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H & T

2011 June 25
by dan bertolet

H & T = Housing and Transportation = An ongoing series of intentionally banal pictures of the places in which we live with the vehicles in which we travel, pictures that have the capacity to become less and less banal the closer you look, because no matter how commonplace it all may seem to those of us who see these forms and elements every day, they are all products of diverse human personalities steeped in history and culture, and they say everything about who we really are. And as all you wonky wonks surely know, housing and transportation are the cornerstones of urban design and planning. (Click on the images to enlarge.) Last updated June 25, 2011.

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More H&T photos after the jump…

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More H&T photos after the jump…

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< Vincennes, just outside Paris; photo: Ray Gastil >

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20 Responses leave one →
  1. Wells permalink
    April 10, 2011

    You’ve hit on something really good this time, Dan. Collect the photographs well done and I’ll forgive you for screwing with Portland’s Memorial Coliseum.

    • Wells permalink
      April 10, 2011

      Think about adding some photoshop details and landscaping.

  2. Amanda permalink
    April 10, 2011

    classic.

  3. brad permalink
    April 11, 2011

    Nice Post. Little pictures like this nicely capture different slices of seattle’s feel.

    And, off topic, could you please, I’m begging you, please, fix the RSS so that it feeds us full articles instead of just a summary?

  4. james in the CD permalink
    April 11, 2011

    “and they say everything about who we really are”

    Everything about who “we really are” can be defined by a digital image (posted in virtual space – no site visit required) of a dwelling unit and the mode of transportation parked in front of the dwelling unit?

    Who and what one is – as defined by a single “image” of their dwelling unit and mode of transportation yields only an elementary (at best) understanding of the core values of who one “is” and leaves out so much of the other.

    It is kind of sad to know that human thought patterns have been reduced to recognition of images….sadder that you are propagating that this form of analysis yields an understanding of “who we really are”. These images do not take into consideration the intricate processes and happenstance sometimes involved in how one ends up living at XYZ and driving ABC.

    What is the message one is to arrive at by observing these images – what are we to take away from these? Are we the observer of these images suppose to make broad value judgments on the people that occupy these structures and drive these cars?

    • Tarn McDaddo permalink
      May 29, 2011

      I have to agree with James. I also furthermore challenge Dan’s assertion that these images are “intentionally banal”. Few of these images qualify as banal by any definition of the word. In fact I would say that the true intention behind the images selected here is not even banality at all, but intentional irony or retrospection, visually speaking at least. I would claim that more than a few of these were selected for this site specifically due to a distinct visual punch or contrast…not exactly the driving definition of banality.

      It is very sad to believe that a single image of a random housing unit and assumed associated mode of transportation somehow “defines who we are”. This speaks to the trend in dissociation between unrelated members of community that has been developing over the past half-century or longer: our propensity to judge others’ positions, and therefore also self-confirming our own, by means of simple observation. In this exercise the observation of the subject themselves is retracted from the equation. We now no longer need to even see the subject, much less interact with them personally, before issuing our judgement.

      More interesting would be to actually take this a step further and attempt to meet and/or interview the people who live their lives in the surroundings pictured here. Maybe then an actual connection between the housing and transportation choices and those who choose to use them could potentially develop. As it stands here, these images tell us nothing whatsoever about the people whose lives interweave with the objects depicted.

      As a fellow planner, this piece reminds me of the broader planning field’s continual desire to quantify and simplify larger social issues into small, discrete pieces that are easily digestible. In my opinion, we need to work harder to fight the urge to define by simple visual classification, especially in this age of digital visual overload.

      On the other hand, I would like to say that there are indeed many beautiful photos collected here Dan. I just challenge you to reconsider the conclusions you are attempting to draw here.

      • Dan Staley permalink
        May 29, 2011

        As a fellow planner, this piece reminds me of the broader planning field’s continual desire to quantify and simplify larger social issues into small, discrete pieces that are easily digestible. In my opinion, we need to work harder to fight the urge to define by simple visual classification, especially in this age of digital visual overload.

        Dan’l is sitting on something I submitted that looks at your concerns in a different way. You may want to wait before any more opprobrium on the fotos and what they mean.

        Just a thought.

  5. Erik permalink
    April 16, 2011

    A great idea for a series, and already speaking volumes. Good work.

    And quoting Brad: “And, off topic, could you please, I’m begging you, please, fix the RSS so that it feeds us full articles instead of just a summary?” Please please please

  6. dan bertolet permalink*
    April 16, 2011

    Brad and Erik – thanks for the suggestion. I just made the change. Let me know if it’s still only feeding summaries.

  7. Jane Jacobs permalink
    April 23, 2011

    Interesting ratio between cars, bikes and transit.

    • james in the CD permalink
      May 12, 2011

      is the ratio interesting?

      as how many people stage their bikes on their porch or in the front yard so that it can be captured on a digital camera. (mine lives in the living room)

      and as for transit several of these images are within a 1/4 mile of a transit stop.

      also, who is to say that the car in front of the house is owned by the person occupying the structure or that it is even that of a visitor to the persons occupying the house- this assumption strikes me as odd.

      i can tell you though – the sweet orange ride, he does live in those apartments.

    • Tarn McDaddo permalink
      May 29, 2011

      I don’t think you can draw any conclusions at all by the ratio of cars vs. bicycles that appear in these images. The images were intentionally selected for a certain visual impact…they cannot be assumed to be exactly representative of the precise ratio of cars vs. bicycles that exist in these spaces. Much less be extrapolated to represent the ratio of trip modes.

