... in cities

Delhi metro

While not being as efficient as the São Paulo metro system (efficiency being rather absent from public services in india in general), the delhi metro system – which has been growing from one 5 station line to 3 lines with more than 40 stations in the last 3 years – is quite an experience as well:

First there are those constant recorded security reminders that are either unrivaled in their directness (‘do not touch abandoned objects as they might contain explosives’) or simply absurd (‘do not befriend strangers’). These messages are on more or less constant replay in all stations and trains and give the impression that the Delhi Metro Corporation is even more paranoid than the mindless, racist idiots that are running the British airports (but then they do not really hassle you when you take the metro in Delhi).

So unfortunately one has to bear these nonsense announcements in order to experience the wonderful experience of ‘Chawri Bazaar’ station: located smack under the middle of Delhi’s Old City this station embodies fractured modernity in its most tangible form. The metro station in all it’s stainless steel, polished stone, glass and RFID based turnstiles glory is extremly 21st century (if one manages to ignore the security guard with his 1920s winchester rifle, which definitely is the weapon of choice when engaging terrorists within a crowded subway station).

While even in other parts of the city these metro stations feel strangely detached from the rest of the city fabric, exiting Chawri Bazar station this sensation is almost overwhelming: The polished stone stairs take you in the middle of a busy intersection in the old city, where cycle rickshaws and push-carts represent the state of the art when it comes to transport, the sky is being covered by a multitude of telephone and electricity cables and the smell of countless open air food stalls is competing with the stench of garbage and excrement from the various live animals lingering around.

If you ever have the chance to visit Delhi make sure that you take the metro to Chawri Bazaar in the evening, then get into a cycle rickshaw and ask the riksahw wallah to take you to Karims to have a bit of mutton.


01 Aug 2006 | 348 words | lebanon war amsterdam streetart protest cities

After yesterday’s extremely depressing and upsetting morning news i went running (which is always a sensible thing when you don’t know what to do and/or are angry). During that run i was thinking what to do about the whole situation and finally came up with something that seemed like a sensible idea:

In the last two weeks mazen kerbaj’s drawings have been one of the strongest most vivid expressions of the whole mess that is unfolding in lebanon that i came across (to the extend that i am dissapointed every time i wake up and there are no new ones). Now what are drawings if not posters-in-waiting that can easily been printed out and stuck against the walls of the city? Clearly one only has to print them out, copy them a couple of times, get wallpaper-glue and head out into the night (ok, first wait some 10 hours for night). So i spend some of Sunday night sticking a4 sized mini-posters all over the walls of my neighborhood (the Pijp) in Amsterdam.

after 19 days i started to cry ...

More pictures taken on Monday morning before going to work on my flickr account.

Yesterday evening i did a second round (around Leidseplein in the center), and i am planning to continue for the next couple of nights. Hopefully these relatively small posters will catch some eyeballs and make more people think and start expressing their outrage.

Apart from the obvious advantage of making me feel like i am doing something about the situation, i also like this little action on a symbolic level. It feels like translating a blog (something normally contained to the internets) into something that is part of the urban fabric. I like the idea of images leaking from my screen into the streets of amsterdam and would probably be even more beautiful if people in other cities started doing the same… (in case you feel like it here are a4-sized printable versions of some of Mazen’s drawings)

update [5 august]: here are more pdf files with newer drawings, which i used yesterday night.

São Paulo Metrô

03 Jul 2006 | 371 words | sao paulo public transport urbanism cities metro

I have blogged about public transport in São Paulo before and i have made someobservations while traveling on the subway (called metrô by the locals) but being back in town i have realized that i have not really given enough credits to the metrô system itself.

The system is absolutely amazing. at the moment it has 4 lines among them two (the red and the blue line) which are mayor ones and two others that act as feeder lines. both main lines run at 2 minutes intervals off-peak and at 60 second intervals during peak hours. apparently the whole system transports about 3.8 million passengers a day and employs a number of sophisticated measures to avoid this massive amount of travelers on a relatively small system to end up in absolute chaos:

Most station have painted waiting corridors on the ground (something that the Brazilians seem to love) which mean that you are supposed to queue up between white lines painted on the ground. Some of the bigger stations enforce structured queueing-up by metal barriers (like at the slaughter-house) and the most busy ones have separate platforms for getting on and off the trains (the doors facing the disembarking platform open before the doors on the embarking side so that passengers can get off before new passengers get on).

The most amazing station in the whole system is ‘Sé’ where the red (east-west) and blue (north-south) lines connect. it feels like as if about 50% of the passengers on either line change for the other one or exit at Sé station. in order for this massive amount of people to flow without interruption the flows within the station have been completely separated: passengers leave the subway cars towards an inside platform that is directly connected to the outside platforms on the other line’s level. at rush hour there is an almost continuos flow of passengers from the blue line to the red line and vice versa, which is quite an amazing sight.

Apart from this extremely well-choreographed handling of masses the fact that they have a station called ‘imigrantes‘ (on the green line) is another reason to love the planners of the São Paulo Metrô

More panorama shots here and here.

