficiency; a plan based on “sun, space and green” decades before Le Corbusier would coin that motto. Many public spaces in the historical centre of Barcelona were created through an “urban sponging” process. Plaça Nova, Plaça Reial, Carrer Ferran, Via Laietana,...Read More
Month: February 2018
Recent events at Concordia University in Montreal – the suspension of two creative writing teachers, the buzz leading up to it, and the attendant reaction – intersect with my life in several ways. I have no new revelations, but I did have friends in that creative writing department back in the 80s, when, according to some, the culture of toxic masculinity had its origin. And I knew one of the men in question quite well during the 90s. A final, recent twist is that I’ve published poems in the literary journal whose editor-in-chief is the other professor relieved of...Read More
It has been almost two decades since Columbine. I remember watching those events unfold on TV with a college roommate, feeling shocked, bewildered, outraged, overwhelmed. It was not normal. It is not normal. Yet, it is normal for today’s schools to practice lockdown drills from pre-school through twelfth grade in case such terror reoccurs. Yesterday, terror returned, but, for most of us, it seems distant, far away, surreal. My first year after college, I taught at a private school and we took our students to the neighboring park every afternoon. One spring day I was watching my fourth through...Read More
A woman from a nearby office enjoys a cup of coffee, a student is immersed in reading, a man in his late-60s pauses for a few moments to remember a fallen comrade. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza on Chicago’s Riverwalk is a unique commemorative space. Unlike many public memorials, which enjoin passers to stop, look up and remember, the memorial plaza invites them to remember within the space. The plaza focuses on a memorial fountain with a slab of black granite bearing the names of almost 3,000 Illinois servicemen who died in Vietnam, arranged chronologically. The fountain is flanked by...Read More
Dear Canada, We need to talk. Specifically, we need to talk about the racism that is so natural and so ingrained in much of the population that most of you don’t realize it is even there. We also need to talk about Colten Boushie, who was shot in the head and killed by a non-Native farmer in Saskatchewan. That farmer was found not guilty of second-degree murder by an all white jury last Friday. Boushie was from the Red Pheasant First Nation. A jury in Saskatchewan found Gerald Stanley not guilty in the August 2016 killing of the 22-year-old...Read More
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