Monday, April 4, 2011

Working with what we've got

Tonight at our Urban Planning student group meeting we had a gentleman from the Michigan Barn Preservation Network come speak to us regarding the status of barn preservation in our State. I know this sounds incredibly interesting, but I would actually like to talk about another related subject here. Through our discussions with the presenter, we came to the topic of the reuse of other historic buildings than barns. He described the term "embodied energy" which has been around since the 1970's. This concept includes the energy that exists within the structure, from when it was built (material production, construction labor, etc.) Constructing an entirely new building requires massive amounts of materials, which require absorbent amounts of energy to create. Therefore no matter how "green" these new buildings are, it will take decades for them to actually be saving energy, and until we figure out our own energy crises, the greenest building will remain the one that is already built.

The Developers may not see it, but our cities sure do. We have lost precious open space to new developments as our city centers gain one vacancy after the next. Each new building constructed outside of our downtown areas is most likely a missed opportunity to rehab an existing structure in a prime location. Our cities must find more innovative ways to attract developers to these sites or our cities will continue to diminish as we wonder why the other remaining businesses continue to struggle. An empty storefront does not usually attract visitors the same way a bustling one does. With the oncoming state budget changes regarding historic preservation and brownfield redevelopment dollars I am losing hope for Michigan's cities.

I've written to Governor Snyder and his friends, and I suggest you do the same.

Speak out with Let's Save Michigan against budget cuts

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Don't worry everyone I am still alive! And I apologize for the break in communication, I have just been moving way to fast to find time to blog and have had limited access to the internet. I don't even know where to begin to describe the past week and a half of my life, I could begin with the World Expo (which probably deserves 3 or 4 blog posts itself), or my day of bartering in the Chinese black market, or my visit to Hiroshima and Peace Park, but I think chronological order will be the best.

Upon entering Shanghai, which could easily be mistaken for Manhattan if it were not for the hundreds of Chinese people bustling through the streets on foot and on bikes. Much of the architecture imitated that of the western world when it developed in the 20th century. Once you get used to the smell and constantly dodging traffic, it is quite a nice city! But seriously, the first night we explored we found "the Bund" on the riverfront and caught of first glimpse of city lights which are complimented with ferry lights from the river below. We made sure we got back to our hotel early enough for a good night of sleep as we knew what the next day had in store, the Expo.

Bright and early, we were shuttled through Shanghai to the Expo site. We caught our first glimpse of pavilions from the bus which peaked my excitement level as I knew I was about to enter the event I had been awaiting for the past 6 months(It was only after watching an Expo promotion video last November that I decided I was going to Study Abroad at any cost). We were told by the tour guide that that we must stay as close as "sticky rice" while trying to get through the massive crowds of people and make sure no other Expo-goers snuck into our group, which the tickets were already paid for. Once through security, we hopped on an Expo shuttle which took us directly to the Chinese pavilion, where we would be expedited past the line, another perk of attending as an American University. The Chinese pavilion was incredible, and could be compared to riding the Millennium Force first at Cedar Point before any of the other rides (which make the rest seem like carnival rides). As the host of the Expo, the Chinese made sure their Pavilion was a prime example of the Expo theme, "Better City, Better Life". From visual simulations of new green building practices, to the artwork of young children, the Chinese pavilion stood out among the rest, not to mention physically as it was one of the largest pavilions.

The Chinese Pavilion:

After this great start we spent the majority of our time in the Expo's "Theme Pavilions", which address different topics of city life and development, any urban planners dream. I felt as though I had arrived at Mecca of the profession of Urban Planning. These pavilions were everything I could have hoped for and more, I will be returning the the US with a new fire for planning lit inside me, and I am very excited to see how it burns. Thought we spent much time following our planning interest, we did not forget about the other Country Pavilions. We were even V.I.P. at the USA pavilion, where I watched my Professor, Dr. Wilson, deliver a lecture on Expo History to the pavilion staff and student ambassadors in a back room in the pavilion. We then walked through the pavilion which featured two videos, one involving stars such as Kobe Bryant and Tony Hawk struggling to say hello in Chinese along with regular citizens who encounter the same issues. The other portrayed a community creating a garden despite adverse circumstances. After the movies we shuffled into the main room which was lined with the US pavilion investor exhibitions and advertisements, many of which I already see too much of. I was very impressed with other countries, such as Chile, Canada, and Poland, which brought across much of their culture and city life in beautiful ways.