Shrinking cities

I am in Rio right now, which is anything else than a shrinking city. I have no figures ready but i guess there is a table which shows Rio’s growth in the last decades somewhere in Mike Davis’ excellent ‘Planet of Slums‘ which i finished reading just before coming here.

Now the lonely planet for Rio mentions that in Rio gas stations are one of the favorite places for party-goers to hang out as they sell beer all-through the night. This particular bit of travelers advice reminded me of one of the posters for the shrinking cities exhibition in Berlin a while back which showed an gas station that apparently served as the hang-out place for youngsters, supposedly because gas stations are the most exciting places to hang out in shrinking cities or something like this (I can’t find a single copy of the poster/image on the entire internets, but my sister has one hanging in her kitchen so go there if you do not know what i am talking about…).

Anyway, being in Rio we were of course looking for nocturnal excitement ourselves and the most exciting thing in town these days when it comes to going out are funk balls. The guardian has a fascinating article about the whole baile funk thing online (o.k. – if it has been in Guardian it is probably not the most exciting thing anymore for the locals but the whole thing still sounds quite exciting for visiting white boys). The only problem is that these funk balls take place in the Favelas and it does not seem like a good idea to venture out there in the middle of the night when you are drunk. However at some point we found some brazilians who had the same urge and took off to a ball in two cabs.

Of course being all slightly tipsy we did not really notice that it was 3A.M. and when we finally arrived at the venue the party was over and we did not get to dance at all (it was sunday night hence the early end). Instead we got some more drugs and gave some money to the 12 year old begging kid in an Osama bin Laden t-shirt (pictures of more OBL t-shirts here, here and here) and then descended from the hill to hang out at the gas station in shrinking city style:

p.s: Good thing to know that the USAF is giving $450K for ‘Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information‘ – i wish them good luck making sense out of this post…

City of meat

22 Jan 2006 | 97 words | argentina photos meat food buenos aires cities

To celebrate(?) the fact that i have started to eat meat again (after 12 or so years) i have created a flickr set highlighting some meat related pictures in i took during my two visits to Buenos Aires (in 2004 as a vegetarian and in 2006 after having started to eat meat again in Patagonia). It might be possible to go to Argentina as a vegetarian, but to come back for a second time and still refuse to eat meat comes down to masochism. Remains to be seen if i will continue eating meat here in Europe.

Back in Buenos Aires

13 Jan 2006 | 151 words | argentina photos cities buenos aires

After 9 days in Patagonia i am back in Buenos Aires and will probably stay here till i go back to Berlin on the 19th. Have bought myself a bike and started to explore the city. The character of the city is a really strange mix of speed (alsmost hecktic when i to comes to the inhabitants) slowness and style (especially when it comes to waiters and espresso machines).

While cycling through the downtown financial district today, i came across this scrap collector who was pushing along his push cart loaded with the discarded sign of a restaurant. I really like the photo i took of him and his cart. while i tried to take another one from a higher vantage point he found two abandond chairs on the side of the street which he loaded on top of the sign so this is the only picture i managed to take…

Helipads (!!!)

I have mentioned it before, but the thing that impressed me the most so far is the facts that people actually travel by helicopter within the city. There are lots of heli-pads on buildings in the city and if you find yourself placed high enough to oversee a bit of the city you actually see helicopters taking of somewhere and landing elsewhere on a heli-pad. Of course this is kind of sick (someone told me that you can actually commute by helicopter from the north-zone to downtown for R$ 5000 per month (the minimum income is something like R$ 500)) but it is also poetic in al its shabby futuristic-scenarions-have-come-true glory.

Heli-pad on Avenida Paulista

Heli-pad in downtown area (with helicopter landing)

The small shabby helicopter from the last image in mid-flight

Heli-pad on Avenida Paulista

Heli-pad in downtown area

On cities and villages

27 Oct 2005 | 297 words | brazil sao paulo urbanism cities stupidity

We went on top of the Edificio Italia building yesterday afternoon. It is one of the tallest buildings in the city and located smack in the middle of it. They have a ridiculously overpriced executive bar on the 41st floor with the worst piano player i ever had to listen to. The whole thing feels distinctly 80-ties, but if you want to have access to the outside gallery you have to order drinks in this bar.

The view from the bar an the gallery is absolutely breathtaking. Tthe Sao Paulo metropolitan agglomeration extends to the horizon (and probably beyond) in all four direction. The city seen from above is a collection of high rises of all shades of gray all states of decay and pretty much any architectural style imaginable. extremely beautiful if you ask me.

View from the Italia building in downtown São Paulo

Being in a cities of this size always make me lament the fact that i was raised in a provincial nest where you could cycle to the country side in 5 minutes and to the ‘city center’ in another 15. places like that should be called what they are: villages. That place also prides itself in having the largest inside the city forest in germany which is even more stupid. since when does a forest belong into a city? If you ask me people should either live in places that are so big that you cant see the end of it when you are standing on a 45-story building in the middle of it or they should live in villages and raise cows and chickens. Most stupid thing is this idea of living in the green and commuting into the city to work at the sparkasse or some similar place every day.

