This is a re-post from the PriceTags blog, contributed by Sandy James. If you’re planning on visiting Korea, this sounds like a wonderful place to visit.
Price Tag readers made some very good comments about how New York City’s High Line is markedly different from Vancouver’s Georgia Viaducts which are scheduled for demolition if the funding can be found. The High Line was an unused railway between a few kilometers of warehouse buildings. But a better parallel is the newly opened […]
Ideally if you’re someone reading one blog, you have several that you follow. Again, this is summer laziness on my part, but I am a big fan of the blog site Moss and Fog. Here is one of their latest (and highly enjoyable) photo posts:
Just for something different- I also publish a monthly planning blog on authentic communities (distinct from, but related to, authentic travel). The latest looks at Yaletown, a gentrifying neighbourhood in Vancouver, rooted in a past of brick warehouses, extended loading docks (now converted into patios- you can see part of one in the header of this post), and an old railway roundhouse now used as a community centre. To get your urban planning geek on, check out this posting here.
I just got back a week ago from a short, spur of the moment trip to Los Angeles (LA). Poor LA can sometimes get a bad rap, especially from city planners (my profession) who complain about the excessive highways and regional sprawl. But it’s really growing on me. In fact, it’s on the cusp of blossoming into another, more interesting phase in its existence. This is my fourth time in Los Angeles, now. I find that the key to enjoying LA, and to connecting with real people who live there, is to stay in a residential neighbourhood (and yes, this typically means relying on a service like AirBnB). It can also involve my favourite hobby of riding a light rail/ subway line and getting off at different stops to explore on foot. While In LA this time, I stayed in Silver Lake, and spent some time cruising the Gold Line. A friend also introduced me to a well-kept secret, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.
Authentic travel includes getting to know the people living in your destination. Talking to locals is a start. But with only a few days or weeks in a place, building understanding can be a challenge. That said, other telling details that can help. Among the most fascinating: how people mark out (in an attempt to claim or conquer) their territory.
What territory says
Architectural details, public art, fencing, murals, landscaping details, signs, hedgerows separating out farmers’ fields – these items say many things. They speak of what people value; what they fear; their sense of humour and/ or curiosity. Marked territory can tell you about how locals lead their lives, and who benefits (or fails to benefit) from flows of power. The photos below are all examples of local territory marking. They speak to me of who (at least some of) the locals are and how they relate to each other.
The above photo shows how a bank operating in a multi-cultural city like Honolulu celebrates the locals who descended from Chinese settlers roughly a century ago. In my part of the world, which has attracted more contemporary Chinese migration, the features shown above tend to speak less about current migrants and what appeals to them.
I love how, in the photos below, the business operator is surreptitiously and temporarily claiming territory, without making the same type of investment as someone in a conventional store. Perhaps rents are far too prohibitive- or maybe the owner just prefers this transient approach. You see her/him trying to legitimize the mobile business as it takes up a parking space for just hours at a time. Judging from the quality of the sign, it seems to have been working.
Silver Lake neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Author photos, February 2016
Claiming space doesn’t just happen with businesses. Parking is a big focus of space-claiming. While on-street parking is typically public, North American city dwellers often view the space in front of their homes as their personal (private) property- particularly when parking becomes a more scarce resource. Unknown cars parked in those locations may be told about their transgressions through windshield notes- or even more aggressive acts. But driveways are less clear, and are sometimes used or blocked by others, resulting in conflict and a need for the homeowner to mark that territory as his or her own. The example below is also from Los Angeles:
And, of course walls and gates are obvious territory markers. They can be beautiful or whimsical. Sometimes the beauty is offered as an apology for space claiming. It may also be an indicator of some shared neighbourhood territoriality- a contribution to the larger public realm even as the individual space is claimed.
Some of my own neighbours in Vic West achieve this by offering of floral bursts beside or through their fences:
And here are some other examples of fence appeal, one by a business, and another by an art gallery/ centre:
So here is my challenge to you: on your next trip, try to find and photograph as many interesting or appealing territory markers as you can. I guarantee that it will get you thinking about your destination, and the relationships between inhabitants, in new ways. Territory markers are a rich topic for exploring further. Watch for another posting on this topic, and please suggest your own in the comments section of this blog.