Apart from the Expo action we spent some time sightseeing in Shanghai. We began with a Buddhist temple, then did some haggling in the market, and finished off the day with a tea ceremony on a high balcony overlooking the city, the view was incredible. After being brought upstairs by a man at the market, we tasted 7 or 8 different types of tea, some which served as herbal cures for things such as hangovers or colds. It was a unique experience that I am thankful I will be coming home with. We finished our last night in Shanghai with a nice meal that we were treated to by the parents of a Chinese student on our trip, we have continued to be blessed in so many ways.

Rooftop view of Shanghai:

After another long day of traveling we arrived in our final Country, the Land of the Rising Sun. I have spent the last few days in Japan exploring Osaka, where we are staying at the moment, and riding the high speed rail to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nara, trips that would not even be possible for us to make in the US. Hopefully soon we will jump on the regional rail bandwagon. Hiroshima was quite an experience for me, and a real eye opener. I couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable walking through the Museum that portrays the horrific things that occurred because of my Country. However, I think that it is even more beautiful that the descendants of that awful time can walk next to each other, in light of these events, at peace. Hiroshima really has risen from the ashes like a phoenix lighting the road to Peace.

Tonight I prepare (or should be preparing instead of blogging) to leave for our final destination tomorrow morning, Tokyo. As we will only be spending only two days in what should prove to be one of the greatest cities I will ever see, this will be my last post for the trip. I will be meeting up with another professor in Tokyo, Schun Hagiwara, who taught a class Fall semester which also played a role in my decision to Study Abroad. I am looking forward to it greatly and hope to try and thank him for whatever influence he has on my decision to study abroad. I also hope that those who read this have been able to feel some of the things I was experiencing as each city has come and gone on this trip. The time has flown, the expo has passed, and it is almost time for me to return to my usual life, but I will not return the same. These experiences will stay with me and I don't doubt will greatly influence my studies in planning and perspective on life. I would like to conclude with a quote from the book The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck,

"The biggest challenge of map-making is not that we have to start from scratch, but that if our maps are to be accurate we have to continually revise them. The world itself is constantly changing. Glaciers come, glaciers go. Cultures come, cultures go. There is too little technology, there is too much technology. Even more dramatically, the vantage point from which we view the world is constantly and quite rapidly changing."

My map has been revised.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Day in Busan on 6,000 Won

For the past two days we have been in our last city destination, Busan. Located on the southeast corner of South Korea, Busan has an entirely new bucket list of sites to see. We were given a presentation on one specific site, an old fish market that was recently developed with a new 7 story beautifully designed building to house not only the fish market, but many more uses to accent the waterfront. We ventured to the fish market where I tried my first taste of red snapper, a fish that had been alive only 10 minutes before we ate it, it was quite an experience.

We spent the rest of the day parousing through the open air market next to fish market, you could get lost in there for hours. Now feeling comfortable using public transit in South Korea, we navigated our way back to our hostel. But as one of the Interior Design students said, "I think they spelled hotel wrong", our hostel was quite a comfortable stay for the few nights we were here, equipped with even a driving range (even though we had trouble asking about rental clubs). As my title says, by the end of my time here I found that I only had 6000 Won (6 dollars) left and I was reluctant to take out any more money while I was here, so I resolved to make it through my last day with only my last bit of cash. I can now say that I survived on 6,000 won for a day in Busan, quite impressive if you ask me.