      Take the first picture for instance (the Pike/Pine apartment building). How many units in that building? How many residents? How many do you think even own a car? How many walk everywhere and have neither bike nor car? Like James mentioned, how many keep their bikes in their units? If you were to take a photo of the front of my building, you would see neither the one car I have in the garage nor the three bicycles I have in my unit. And even if you did, it would not tell you that I walk for about 90% of all my trips.

      Although these images may speak about the environment we have created for ourselves to live in, I cringe at the thought of trying to infer anything at all about the people who live here or the transportation modes that they use.

  8. Popescu permalink
    April 30, 2011

    People are dying in Arkansas. This is not so funny.

    • Dan Staley permalink
      May 28, 2011

      A baby was also born in Boston. Therefore we enjoy the pix.

  9. House Carl permalink
    May 26, 2011

    Hey I know that apartment, the one at top. And I know that car, whose owner is steeped in the culture of “driving down the narrow streets of his neighborhood at speeds that match those of cars merging onto I-5 at the James Street on-ramp”. Yes, I know them well, and know to dive into the bushes whenever I see those gigantic tires carrying around that plump orange crap box.

  10. Giovanni Piranesi permalink
    May 29, 2011

    Nothing banal about these and a worthy study, (even better than prisons, perhaps). Liked the image of Vincennes among the lot. Was this to see if we are awake?

  11. dan bertolet permalink*
    June 1, 2011

    Hey James and Tarn, you’re reading into things a bit too far, no? Keep in mind the word “we,” in the sentence “they say everything about who we really are.” Do you really think I’m dumb enough to believe that cars in front of the buildings must belong to people who live there?

    They say everything about who we are because for most (not all!) people houses and cars are the number 1 and 2 most expensive and influential material things in life. And they are also the number 1 and 2 most visually prominent features of urban landscapes.

    Somebody decided they wanted to make a big investment in that orange car parked in front of the Manchester Arms, and before that happened a whole lot of other people put huge amounts of creative energy into making sure there was just the right orange car available to fill that person’s need. And that car sits on a cobblestone street in front of a building that was built before cars were ubiquitous, etc etc.

    Who we are and how we got here is staring us in the face every day but it all seems so commonplace that we tend to look right through it. In my humble opinion, of course.

    • Tarn McDaddo permalink
      June 26, 2011

      Hi Dan,
      Thanks for the reply, I just ran across your page once again. I would respectfully counter, however, by suggesting that it is perhaps instead the concepts driving this article that are reading into things a bit too far…perhaps? I cannot deny that houses and vehicles are indeed usually the two single most expensive MATERIAL POSSESSIONS that individual folks invest in—that much is clear. They are also obviously critical components of daily life, particularly housing of course, which I think also supports your supposition concerning their role in defining who we are. But to say that these two elements of the urban landscape say EVERYTHING about who we REALLY ARE is a stretch, and not just a minor one. It is fundamentally reductive and categorical in a way that totally misses the true connections that help us understand and appreciate one another.

      I definitely don’t think you’re dumb, and whether specific cars shown in front of specific buildings belong to the residents who live there is irrelevant. My point is that a few select photos of certain buildings and cars, devoid of any human presence, with no underlying examination of the interrelationship between the “urban landscape” being depicted and the people that you are attempting to draw conclusions about, really say nothing at all about who we are. I’m not sure you can even say that cars and housing are the number 1 and number 2 most visually prominent features of urban landscapes. It might be that those elements are what draw your eye, but they hardly comprise the totality of the urban landscape and certainly do not comprise the totality of who we really are. An urban landscape that consisted of nothing but housing and vehicles would certainly be banal indeed…and hardly urban.

      I would agree with you that for a certain segment of the population, their investment in their home and vehicle, both in terms of financial investment as well as investments of time, labor, and emotional connection, is immeasurable. But again you have to think about what constitutes the efforts and interests of the individual versus what constitutes the interests and definition of “us” as a whole. There is a vastly expansive public world of commerce, culture, social interaction, production, leisure, recreation…none of which have anything at all to do with what houses we live in or what cars we drive.

      Again, I do appreciate what you have going here in this photo essay, but I would just encourage you to reconsider the level of social definition you are hoping to achieve with these photos.

    • james in the CD permalink
      June 27, 2011

      I too felt I had to respond. You suggest that I am reading into things a bit far; I would suggest you do a re-read your thesis; you are the one suggesting we can develop an understanding of “who we really are” by just casually observing digital images of dwelling units. This seems pretty heavy to me.

      The images you posted lie. They were framed by you… an architect. They are void of history. They are void of topography. Most are void of the natural elements that lie in back of the front setback and façade of the structure. They are void of their place in the urban network. They are void of history.

      Take for instance the little yellow Central District house with the red door and the red scooter. Regardless, of the fact that I walk by this house every day and have yet to see a scooter out front – I can tell you that your image of the structure does not show the garage/mother in-law unit that is on the lot in the rear yard immediately south of the main structure, nor is it showing the kids that often play in the side yard. Your image is not telling the whole truth, yet you are asking readers to make assumptions about “we” by images you framed. Your perspective is of an architect.

      You say, “They say everything about who we are because for most (not all!) people houses and cars are the number 1 and 2 most expensive and influential material things in life.”

      Houses and Cars – say nothing of the human spirit; and to suggest something like that is absurd and offensive. The design of the most expensive items you consume do not define who “we” are. They tell us something of the system we live in, but nothing of the human spirit. And even if they did – your images – framed (by you the architect) – taken out of context of the City and of History will only lead to false assumptions…in my humble opinion, of course.

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