homeless

Furin & chandelier decorate homeless camp in Shibuya

風鈴がホームレスの家を飾っています。宮下公園の下、渋谷スランブルの近くにあって、この家はとても整然としています。東京はいつも何かと隣り合わせになっていて、垂直な層になっています。例えば、半分公共の空間と空っぽの空間、デザインされた空間とデザインのない空間、住宅、スケードポード場、飲み屋、そしてバイクの駐車場。

A furin is a glass wind chime whose sound Japanese find cooling in summer; something about glass and metal striking. I was amazed to see this domestic symbol, along with a white chandelier (below), decorating two homes in this long row of wood and blue tarp cubes sheltering the homeless. (The furin is just to the right of the rolled up bamboo used to screen door).

I am struck by how incredibly orderly these living structures are, and how on a warm day when you gaze inside, the homes seem orderly and common place: tidy kitchens, matt floors, shelves and storage, on a scale just slightly smaller than what most Tokyo-ites live in.

This long alley of make-shift homes is just below Miyashita Park that paces the Yamanote line for a fe blocks. It’s just past Nonbei Yokocho and near the center of Shibuya. There was controversy over gentrification and corporate funding for city resources when the city accepted Nike sponsorship to renovate the park with design by Atelier Bow Wow. It seems the homeless merely migrated to the area just below the fenced-in skate park and fusball court.

Now it is a typically Tokyo close juxtaposition of semi-public and vacant space, design and non-design, and living, sports, drinking, and parking spaces.

Conservation and sharing

東京のみんなが協力しているのを感じます。

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to inquire about Tokyo and its residents’ wellbeing this week. We appreciate that so many people are helping with the rescue and recovery.

I saw this Tokyo conservation poster online. It’s good to focus on conservation and sharing while tolerating the after-shocks and nuclear radiation fears. Tokyo was very fortunate compared to the horrible destruction in the north, with almost 20,000 missing and dead and 500,000 homeless.

The Tokyo cityscape is much darker at night. Outdoor signage, video screens and billboards have been turned off. It seems everyone is pulling together.

San Francisco’s new urban ecology projects

Via Twitter, I’ve come across some fantastic new urban ecology projects in San Francisco:

Nature in the City, an NPO focused on conservation, restoration and stewardship. Currently creating habitat corridors for the the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys dumetorum), a small butterfly present in only three places in the city.

Urban Gleaning Program, a project of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works that encourages city residents to collect fruit from city trees and community gardens and distribute them to the homeless and hungry.

Urban Hedgerow, a new global cities project that creates space and allow more of our wild world into the city. The project joins urban naturalists and artists to increase insect, animal, and plant life, with projects starting in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, the UK.

Opposition to public benches demonstrates urban challenges

A sad story from San Francisco about a merchant group opposing the redesign of a historic public space leading to a central transit station because it will include benches. Equally disheartening is that some of the plans call for reducing the amount of plants and planter boxes. The fear of homelessness and vandalism is a great challenge to creating livable and enjoyable public spaces in the US and Europe, and affects both civic and grassroots urban improvements. Sad.

(Image of Martin Nicolausson seesaw bench, designed to require cooperation between strangers and to generate conversation, via The Fire Wire blog).

San Francisco proposes using empty lots for temporary green spaces

The San Francisco Chronice published an interesting article about how San Francisco is offering developer incentives to turn empty lots into temporary green spaces: potted trees, thirteen foot tall miscanthus grasses that capture carbon, artists’ spaces, and a garden tended by homeless.  Could this be a green solution to the Great Recession’s impact on real estate development, replacing blight with food, habitat, and public spaces?

Damage to small public garden in San Francisco

Although I am now living in Tokyo, across the Pacific in San Francisco I have a public garden that extends onto the sidewalk. Last week I heard by email from a neighbor that he called the police non-emergency number at 7 in the evening because someone was sleeping in front of my building. A few days later a friend asked if I knew that my plants got “smushed” and then Twittered the photo above.

The photo above shows the damage and garbage left behind. Although I have marveled at the safety of Tokyo streets that permits salary men (and ladies) to be passed out in public, Tokyo people are shocked when I tell them how filthy the streets of San Francisco are. Garbage, vandalism, and thousands of people living in the streets with obvious mental health and heavy drug addictions.

I have no easy answer for the break-down in social bonds that allows so much human misery to exist in public in the world’s richest country. In my observations, the wealthy of San Francisco live on hills that are either inaccessible to the homeless or policed more severely; the wealthy use private automobiles and ignore the streets. Those in mixed income neighborhoods become accustomed to dirty and unsafe public streets, and make themselves comfortable inside their homes.

Streets are the largest public spaces in any city. It is sad when they are feared more than enjoyed.

Edible walls

Edible walls are a new idea alongside green roofs and green walls: maximizing urban space for plants and food. A New York Times article discuss how a collaborations between garden designers and a metal fabricator to create relatively simple soil and drip water systems that support lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, spinach, leeks, and even baby watermelon. The article mentions an antecedent in espaliered fruit trees in European cities during the Middle Ages. Recently, edible walls are being used in a Los Angeles homeless shelter to feed the residents and generate a small income.