We decided to take our 2nd day here to relax and just spend time at the beach. I spent the night packing my bags to make sure that I am ready for what awaits me tomorrow, Shanghai and the 2010 World Expo. I cannot believe that it is already time for us to leave South Korea, it has even begun to feel like a home away from home to me, maybe its their wonderful cities that have something interesting everywhere you look, maybe its the beautiful rural landscape and breathtaking views the country has to offer, or maybe its just the people and their kind attitude towards all. Whatever it may be, South Korea has been an incredible first half to my study abroad, and I am anxious to see what else is in store. I will not be able to post once I arrive in China tomorrow, but look forward to a wrap up on the 2010 World Expo once I get to Japan!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Going to Gwangju

Thursday, May 27th

Today we are driving from Seoul to Gwangju. It was sad leaving our new friends last night. After seeing mostly a concrete jungle for a week straight, it is great to finally see the countryside. Beautiful mountains haven’t stopped rolling through the window frame of our bus since we left, it almost reminds me of our excursions on my study abroad trip to the Dominican Republic last summer. Korea is the size of Ohio, and 70 percent of Korea is mountains. That leaves 30 percent of Ohio to house 50 Million people. Can you say dense development?

We even stopped at a water park on our way to Gwangju! We happened to be half of the attendance that day considering in was a Thursday afternoon during school. It was all a large breath of fresh air after leaving the city. We arrived at Gwangju and checked into our hotel, which had quite impressive accommodations. While exploring the city our first night we heard music in the distance. We followed the opera sounding music and found what seemed to be a community concert. With a massive stage set up directly next to the city’s Metropolitan Council building, an opera singer, acoustic guitar player, and hard rock band performed for hundreds of citizens. All of this on a Thursday night! Apparently they feel the same way as Jane Jacobs, that songs and cities are the best things about us, and combined the two.

Saturday, May 29th

Today was the most beautiful day we have had yet, and we ought to be thankful that the sun was shining. Our activities today would not have been quite the same experience without the weather. We left Gwangju this morning for a Buddhist temple deep in the mountains. A local professor accompanied us on our tour and would later buy us a wonderful lunch at a western style restaurant. We definitely ate our fill. We were given an in depth tour of the temple and all of its symbols, with a short introduction to Buddhism in a nutshell. On our peaceful walk to the top of the temple light shone through the leaves of the trees calming even more. The views from the temple were breathtaking.

The breathtaking views didn’t end as we left the temple and departed to green tea fields where we would pick our own leaves that would be roasted, then take part in a traditional green tea drinking ceremony with the owner and his friends. I now have a much deeper appreciation for the drinking of tea as well as the production that it takes to get it from the fields to the little green Lipton boxes in our cupboard.

We are now on our way to another complimentary meal for our dinner with a congressman from the region we are traveling in today. Irene Shim our trip leader has connected us with many important people on this trip, not to mention the city planner of Seoul. We have begun to wonder if we should be calling her “the Almighty Shim” as even congressmen ask her what time they should be at dinner and city planners bow to her as they enter the room.

Sunday May 30th

I only knew one thing about today, we were going to take a ride on a cable car. What I didn’t know was that this cable car would take us to one of the highest mountain peaks in South Korea. So high the air gets thin when you run the steps to the highest pavilion. The view was breathtaking(even more so than the thin air), you could see for miles, all the way to the ocean.

As we were driving through the rural areas to each of our destinations today, I noticed that not only were the mountains reminiscent of the Dominican Republic’s countryside, but so were the villages built around them. Despite grandiose development in Seoul and other central Korean cities, many of the regions seem to be neglected and some of their shacks are to the point of dilapidation. This disparity was just as apparent and even greater than in the DR considering the quality of development of Korea’s urban areas. Smaller regional town business districts in Korea seem to be experiencing many of the same vacancy issues that we see in many of our American cities, maybe this economic downturn has hit just as hard in some areas on the other side of the world.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Honyong Asayo!

Means "hello" to everyone not up to speed on their Korean. So like I said, honyong asayo everyone! It is my third day in Seoul and I feel like this is my first chance I've had to sit down and make a post. We have been incredibly busy!
We began our first day at the University, with an orientation on how things would go while we were here. Then we were introduced to our Korean "Buddies" that we would be spending the majority of our time with here at Honyang University. They have been such a blessing for us, showing us around Seoul and taking us to must see places.