While recently in San Miguel de Allende, I learned of two wonderful, and inter-connected charities. What does this have to do with authentic travel? Essentially, while both organizations serve the local population, they also enable North Americans, who make extended stays in that city, to have a more genuine, mutually-beneficial connection to the local people. We first heard of them when we signed up for a three hour walking tour through the historic city, which has had a long history of ex-pat influence.
Founded nearly fifty years ago, Patronato por los ninos provides dental care, and medical services not covered through the social safety net, to children in the hundreds of villages which surround the city. While the staff delivering the care are all Mexican, the ex-pats do their part through fundraising. Walking tours are probably the largest mechanism for this. Patronato is an American organization, which gives tax receipts to all American donors. A parallel Canadian organization, Amistad has also begun partnering with Patronato in giving care. This is not a duplication- it is only by donating through Amistad that Canadians can get a tax receipt, plus Amistad offers other non-medical programs. For example, Amistad supports the local library and related reading programs, and offers art classes to local children.
This example builds on an earlier post. It spoke about the role of self-transcendence – accepting that we are all part of a larger universe- in personal authenticity. The same post also suggested four criteria for authentic travel that would flow from that understanding of authenticity -finding experiences that allow a person to:
lose track of her or himself in the experience;
become more curious about (and kinder to) others who initially seem quite different;
build his or her courage muscles; or
enhance an ability to be generous.
From my perspective, even just taking a walking tour with Patronato por los ninos hits at least three of the four criteria. And, for those ex-pats who volunteer with these, or any other locally-serving charities (particularly ones which have local staff and/or partners), probably all four criteria are kicking in at high gear. I’d love to her about other volunteer groups that provide this type of mutually beneficial ex-pat and local exchange.
The mark of a great neighbourhood -whether at home or abroad- is its kid- and dog-friendliness. In other words, great neighbourhoods offer something for all members of a family Kids, the elderly, and dogs are like canaries in the coal mine -the first to suffer in toxic and unnatural contexts. And as travellers, we recognize something universal when we watch families enjoy themselves.
We’ve just spent a few days in San Miguel de Allende where families mingle freely in the town square, known as El Jardin (the garden) for its lovely shade trees and numerous park benches. Abuelas (grandmothers) and mothers seem relaxed as they watch toddlers and ten-year olds running with toys on strings, or chasing after pigeons. Costumed animators provide another family-friendly distraction on weekends. And, of course, the balloon sellers are doing a brisk business.
Here, for your viewing pleasure, are some photo examples of this family-friendly town. From an urban design perspective, some of the most notable features are the wonderful nodes that draw people to the town centre, such as the main square (El Jardin), the large cathedral, and surrounding shops. These are places where people can spend money- or hold on to every cent they own. The town also shuts off the streets to vehicle traffic, and widens the range of closed streets on weekends. And, there are many places to sit comfortably in shade and in sun.
I don’t repost other people’s blogs a lot here- but occasionally it’s worth sharing some good writing done by someone else. Here is one that I enjoyed today which gives some purely local insights on why Glasgow is worth a visit.
Building design is hotly contested for many reasons, including its impact on human mental health. Mental wellness matters to us all, both at home and when we travel. For people seeking more authentic travel experiences, it’s worth reflecting on what destinations will and won’t positively effect this aspect of well-being.
Below is a link to one of the most thoughtful articles I’ve seen yet on current debates in this arena. Of particular note -green open space can do a lot to compensate for ugly building design (see my earlier post on forest bathing to appreciate why). Here is the Guardian Newspaper article .
Authentic travel involves being present wherever you are– and taking in as much as possible of what the community wants to show you. I’ve posted before about using a colour to guide you in aimless urban strolls (for purple, click here ). Today’s post shows what I saw during a red-themed ramble back in late June. Consider this approach yourself, inspired by Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.