The importance of place

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the importance of place:
a case study on the necessity of physical space designed with the public in mind.


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Nowadays, more and more hybrid spaces are being created. Because of the constant influx of new media devices, virtual information and physical spaces have become intertwined. Modern social and urban spaces are being formed through the combination of new media devices with bodies, objects and places. Mitchell explores "body/city metaphors" and finds that they have become concrete and literal, with the city itself becoming the "spatial and material embodiment" of his cognitive system (2003: 19).
And although these new environments are connected to the lived, everyday places, simulations have a place and a time. Hayles argues that simulated environments are never purely virtual (1999: 13) as they require a range of materials and technologies to exist.
Social urban spaces now exist online, with both physical and simulated territory being created and extended with mobile devices and technologies. However, the interaction is limited. Although it is possible to explore places that can be difficult to reach based of factors such as time, cost, or physical limitations, there is also a reduced sensory experience.


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Simulation is limited to the technologies and materials that link it to the physical world, and in this way, it can never surpass it in terms of significance. Memories are closely linked to the sense of smell, which is difficult to recreate or remove in a virtual reality. As well, the importance of spaces are dependant on the community that surrounds it; questions concerning the safety, receptibility, openness, and relation of virtual spaces arise when faced with health factors.
While hybrid spaces allow for a greater range of information and reach, it may be difficult to disconnect and return to daily life. Spending excessive amounts of time online, is potentially hazardous to your health in terms of eye strain, headaches, musculoskeletal disorders, stress injuries, and carpal tunnel syndrome (Smith-Stoner, 2001). If by staying connected to these social spaces prevents one from venturing outside, or moving for long periods of time, these risks increase. Aside from that, social relationships may suffer, and mental attitudes towards public life may become dismissive, with users becoming more withdrawn.


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In this way, subcultures are necessary beyond a collection of people, and extends into the form of a comfortable territory where they can exist.[DN: This sentence is somewhat of an abrupt shift from the previous sentence/paragraph (I can't tell if the images are placed between paragraphs. You need to build in transitions to assist the reader see the logic you are following.]  And while these subcultures are created with a certain frame of reference and situation in mind, the changes and growth they undergo take time (Cohen, 1955), and the people who belong to these subcultures cannot simply stay online forever. Even amongst popular blogging sites like Tumblr, meetings and meet-ups are encouraged, through which users can become closer in reality, with the added ability to communicate even faster.
When these meet-ups occur, there must be places that can harbor their thoughts and feelings, and encourage the continual metamorphosis of the subculture. Even if the members are alone, there are places that will be more welcoming and safe than others. Certain places hold significance and appeal for a certain type of people, just as subcultures do. Places themselves may be the catalyst for some subcultures, or even tribes.


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For example, many communities have their own vibe, and are very close-knit. The Drive on Commercial is well known for being eccentric and to outsiders, may seem dangerous. There are many artistic, unique members of this community, and they take care of each other. Although the area may seem daunting, it is unlikely that someone will be harassed or violated, as many members of the community watch out for each other, and there is very much a sense of family.
Other places inspire participation and welcome those from outside the area. Seattle's famous Gum Wall and North Vancouver's Cafe for Contemporary Arts both encourage interaction and with those changes, come to grow more significant and meaningful to those involved.
Skate parks are a perfect example of how subcultures require a space for activity and meeting beyond information and technology. While skaters and bikers can learn tips and tricks through blogs and videos, they do need a specific territory in which to practice. Most parks are occupied day and night, rain or shine, and become decorated with tags and graffiti art very quickly. It is their space, only for those who are members of this subculture, to share.


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These spaces expand far beyond themselves, out into the city itself, and are influenced by the inhabitants. With all these pockets of subcultures and community-specific areas, they bleed into one another and become mixed together, forming a cultural hybridization. There are specific streets and places that are known for having certain activities, or welcome specific kinds of people, but in multicultural cities such as Vancouver, these spaces join, and change to accomodate every one. This cosmopolitan idea that all of humanity belongs in a single "network of social relations" with a "flow of meanings as well as of people and goods" (Hannerz, 1990) is reflected in some of the more habitable cities of the world. [DN: I feel as if you are trying to cram all your references to or uses of concepts into this paragraph, so you feel you have met the requirements for this assignment. Rather, the concepts should be the framework within which you undertake this analysis; fully integrated and shaping the direction of the essay.]


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Vancouver, as stated before, is recognized as being a multi-cultural city, but Canada itself relies heavily on immigrants to keep the country populated. In Gehl's attempt to revitalize the city of Melbourne, ten year targets were set to attract people back to the city (Gehl Architects, 2004). Aside from retaining locals, heavy emphasis was placed on tourism and attracting international students.
The importance of an international culture and community is reflected within the city itself. With various ethnicities and ages, the city becomes more lively, and quality of life improves. There begins to come about an openness and receptivity towards new ideas and concepts. More emphasis is placed on the cultivation of these cultures and there is a greater sense of community.


