A Curious Crosswalk Clarification

Friday January 08, 14.46.08

Friday January 08, 14.46.21

A curious inscription left by someone to clarify which button expedites which crosswalk signal. Someone has written with an indelible marker “B” and “W” on each button (for Broad Street and Watchung Avenue respectively), as well as writing an abbreviation on the pole (“WAT”, for example.) What is interesting here is that an official sign also indicates which direction is controlled by the button (“Push button to cross *arrow* Watchung”) making me wonder if this was an addition made after some complaints about the confusing buttons. What made this confusing initially was probably the fact that there are two crossings in roughly a straight line. You cross a small bit of one-lane street that subsequently does an easy turn onto Broad Street from Watchung, and then stand on this island with the buttons. Then you cross a larger street — Watchung Avenue proper — with several lanes. Approaching the island after a nervous crossing and then looking out into a daunting sea of fast-moving traffic on your way to a quick sugar fix at Holsten’s, you might think the first button you see is the one to hit, which would be wrong.

Why do I blog this? I find these sorts of thoughtful, improvised inscriptions fascinating. A different kind of “read-write” city or read-write urbanism, where people in their everyday moments take it upon themselves to make additions, hacks, DIY improvements and adjustments to make the city more livable and agreeable to their sensibilities. The points where urban design from the top-down meets urban living from the bottom-up.
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Arranged Things

Saturday March 21, 12.17.20

Found items, Saturday noon, arranged thusly.

Saturday March 21, 12.16.37

Further indication of a rather polite evening’s activities. Broken bottle, top half. Not smashed. Or smashed into something. But, placed carefully. Arranged things.

Sunday March 15, 16.27.37

Further arrangements. My friend Tod called this one “Larry, Curly and Moe.” Get it?

Friday March 20, 15.21.43

More purposeful arrangements. Capacitors, large ones to handle the switching effects of 12 volt solenoids, placed in a recently assembled circuit board.

Friday March 20, 15.09.18

Burnishing brushes for a Dremel, arranged in their holding bin.

Why do I blog this? Observations that caught my eye. Things arranged with purpose. Thoughtful acts. Practices and constraints in which things assume their “proper” place. Remnants of reviewing old grad school reading lists, especially Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences by Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Starr. It’s a wonderful treatment on the ways in which categories function as embodied social practice. The purpose and utility of boundaries between things, disciplines, people, actions, specifically around organizing, disciplining, classifying, cataloging. All that good taxonomic stuff that we social beings tend to do to order ourselves and our knowledge. If there’s a lesson for me in that book its about unclassification and undisciplining, especially when the boundaries become so accepted that they discipline even in their absence. New things, new futures, innovation mean pushing away from older orders of knowledge and practice.

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Thoughtful Acts, With An Appropriately Snarky Attitude

Sunday March 15, 16.29.56

Neighborly offerings. Fruit fresh from the tree is often found out and about in Los Angeles.

Some observations of peculiar social practices found from last Saturday’s head-clearing perambulation. There was this, first as I approached from this tree from the eastward.
People lucky enough to have fruit trees often have more than they and the resident squirrels can consume themselves. Offering some up to passersby is indeed a thoughtful act. Often, the fruit looks like fruit properly should; not the curated spheres you find in the supermarket. The wonderful Fallen Fruit Collective does their urban incursions based on a proliferation of fruit trees that overhang the public/private property borders around various cities. I understand they got their start here in Los Angeles — Silverlake is what I’m told.

Sunday March 15, 16.29.21

Bags for those forgetful dog walkers, and pointed advice in the form of a veiled threat to the more reluctant who engage in the converse Thoughtless Act of not picking up their dog’s poo.

On the verso of the same tree, a thoughtful offering of a different sort — advice and some supplies related to picking up after your dog does its business. My front yard has been bombed. A family remedy: liberal application of powdered red chili pepper in the grass. The challenge is in re-applying after the dew and sprinklers have dissolved the previous applique. It appears to work mostly through learned behavior. Dogs habitually deposit in the same spot, sniffing for the previous target. When they get a stinging whiff the first time, they remember to just avoid that locale and move along.
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Inscribed History

Monday March 02, 07:38:09

A found inscription, quite elaborate with its multicolored typography. It reads:

Marc Lord. I got the AAA Tow. Be back @ 4:30 PM. V.

