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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Vacant City

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HALIFAX – Welcome to our “vacant city” ideas hub. If you’re a downtown roamer, worker, or driver, you may have noticed a new addition to the city’s vacant lots this week: DIY idea bubbles. On this Saturday’s ‘Public Space Day‘ — the final event of the 4 Days ‘unconference’ — Spacing Atlantic cohosted a ‘Jane’s Walk‘ inspired walking tour through the downtown’s blank spots, leaving behind a trail of participant-generated ideas for interim and long-term uses. Here these ideas will continue to be collected and expanded on, and you’re invited to contribute to this virtual gallery of thinking around public space.

Starting at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the tour set out to explore a variety of vacant and semi-vacant spaces, with a focus on day-use parking lots and areas awaiting development — the idea being to turn these “anti-spaces” into sites of creative opportunity.

With cohosts David Clark and Léola Le Blanc, we learned about new genre public art and locative media projects they have already established in Halifax and Dartmouth, respectively. (Clark’s interactive sculpture, Waterfall, remains at the ferry terminal, and a quick ride across the water will take you to Le Blanc’s DAMMsel Day — an experiencial piece where participants traverse Dartmouth armed with iPhones which cue a recorded narrative along the way.)

With these creative examples to inspire us, we dedicated the next three stops along the tour — the Waterfront Development Corporation‘s string of harbour parking lots, the graffiti-pit-turned-rubble-pile on Morris, and the site of the once proposed ‘Twisted Sisters‘ development — to our own idea generation, mounting hand-crafted idea bubbles as we strolled.

Layered onto this physical trail is also a virtual trail, which can be tapped into via cellphone. The barcodes affixed to each idea bubble, when scanned using a cellphone camera, ask a question of the viewer relating to public space and Halifax vacancies. These questions are:

1) What interm use do you imagine for this space?
2) How can a void or vacant space be used to improve livability in Halifax?
3) What public space priorities and values do you wish to see in this city?

We invite you (cellphone accessors or otherwise) to answer these questions using the comments feature below.

Alternatively, here’s some instruction, c/o Léola Le Blanc, as to how to retrieve the questions using a mobile device, and how to generate your answers and musings using your very own barcodes and virtual media:

  • To scan the existing barcodes you will need to download a barcode reader on your mobile device/phone. There are a plethora of free barcode readers available, some for iPhones and some for Blackberry or Android phones. iTunes has most of these readers for iPhones; you can do this either directly onto your phone or via computer. For non iPhone users, a basic google search will let you know which readers are compatible.
  • Each reader works a little differently. Most commonly, you will be asked to place your mobile phone in front of the barcode, tap on the screen and press scan. The App initiates your phone’s camera and automatically takes a picture. After a second or two it should display the message in the code.
  • You can also access barcode generators from your computer. Again, a basic search will garner a number of options — for example, Mobile-Barcodes. Go to Generate, chose Message, type in a question or answer, and submit! You’ll see a barcode under Your Creation. You can right click on the barcode and save image to desktop and print, or scan it with your phone and test it out with your new barcode reader.
  • Now you’re set to go out and plant your ideas of what kind of city you would like!

There you have it: two ways to plant your ideas for vacant space around the city, both physical and virtual. We will continue to compile these ideas here on Spacing Atlantic, and we’ll see what further public art and media pieces might come out of it… or, even better, projects that put some of these bigger ideas into motion.

photo by Eli Gordon