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And underneath all this, there must be a solid foundation for the consideration and stressed importance on aesthetics. In its many forms, it refers to the study of the nature of beauty, generally to be combined with art and its creation. However, it is also a reflection on culture and nature. While there is a massive range of topics from visual artistic aesthetics to the informational algorithms and mathematical proofs, an emphasis must be placed on truth and ethics as beauty when one discusses the importance of physical space for people.

"Aestheticism is a search after the signs of the beautiful. It is the science of the beautiful through which men seek the correlation of the arts. It is, to speak more exactly, the search after the secret of life." - Oscar Wilde (Ellman, 1988)


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In the cities that focus on the importance of the human scale (what people need) over industry and vehicles, there is a dramatic difference in terms of livability and culture. Melbourne transformed from being desolate and crumbling to one of the most habitable cities in the world in a decade.[DN: and very expensive. What is the source for this comment?] When Ghel decided to focus on the details, he was thinking of the inhabitants of the city. Buildings should be detailed and comfortable as walking speeds, with textures and storefronts, instead of solid glass skyscrapers. Instead of having roads dominate the city, there should be sidewalks, public areas, and green space. Aesthetics in this vernacular culture means room for people to walk, places for people to relax, and things for people to look at. [DN: source for your comment about Ghel's focus?] The convenience should be emphasized for the people, not the cars.
While beauty is not strictly necessary to function, there is always, always more meaning and story in beautiful architecture, and people appreciate that. The Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle tells a story, designed as seven bottles of light in a stone box, it corresponds to the necessities of the Jesuit Catholic religion, and is part of the community. It radiates light, and is a safe and open place for members of the community to enjoy, and rest. While people may not understand every fundamental detail of what makes it so attractive, it draws people in because it has an intention, which is declared throughout its design.

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The importance of a place cannot be stressed enough. Hybrid spaces cannot replace the basic senses ingrained with embodying a physical territory that carries meaning and memory. The impact a space has on its community and its city through accommodation of cultures and subcultures can be seen through the livelihood of the citizens. The aesthetics in vernacular culture is branded in the physical urban spaces, in the design and use of the public spaces, and brings meaning to everday, real-world places, which cannot be replaced.





Citations: [DN: These are actually references. The citations are what you have in parentheses in the body of the text.]


Beer, D., & Gane, N. (2008). New Media: The Key Concepts. New York, NY: Berg Publishers. [DN: I don't know if this is just a case of wiki formatting, but publication titles (not chapter or article titles) are normally in italics.]

Cohen, A.K. (1995). A General Theory of Subcultures. In M. Filimowicz (Ed.),Media Across Culture (pp. 255-265). Surrey, BC: Simon Fraser University. [DN: Not quite complete for a reference for an article in Custom Courseware. The alternative way is to reference it as if you consulted the original text and add the publisher and place of publication (my preference).]

Chong, T. (Photographer). (2011). Olympic Sculptures. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.

Chong, T. (Photographer). (2011). Seattle Gum Wall. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.

Chong, T. (Photographer). (2011). Seattle Waterfront Warf. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.

Ellman, R. (1988) Oscar Wilde. New York, NY: Random House.

Gehl Architects. (2004). Places for People. Melbourne, Australia: City of Melbourne.

Hannerz, U. (1990). Cosmopolitans and Locals in World Culture. Theory, Culture and Society, 7, 237-251.

Hayles, N.K. (1999). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kant, I. (1987). The Critique of Judgement. (W.S. Pluhar, Trans.). Indianapolis, IND: Hackett. (Original work published 1790).

Ma, W. (Photographer). (2011). Cement Park Tables. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.
Ma, W. (Photographer). (2011). Seattle Library Immersion. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.

Ma, W. (Photographer). (2011). Seattle Posters. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.

Ma, W. (Photographer). (2011). Commercial Skytrain Station. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.

Ma, W. (Photographer). (2011). Whole Foods Public Art. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.

Mitchell, W.J. (2003). ME++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Smith-Stoner, M. (2001). Health Tips for Computer Users. Home Healthcare Nurse, 19(12), 787-789.

Truong, A. (Photographer). (2011). Parkour Cement Park. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.

Truong, A. (Photographer). (2011). St. Ignatius Baffles. [Digital Image]. Retrieved from personal collection.



Introduction/thesis statement or topic: Your introduction was lacking some of what I was looking for as a reader. What was the purpose of this essay? Where was it going to go? What was the conceptual framework you were using? The topic itself is large and rather abstract, and so I had no sense of how this might unfold. CWH.

