Thursday, February 1, 2007

London's Convent Garden

One of the most enjoyable people places in the planet has to be Covent Garden in London. Whether an adult or child, it is a destination for some very happy and entertaining moments. Covent Garden dates back to the early 1600s when it used to be part of Westminster Abbey although it is thought that the Saxons occupied the area as a trading post long before.
So, Earl of Bedford, Charles I, and Inigo Jones come along in the 1600s and created the first public square as an experiment for urban planning.Today is a center of attraction for what is generally family oriented activities and shopping. At Convent Gardens it can be found among others: Govent Garden Market, London's Transport Museum, Jubilee Arts and Crafts Market, Royal Opera House, Theater Museum, and St. Paul's Church or Actor's Church. But what really brings life to Covent Garden are the many public acts that bring a smile to pedestrians.
Public performances that test the limit of the imagination such as a semi naked man in freezing temperatures asking a French man to toss him some knives prior to diving into a cup full of water.
Or superman jock testing the public into conducting a number of physical activities that range from super funny to super ridiculous but all accompanied by the laughter of the audience.
Of course, the public signature of Covent Garden has to be the 'buskers' in particular creative mimes as the ones below performing for the camera.
And there are instances when the people interact with the "buskers" like the fellow behind the wind blown mime.
Covent Gardens is a heaven for all in particular children and grownups who dare to become children for few minutes.More information on the history of Covent Garden can be found at Covent Garden History.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

London Thames River South Bank

My most favorite urban walk is along the Thames' south bank, starting by the Eye of London ending at the Tower Bridge.
The south bank offers a number of activities, destinations or brief moments of contemplation
and some unique public art that takes a different dimension at night.
By the TATE Modern Art Museum is located the Millennium Pedestrian Bridge that leads to St. Paul Cathedral.
Before reaching the Tower Bridge a very unique building gets the attention of those not familiar with the city of London City Hall.
At the Tower Bridge the south bank continues east through narrow streets.

Suzhou gardens

Dating back to 6 hundred BC the city of Suzhou flourished with commercial activity and a number of merchants and scholars that resided in the city. Today Suzhou is considered to be the garden city of China because of the many beautiful gardens that at one time were developed for the enjoyment of its private owners. The experience of walking through these home gardens is emblematic of the pensive and beautiful nature of the Chinese culture.
A characteristic of the gardens is the combination of vegetation with promenades and water. Streams of water are crossed over via stupendously decorated pedestrian bridges made out of stone. And linear paths are broken by inviting diversions that challenge the mind to slow the passage of time.
The course of promenades are briefly narrowed by garden portals of many shapes, forms and sizes.

Walking Beijing Streets

There are basic elements in a street environment that make walking a pleasant experience. Texture, vegetation, urban activity are some elements that invite people to participate in the walking experience.

Although parked bicycles can at times crowd sidewalks sharing the street demonstrate urban tolerance. Whether commercial or residential streets, the mix of pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles provides a unique interaction that is dominated but its urban culture.
The charm of old Beijing comes to reality walking through the alleyways or "hutongs" created by the walks of residential courtyards. Unlike the modern concept that pedestrians need ample and safe walking space "hutongs" offer narrow passages shared by pedestrians, cyclists, automobiles and others.
Of course, Beijing has its share of boulevards with beautiful tree lined promenades.

Shenzhen's Dongmen Old Street

Located in the city of Shenzhen, Dongmen dates back to the 1700's. Dongmen is a pedestrian only commercial area that has become a heaven for shopping.
With its towering palm trees and commercial signs, there isn't a dull moment when visiting Dongmen.

Although some areas of Dongmen maintain the historic element of the area the modern sky line of Shenzhen is a reminder of China's modernism.

Shanghai Nanjing Lu

One of the most popular streets in Shanghai is Nanjing Lu. With a number of shops and claiming to have Asia's largest department store, Nanjing Lu is the destination for about one million visitors per day.
Colorful, ample and busy in particular during weekends. Nanjing Lu is active and the attraction for many foreign and Chinese tourists.
One of its unique attractions are the life size figures depicting happy families.
And during the early mornings a number of retirees can be found taking part in activities like playing checkers, playing drums or dancing.
At night the many neon lights change Nanjing Lu into an energetic boulevard filled with flashing and ever changing neon signs.