Back from Bruxelles

16 Sep 2005 | 402 words | brussels belgium colonialism cities

I was back in bruxelles yesterday after a way to lo long time. This city is definitely my favorite city in Europe as it manages to surprise me every time i am there, even if it is only for one rainy evening spent in an restaurant waiting for the night train to berlin (of course the fact that there actually is a night train connection to berlin makes Bruxelles stand out above such mediocre places as Amsterdam!). On the way from the restaurant to the Gare de midi i came across two remarkable things the first being a little store specialized in plastic model sets that proudly displayed a 1/35 reenactment of belgium’s not-so-glorious colonial past (please excuse the shitty quality of the night time phone cam pic):

belgians rule africans in 1/35

The second was the etablissement that i entered in order to get one last drink before boarding the train. by the outside of it (and i could not see much as it rained and my glasses were totally covered with spray water) it looked like some upscale minimalist bar: big steel framed glass windows, neutral withe lightening shining from a clean white interior with some kind of expressionistic painting on the long wall. once inside i realized that i had totally mistaken the place. instead of a bar i had entered a north african tea house and now i was getting confused and slightly hostile looks from the all male patrons. the place was unlike every tea house i have been to before. the interior design was straight from bauhaus, the espresso machines would make every coffee shop owner in berlin-mitte become jealous and there was indeed a more or less expressionist mural with a middle eastern or north african market scene on the wall facing the bar.

So instead of another drink i settled for a delicious peppermint tea had a chat with mohammed who would not believe my age and of whom in turn i would not believe that he was a student and watched a bit of al-jazeerha on the giant flat screen TV’s before heading out to catchmy train.

This is exactly why i love bruxelles so much: more often than not the visual representation of things completely defies what the way i am (we are?) conditioned….

update [27.05.06]: here is another shot of the (now slightly rearranged) window display that i took this morning:

New Orleans, Mogadishu

10 Sep 2005 | 671 words | united states security cities war media mogadishu

Been following the coverage about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina for the last couple of days and the whole thing has brought a lot of issues to the surface. (Boing boing has been an incredibly valuable source of information, jamie has written a nice summary mid last week and i also have rediscovered tomdispatch (they should fix their rss feed though). Now it seems that the situation is loosening up a bit, and it looks like there will be much less casualties than feared earlier (the total will stay well under 1000 if you ask me).

To me the most insane aspect of the whole story is the incredibly militarized reaction to this catastrophe. While there have been countless reports of armed gangs that supposedly have been looting killing and raping i have yet to see something that convinces me that these things have actually taken place on a larger scale than ususal: most of the stories have been based on hearsay and i have not come across one report that presented actual victims. Would be interesting to know if there are statistics about fire-arms-related casualties and injuries. Given the fact that almost every official involved in the rescue operation now seems to wear a kevlar vest and an assault rifle and half of them seem to be riding around in armoured personal carriers, one might assume that there must have been heavy losses among the rescue crews in the first 4 or 5 days which forced them to rund around as if they wehere in an actual war. But given the fact that there haven been no dead-hero stories about killed rescue workers i guess it is safe to assume that none of them got hurt, which makes the whole assault rifle carrying business pretty hard to understand (unless one assumes that rescue crews are mainly white and are just scared to to venture into a city populated by impoverished Africans Americans).

The insanity of this situation was best captured in a picture i saw a couple of days ago (i tried to find it back but image search on the net is still a pretty hopeless affair): a bunch of white males in civilian clothes with assault rifles, body armor and ridiculous sun glasses on the back of a pickup truck riding through a submerged street. the caption said something like ‘Police officers patrolling in New Orleans’. If the their vests would not have had ‘police’ and ‘sheriff’ written all over them one might have taken them for private contractors a.k.a mercenaries. The whole scene reminded me of Mogadishu during the height of the civil(?) war in the early nineties. the imagery of that conflict was more or less dominated by technicals: modified pickup trucks with groups of armed – in this case black – males on them. Back then the technicals were the most visible symbol of the ‘failed state’ in Somalia. It is rather ironic that the same configuration is supposed to be ensuring law and order in the US now.

Update (11.09.05): internet image search might be a hopeless affair, but nevertheless it can unearth little gems: there seems to be a plastic model set to build your own technical in 1/35.

Update (31.09.05): Todays International Herald Tribune runs a story (‘Rumors fueled tales of looting in New Orleans’) that seems to support both my assumptions made in this post. according to the article the total number of casualties stands at 845 and

a review of available evidence shows that some, though not all , of the most alarming stories where figments of frightened imagination […]. During six days when the Superdome was used as a shelter, the chief of the New Orleans Police Department’s sex crime unit, Lieutenant David Benelli sai he and his officers lived inside the dome and investigated every rumor of rape or atrocity. In the end they made two arrests for attempted sexual assault and concluded that the other attacks had not happened. “I think it was urban myth” Benelli said.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: