Memphis

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City of the blues, Elvis and ribs.

It is not unusual to see a sign ” Gone Bluesin` “ on a closed store.

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The city is progressing and they have made great efforts to improve walkability, the overall look of downtown, and the riverside. However something was very odd during our walk.

The whole city seemed empty.

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Among the skyscrapers, giant hotels, office buildings, and banks, this carefully planned downtown was empty on this gorgeous summer Saturday. Only  a  few homeless people were chilling on park benches and couple joggers passed by. It did not get better at night time either. After our visit to the famous Beale Street, we walked home. It was a bad idea. Tens of suspicious looking men were in the downtown area, drunk, hungry, and many of them were ready for trouble. A few of them did not want us to pass peacefully. Suddenly I understood why the heart of the city is so empty. Locals do not come here because they know it is unsafe. I looked up crime statistics in Memphis. It turned out that crime is very high and couple weeks ago someone got hurt and robbed where people did not want us to pass. It was two blocks from Beale Street, which is well watched by cops, but none of the other downtown areas had cops. The next day was a sunny day again. Last night`s story seemed like a bad tale because the city looked pretty and friendly again. Memphis turns into a monster at night time.

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The city lost some key characters; many local places were replaced by giant chain hotels and restaurants. Tourists are everywhere but none of them are locals. For example: in the famous B.B. King Blues Club on Beale Street the singer asked the crowd to raise hands if she/he is from Memphis/Tennessee. Nobody raised his hands.

Memphis is the heart of blues music and African-American culture that I admire. This culture is new to me because I am an emigrant. I was sad not to encounter them more. Investors took charge of the city, shaping it and sanitizing it. I do not agree with that entirely. Locals from poor to rich should have a chance to be present. This could happen by giving them different tax breaks, lowering rents, and making changes in existing zoning.

Blues music, and a blues city; what Memphis is it can not be separated from everyday life- struggles, love and self development. These streets need people, true people. Without it it is just a well maintained, well planned “Blues Amusement Park”, a creation of investors and other people who want to get easy cash from the legends of Memphis.

Memphis is in my heart. The good news is: blues is not for sale.

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Boxed Trees

A city plaza design with BOXED trees. This is a good example for a careless design. The plaza needed some renovation and the new design speaks for itself. The old plaza had old, large trees. They have cut them out and replaced them with cheap trees which are in boxes instead of the ground. These trees will never grow tall and wide enough to provide shade for the visitors. Many people are upset because of this poor design and they feel the city lost one of its key component.

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Plaza name: Patkó

City of Székelyudvarhely, Romania

 

The road to a resilient community

                            is long but the result is priceless.

The Secler community at Udvarhely is on this long road, hand in hand, young and old.

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surprised little girl

The community is still strong however in the last 20 years it has been loosing its identity and charisma. Emigration, better chance for a new life in developed countries, globalization are just a few reasons for the declining population in Udvarhely. Folk art festivals, community workshops being organized all year long. But spacial physical planning and design is also important. The Udvarhely Fortress (Székely Támadt Vár) will be restored to help strengthening the community self identity.  Today hundreds of people came to the ruin of the Fortress to learn, relax, eat, celebrate and walk along, hand in hand on the road to become a healthy and resilient community.

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Turquoise Reality

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That day was magical for me when as a school kid I was riding one of the boats on Romania`s largest artificial lake, Lake of Bicaz.  Today I was expecting something alike to that day. After I got out of the car and

                                                  I looked DOWN,

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                     the turquoise magic was over.

I thought I will cry. I have never seen something like this before. Turists, security officers, folk art merchants, some restaurant and a boat rental were there. I was so sad, felt helpless and I still do. Why? How?

                   Thousands of plastic bottles and random debris. Only physical planning is not enough…..

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Visiting a Transylvanian village, Varság -horses, flowering meadows, hay drying on the fields

7/15/2014, Transylvania, Varság

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Horses are resting to the left. Wind blowing.

Peaceful and remote village in the valley. People are drying hay, building a house.

Sheep are grazing in the distance. Big pastures and flowering meadows. Just like village illustrations in children books. Trees. I praise trees and flowers. We keep losing them.

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Women in Red&Black Striped Skirts

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photo Music echoed in the valley. About 3000 people gathered by noon in the Csíksomlyó valley, the sacred gathering place of all Seclers and more expected. “One Thousand Secler Girl Festival” (Ezer Székely Leány Találkozó) is a true community festival. The first festival was organized in  1931 to preserve Secler traditions, specially folk art, craftsmanship, music, dance and Secler traditional clothing.  Each year on the first Saturday of July, people come here from the hidden villages and cities of Seclerland to laugh, dance and celebrate Secler tradition. The festival’s statement is about strengthening faith, ethics and self-identity of the Secler community.

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The growing number of visitors in each year show the need for belonging to this community, and their need to get involved.  Every generation was here along with many tourists. Young girls were dancing in black and red striped skirts, singing  “Kicsi róka, kick nyúl/ Oda biz be ne nyúlj”. It’s a Hungarian folk song and word game with sexual teaching in it.  (“Little fox, little rabbit/ Do not put your hand there“) No English translation will work because these folk songs are the results of more than a 1000 year coexistence with nature, several nations and their deep root in their tradition and history.

