Urban Research

[Image: San Francisco, as seen from the cockpit of a 747; photo by Olivier Roux].

The last few days have been pretty awesome. We’ve been road-tripping up from Los Angeles to Reno for a dinner with author William Fox, Matthew Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, landscape activist Lucy Lippard, Land Arts of the American West co-founder Bill Gilbert, cultural programmer Dorothy Dunn, Steve Wells of the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Libby Robin from the National Museum of Australia, and the staff of the Nevada Museum of Art‘s Center for Art + Environment; we spent the day yesterday on a tour of the DRI’s ice core research facilities, its micro-atmospheric testing rooms (like characters in a Borges story, they once used their equipment to test the metal content in the ink letters of a Gutenberg Bible in order to identify those letters’ near-millennium-old liquid chemistry), and the DRI’s full-scale virtual reality room.

I have some hilarious and amazing photos of Matthew Coolidge wearing black VR goggles, holding remote controls in each hand, while Bill Gilbert and Lucy Lippard look on, equally engoggled and optically stunned, flying helter-skelter over virtual terrains to chase simulated forest fires up canyon walls, the replicant ground dropping out from beneath them as we ran straight off a cliff, and I hope to post those here soon.

We had amazing conversations, as well: we’re all gearing up for a big conference next year in Reno, hosted by the Center for Art + Environment at the end of September 2011. That will definitely be something to keep your eye on if you’re at all interested in landscapes, the hydrosciences, water rights, mythology and the American West, archaeoastronomy, the contested history (and future) of weather modification, offworld exploration, the anthropology of mining, nature writing in its broadest possible sense, and much more. We’re putting together something really fantastic, to be honest, and you have 18 months to make plans to be there.

Even better, Nicola Twilley from Edible Geography and Mark Smout of Smout Allen were also on hand, winning stuffed animals together in the Circus Circus casino (Mark quipped that the casinos were simply “giant, ugly buildings with jewelry stuck on them, like earrings”), and so the three of us are now down in San Francisco, where we’ll be picking up Sarah Rich tomorrow to drive down to LA—and I can hardly imagine a better group of people to hit the Californian road with. The roads outside Reno were eight-foot canyons of plowed snow till we hit the Bay Bridge and drove past Alcatraz blinking in the darkness.

[Image: Photo by George Steinmetz/CORBIS for National Geographic; via @stevesilberman].

In any case, if you’re near San Francisco tonight, Tuesday, March 16, I’ll be giving a talk at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) starting at 6pm. It costs $5, unfortunately, but it should be fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends and colleagues again; as all of those friends and colleagues know, I wasn’t a huge fan of San Francisco when I lived here, but it’s good to be back in this rolling city of fog lines, abandoned bunkers that look like hills, tectonic trembling, lost ships, ghost streets, buried dunes, vinicultural microclimates, chemical weapons, a suicide bridge, and its artificially shrunken bay. I’ll be talking about quarantine, The BLDGBLOG Book (which I’m thrilled to say has just gone into a second printing), the “Glacier/Island/Storm” studio and its accompanying blog-week experiment, blackouts, and more.

6 thoughts on “Urban Research”

  1. Now, this is surreal: I've been following BLDGBLOG for a while in my RSS feeds and imagine my surprise when I saw my name popping up in NetNewsWire!
    Yes, that photo is from me.
    It was taken when landing in SF and I was sitting in the cockpit of the 747 because I was traveling as a GP and the plane was chockfull, so I did the whole trip on a spare folding sit.
    Great memory.

  2. It was wonderful to hear your talk at SPUR tonight – I have been a big fan/religious reader of BLDGBLOG for years and waiting for you to come back to SF. The talk about the artificially built environment influencing the natural environment/climate was especially interesting. Thank you for the inspiring and fun talk!

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