It seems “V” had car trouble, called a friend for help — perhaps after some frustration in getting the auto club to come to the rescue. (They can be good at times, but I’ve waited hours, unfortunately.) But, finally the auto club arrived before the friend — Marc Lord — arrived.

What is curious here is that “V” must have called from a pay phone or perhaps their cell phone died, otherwise they could have easily rung back Mr. Lord to say, “thanks, but no thanks..”

They evidently met again later in the afternoon — or planned to. In any case, the sign was left until the next morning, I assume, when I saw it while on my morning perambulation.

Why do I blog this? Found inscriptions are traces of activity, little bits of micro histories. Not as weighty as archival documents, but more intriguing for the way they capture the quotidian experiences of people and their moments, stories rarely told in broad histories but perhaps even more meaningful for close observation of people, their practices and moments of failure mitigation, like a blown tire. This is also intriguing to think about in the context of trusted allies — who do people turn to in moments of dire straits such as these? Close friends and agents like the AAA before a random call to the first tow service in the phonebook, I would assume.
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The Map Is Here For You To Use

Sunday February 15, 09:19:01

Tucked away, a map there for me to use.

Departing Madrid early on a Sunday morning, I found this paper map of the Metro, tucked neatly within the seams of a pre-fab wall, ready for re-use. I wondered, who was on their way out of Madrid, thinking that they could not in good conscience throw away their worn map, looking about for a way to pass it along to another visitor.

Another instance of a Thoughtful Act.

Why do I blog this? Sudden interest in observing improvisatory social practices which are signals of a sort, not always of a “service” or designed object to adopt that practice into a commodified instantiation. But sometimes merely a curiosity that helps us better understand who we/people are, like waypoints along a contour of individual and collective humanities.
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Thoughtful Acts

This came up in the studio..errr…I think it was a studio BBQ. Mr Newman pondered – what about thoughtful acts?

A sign of a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, painted backwards so motorists’ passing along on the parallel street would see it in their rear view mirror.

Thursday February 12, 15:21:20

A lost scarf thoughtfully tied to secure it from blowing away in the wind, and up high enough in a tree so that it could be seen from a distance. Toledo, Spain

The inside-the-design-world joke was a curtsey toward Jane Fulton Suri’s Thoughtful Acts, a fun little compendium of mostly observations-as-images meant to reflect upon the “thoughtless acts” people do — “those intuitive ways we adapt, exploit, and react to things in our environment; things we do without really thinking.”

Thoughtless Act? Or Thoughtful Improvisation? Taxi driver arranges his bluetooth ear piece and his phone within reach in San Francisco, California

Thursday February 12, 08:38:49

A smart vest, lost late into the boozy night before, more than likely. Picked up and hung on a sort of street baluster to be found, hopefully, by its rightful owner in Madrid, Spain

Thoughtless acts happen as a matter of course, unconscious in some instances, or done without deep consideration. It might be tying the string to a tea bag around the handle of your mug to keep the string and tag from falling into the hot water. Or turning the claw of a hammer into an improvised door jamb. That sort of thing.

For the fun of it, and to think through curious observations — what might a thoughtful act be? One that does favor to other people? That shows the heart and humanity of a social microcosm? I dunno. Perhaps something that shows deliberation and ingenuity with a raw sense of simplicity and just-get-it-done-edness.

Why do I blog this? Observations turned to conclusions and insights. How do you make sense of anonymous acts of generosity and consideration? Or simple indicators that suggest that design is always a conversation with things getting redone with purpose.

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A cordon of "road turtes" repositioned to define an area for a vendor’s cart of refreshing fruit cups. The road turtles stake out an informal, semi-permanent "home" for the vendor’s cart, but closer to permanent in that they’re nailed into the softer material between the broad cobblestones that make up the street. I found this practice in a couple of instances. Semi-permanence in a bustling context where finding a place to conduct business probably requires some sort of territorial negotiation, including making material adjustments/improvements to public space.

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