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I sat down behind the craftsmen’s tents to sketch and feel the place a little. Girls, probably a few thousand of them, were in red skirts with black stripes all around in he valley, riding a horse or just enjoying this beautiful day. At the same time hundreds of people started dancing after sitting passively in the grass while folk-dance groups were entertaining them. Sekler humor is famous and they love to joke. Four young boy were climbing up on the hill in hats, shiny boots, and wore Secler “harisnya”, which is the very tight traditional pants for men. One approached me with beer in his hand; his face was red and asked me if I could give him an auto-gram because his friends told him I was a well known actress [LOL]. I told him I was not and I believe his friends made fun of him. It was true. I overheard these young boys laughing at him and he said sorry, laughed and went away.  I was laughing too.

Despite the joking temper there is some distrust in their eyes, and their facial expression can suddenly become grim. I do not know the exact answer but being a Secler means continuous fight against “fading away”. Sellers are welcoming, hospitable, loyal, friends for life. They fight to remain in this eroding world.

I felt hungry so I stood up because the sweet smell of “kūrtõskalács”  was very inviting. It is a feast pastry. I got one with walnuts.

Every first Saturday of July is the time to forget all problems and sadness, learn and evolve as a community. Time for passing the tradition of singing, dancing and sharing the secrets of Secler craftsmanships.

Now I close my eyes and relive this Red&Black Striped Skirt Saturday and see the whirling skirts again, dancing women, laughing faces, hear the sound of a violin and see the running horses in this sacred valley.

Viszontlátásra. 

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A summer afternoon melancholy in a 21st century Granite Garden Neighborhood – communist dreams-postcommunist reality


June 30th 2014, Transylvania, City of Udvarhely

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      In this Granite Garden, a communist dream, people walk everywhere; it is a one square kilometer area. They meet, bond, hate and forgive each other. This is a big Granite Garden Neighborhood , where human scale and way of living was defined a long time ago. Blocks, like matchboxes pile on top of each other and next to each other. These 4-6 level tall blocks were set as human scale. But one should not be mistaken: people live here with style; have comfort against the limited space and mundane design. Places, homes are tidy and clean. Most apartments have central heating, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, microwave and other kitchen electric apparatus, computers and TVs, even flat screen TV. They are the ‘refurbishers’ and ‘reusers’. What the West throve out they reuse, repair and even sell. Some are making successful legal business or just some pocket-money on the side. There are second-hand shop clothing stores like Salvation Army, Goodwill in every third block. These stores are pretty ephemeral. Ownerships change fast, but people make a living out of West overusing and over shopping habits. What they do for living works, it is a hard job to remain here.

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They learned to use the limited space smartly. I used to feel as a burden coming from this side of town, somebody who committed something unethical just by being born here. Felt ashamed, ugly by not growing up in one of those houses with nice garden and backyards. My window looked down to these houses,  only a one-way street away is the Garden City. My block is the first in this Granite Garden Neighborhood.

But let not judge too fast. I realized people here know each other, connected; places are walkable and beneficial for everybody. There is everything that people might need here: a center, green spaces, bars, restaurants, playgrounds, gas station, grocery stores, couple of schools, pharmacy, dentists, hair dresser, churches, and two small fresh markets.  The list is not even complete. It is not picturesque, true, but practical. It works. This Granite Garden supports a way of living that reduces sprawl; shows that people can transform places and make it their home as a community. As a planner I do not have to reinvent the wheel but show respect and learn to see what this community can teach me. The neighborhood is pretty green, rose bushes, flowers, parks and lots of playing children showing something here works, what does not work in many American neighborhoods. Even the most rich neighborhood streets are empty, or just seeing couple kids having a routine walk while they parents supervise them. And those neighborhoods are pretty and green. Here parents feel safe sending a six-year-old buy a bred at the store and let children under 10 play by themselves. These children connect, play and make lifelong friendships. This is what I did 20 years ago; children still do the same today, next to video games and TV. Parents know they children are safe and the whole community is watching out for them, not just for they safety but how they act and they even educate them on the street. Streets, block-backyards are important because these children connect to the world and being part of a community for the first time. Even adults need streets where they can feel involved and be a part of something bigger, a community. America needs to revitalize streets, because kids need them, adults need them.They need freedom in a safe environment and not being locked in a car alienated  from people who are the “strangers”. These “strangers” are me and you. We should not let some bad person keep away us from our streets, from our neighborhood and live alienated from our world.

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This example shows that we can live respectfully in poorly designed areas but also learn that design is crucial for a new development and let not commit the same mistakes what 70`s communist planners did. People wish for better planned environments and they show the need for it by beautification efforts, even small ones, but it is here. We cannot demolish these neighborhoods but we can embrace them instead of ignoring them. My conclusion is that the post-communist reality is not all bad, people are adjusting, embracing the new and they learn to be the planners of they own environment. They need time, let be patient.

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