Body – paragraph structure: I notice you have a lot of commas in your sentences. You might want to check Writer’s Help to see what they say about when commas are necessary. There are different patterns in speech from writing, and you don’t need to use commas as often. I was also unclear about your paragraph structure and unsure whether some of what appears to be paragraph breaks was simply an artefact of the wiki. Take a look at each paragraph and identify the topic, and see whether the body of the paragraph supports that topic. And then see how you can best set up the transition to the next paragraph. Writing is a craft, and thus far you have simply created the approximate shape of what you are looking to achieve. Now you need to refine it and shape it, sentence by sentence; word by word. Underlying all this there should be some narrative thread (which would begin in the introduction). CWH.

Conclusion: You do come to an end, but I’m not sure it is really a conclusion. For this, there needs to be a greater sense of purpose and direction; a journey or argument that you have led us, the reader through. It is difficult to write a strong conclusion when the introduction is weak, as the two together act as a frame for your work. CWH.

Unity, coherence & flow of writing: In parts this flows well. In other parts there are abrupt shifts that are jarring to the reader. I didn’t have a feel for the overall structure and direction of what you were writing, and so it lacked a sense of unity.

Application of concepts: The concepts seemed to have being dropped in to try to fulfil certain requirements for the assignment rather than being central to the shaping of the essay and your argument. In the rewrite, you need to put a lot more focus on the conceptual framework as the structure within which you shape your argument and narrative.

Appropriate style (voice and diction): Your writing is fluid and reads well. However, there needs to be a little more formality in the writing for academia.

Sources/citations: Some good sources, but you will need to add to these as you develop the conceptual side of this essay.

Spelling/grammar: Good.

This ‘case’ is extremely general and somewhat abstract. Typically a case-study would involve you looking at one specific space. For instance, the top of Burnaby Mountain as a space for SFU Burnaby, or the space that SFU Surrey inhabits. It wasn’t clear from the wiki as to how the photos supported the text (or the text supported the photos). Based on my viewing of the wiki, many of them appeared to be decorative in nature rather than integrated into the essay.


MF: Upon first seeing this, I just scrolled through the imagery and want to say that I find your images very compelling and thoughtful. You really bring me into a place where I want to pause in my mind and think about place. The writing though has much room for improvement and focus. First, “necessity” is a very general and vague term. Also, “importance” is equally vague and general, as is then “physical space” and “the public.” Your title contains FOUR very vague and general concepts so right away I worry about the focus and scope of this work. Let’s start with your first image, then—I’ve traveled abroad a lot, and in Europe, cities do the outdoor table and chair thing very differently then in North America. On this continent, outdoor seating in public space tends towards very cheap materials and towards being very uncomfortable—the idea is to hurry up, eat, pay and leave, whereas in Europe outdoor café furniture will tend to include padding and wicker. So, your opening image actually reminds me of everything I hate about outdoor café furniture on this continent. I really really want to recommend to you Edward Casey’s book, The Fate of Place, it’s very philosophical, abstract and scholarly but you may get into it and find it inspiring. When I go to page two, I have no idea what you were trying to communicate with the first image! I gave you my response at least! Stay away from this very informal casual way of speaking as in “Nowadays” which is imprecise language and does not establish an analytic, conceptual, detached, critical frame of mind. Same with “more and more” and many other examples in the writing of very casual speech-like language—this is inappropriate for a case study. Who is Mitchell? This name comes out of nowhere. Also you introduce some conceptual language completely devoid of context—the “intertwining” of new media and physical space can be quite interesting, but what is your CASE? Where’s THE EXAMPLE? It’s too vague and general. When you say “his cognitive system,” do you mean Mitchell’s own brain? The writing is very confusing when you introduce concepts, I don’t know what you’re trying to say. You need to provide much more analytical detail in your theorizing, for example you write: “However, the interaction is limited. Although it is possible to explore places that can be difficult to reach based of factors such as time, cost, or physical limitations, there is also a reduced sensory experience.” First off, is there any such things as UNLIMITED interaction? What is the significance of the limitation? AND, more importantly, WHAT ARE the limitations? You don’t say. The word repeats itself twice (also in a vague way). DEFINE “reduced sensory experience,” I have no idea what you are referring to. After the third image you jump around a lot between simulation, memory, smell and community, mentioning all of this in just two sentences! You need to slow down and do the following: 1) establish WHY you are introducing these categories, and 2) go in depth with regard to them. They get crammed into a very tight verbal space without a logic I can understand. Your topic is suppose to be designing public space but you wander into very unrelated territory such as: “Spending excessive amounts of time online, is potentially hazardous to your health in terms of eye strain, headaches, musculoskeletal disorders, stress injuries, and carpal tunnel syndrome.” To improve this: take a step back, figure out what you’re trying to say, write with specificity and detail, don’t keep introducing new topics every two or three sentences. Stay focused, narrow the scope—you are dwelling a lot in vague generalities in part because you started with such abstract vague notions. Choose something more concrete to explore with the concepts.