Our "urban field research" consists of a list of sites to see and things to do in Seoul that can be completed for points which will go towards our grade, tough work huh? After the first day we had already visited an ancient palace, a traditional Korean village, and the cultural center of the city called Insadong. We even got to visit a Buddhist temple ON Buddha's birthday! The amount of people at the birthday festival was incredible, we were invited into a smaller Buddhist center for a tour later in the day. We couldn't stay for tea but were blessed with snacks for the road. We were all very tired by the end of the day but managed to find energy to take part in the university's spring festival later that night, it was quite a party.

On the second day, I left my group because my friend Kevin and I had a little urban field research to do of our own. Kevin is part of the MSU Breakdance Club and has been studying in Seoul for the past 9 months. I got in touch with him earlier in the week and found out he was studying at a university not too far from my own. As it turned out, there was a B-boy(Breakdance) Battle (Competition) in Seoul that Saturday, so we thought, when will we ever get a chance to represent MSU in a battle in South Korea? So we hopped on the subway in search of our destinies. Wouldn't you know it we even made it past prelims! Video footage coming soon.
After a long day of riding public transit and catching up with an old friend, I once again rejoined my buddy group to continue sight seeing. We actually navigated the subway and met our Korean friends in a commercial center called Samseong. "Coex Mall, Everlasting Pleasure" adorned the great entrance to the mall that could be considered a small city where we spent most of our day. This city has continued to amaze me whether it is their ancient buildings or modern architecture. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here in Seoul before I have to say goodbye to Seoul and hello to Shanghai, or should I say Honyong Asayo!

Hanyang University overlooking just a small portion of Seoul

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Breaking Ground

It's almost 2:30 and I finally got around to creating my new blog. I've been thinking about it for some time now, but just never made time for it amidst the business of school life. Which leads me to my introduction that I've been contemplating in my head, trying to find the right words to portay myself with, this is my first post after all! Anyhow, I'm 20 going on 21 and I'll be a Senior this fall at Michigan State University. My chosen major is Urban Planning, and as you may be able to tell by my blog entitled "Cities Come, Cities Go", this will be my outlet to all things urban that are bouncing around in my head.

Just as we travel from city to city, sometimes staying longer or shorter than we planned on, cities have come and gone throughout the grand history that has been written by the human race. From the rise and fall of a metropolis in an ancient civilization, to the more familiar decline of Detroit, along with the recession of many other American urban centers, cities have grown and changed in unmistakable ways, and we must figure out why. The amount of life and culture that exist in our central cities is too great to forsake to poor, closed minded, short viewed decision making. I only hope that it is not to late for our cities already, I think that it is not, and I hope that any one of my thoughts might provoke someone else to open their mind to the vast world of planning.

As my UniverCity of East Lansing will go in my near future, other cities will come, specifically those of Seoul, Shanghai, and Osaka. In five days I will be leaving for a month long tour of Asia. I am lucky enough to be a part of the MSU Urban Planning study abroad trip to Asia this summer, where I'll get the once in a lifetime chance to attend the 2010 WORLD EXPO in Shanghai, themed "Better City, Better Life". It seems that this study abroad was all too fitting to pass up, and thanks to alittle push of my academic advisor, I will be on my way once I step on that aeroplane to the Orient. I have no idea what to expect for a culture so different from my own, but I am ready to find out as I walk the streets of Megacities that can even dwarf Manhattan. The World Expo will be a whole nother story. I look forward to sharing these experiences with you and think this will be a great start to my blog. I will leave you with a quote from a woman who has provoked my own urban thinking, Mother Jacobs.

Our songs and cities are the best things about us. Songs and cities are so indispensable. Even if we go into darkness, the time will come when people will want to know how these ruins were made—the essence of the life we made. It sounds very conceited to say it, but I hope that what I wrote will help people start back.
-Jane Jacobs