Santiago downtown pedestrian streets

In the heart of Santiago is located the Plaza de Armas, the city's main square. With over 5 million people traffic congestion is a major concern for Santiagenos. However, the problem of traffic congestion around the Plaza de Armas was easily solved by turning some streets into pedestrian only boulevards - such as Ahumada, Huerfanos and Estado Streets. It is indicated that these streets are "indisputably busiest social, commercial and financial axis of Santiago."
With some clever street design, Santiago has managed to merge pedestrians and vehicular traffic creating an urban sinergy unique to Santiago's urban culture.
One of the many intersections of the pedestrian boulevards with downtown streets.
Although not unique to Santiago the following photo shows a sky-walk.
And perhaps an idea borrowed from other cities that exhibit similar weather conditions, Santiago has many pedestrian arcades.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Kiev Khreschatyk Street

Located in Kiev, Khreschatyk Street is the city's main street and center of public activity. During World War II buildings along Khreschatyk were demolished and during the Soviet Ukraine (1950's and 1960s') it was reconstructed to its current condition. It width varies from 200 to 300 feet wide and has generous spaces for pedestrians and vehicular traffic.
During the Christmas holidays Khreschatyk is closed to traffic and becomes a festive pedestrian only corridor as shown on picture above.
The above photo shows the west sidewalk that is a combination of local parking and pedestrian area. Similarly the east sidewalk provides a wider space for parking and pedestrian access except it is adorned with lighted archways. See photo below.
Bellow is a night photo of the east sidewalk.
As shown by the photos below, between the east sidewalk and the building line there is an elevated promenade with trees and benches. Much of the pedestrian activity and people congregation occurs along this promenade. During the day it is busy with people walking along the promenade and other seating on the benches.
At night it becomes a destination for gatherings.
It is very common for major streets to provide pedestrian tunnels under the streets. These underground passages include a number of small shops and street vendors. As the day progresses human activity increases and at night in winter time these become a refuge from the weather. Below is a photo of a pedestrian tunnel under Khreshchatyk Street.

Ivano-Frankivsk Nezalezhnosti Street

Following up the example of Moscow in creating Arbat Street, the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine developed the pedestrian only Nezalezhnosti Street.

Above photos show two views of Nezalezhnosti Street in the early hours of the morning.
Should be noted that may of the streets in the center of town are pedestrian only which local residents graciously enjoy day and night. The buildings along these streets add to the uniqueness of the place providing not only samples of historical architecture but also spaces for residential and business activities. Like any great destination Nezalezhnosti Street provides a number of outdoor activities that attract the young and the old.
Above a young man gets his caricature done by a local artist.
Local clowns provide lively activities for children accompanied by their parents during the Orthodox Christmas holidays.
Ivano-Frankivsk dates back to the 1400's when a fortress was built for protection against the Tartars in what was then known as Stanislawow. In 1660 the name was changed to Stanislaviv in honor of the son of Andrij Pototsky named Stanislav. A brief history of the city can be found at LINK.

Moscow's New Arbat Street

In contrast to the old Arbat Street is the new Arbat Street built in the 1960s with much of its architecture refleting the soviet period. Unlike the pedestrian only old Arbat Street, the new Arbat Street provides ample pedestrian space as shown on the picture below and offers a number of shops and high rise residential living.
Between the pedestrian area and the major street is a parking zone shown on the picture below. An elevated planting area between the parking and pedestrian zones block the view of the less prefered vehicular environment. Large electronic boards are an entertaining if not distracting form of advertising.
Of course, new Arbat Street offers one of the most glowing local pass times, gambling cassinos. Whether in Moscow or Ukraine, a public place with a number of neon lights is a cassino as it is depicted on the picture below. Of course the new year is a well celebrated holiday in Eastern Europe and there is no better way to celebrate the year than to dress up the local buildings with the "2007."

Moscow's Arbat Street

Arbat Street in Moscow dates back to the 1400s. At that time Arbat connected Moscow to the suburbs. The Russian painter Vasily Polenov immortalized Arbat street in his painting A Courtyard in Moscow (see below).About the same time Arbat Street became a prestigious address for Russian nobility. It succumbed to fire in the early 1800's so it was reconstructed.
Today there are two Arbat Streets in Moscow, the old Arbat and the new Arbat. Following are current pictures of these streets.
The old Arbat Street with street vendors, shops and street lamps:
A night time picture of old Arbat Street:
Along Arbat Street is the monument to the writer Bulat Okudzhava: