Required Reading on Seeing + Sensing Cities

I stumbled across the course description for Reading Cities, Sensing Cities: A Global Urban Humanities Interdisciplinary Colloquium at UC Berkeley.

The description links to many of the required materials, all very interesting perspectives on cities that I would read right now if I could. Instead, I’m positing here to come back to as I have time.

This interdisciplinary colloquium will present speakers investigating cities and urbanism from multiple angles—through texts about cities, through looking at cities as texts, through art, photography, sound and music, performance, mapping, and crowdsourced sensing technologies. Speakers will include faculty and graduate students from departments including Architecture, Art History, Art Practice, City and Regional Planning, Comparative Literature, Geography, Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, and more.


The course page copy pasted here:

Click on the lecture titles below for links to readings, videos, links, and speaker bios for each session.  Readings will be made available as soon as they are provided by speakers.

August 28 - Art + Village + City in China | Margaret Crawford, Professor, Architecture

September 4 - Experiential Mapping of the Urban Form: Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas and Intranational International Boulevard | Darin Jensen, Continuing Lecturer and Dept. Cartographer, Geography

September 11 - Representing Our Urban Diversity: Romare Bearden’s Berkeley-The City and Its People (1973) | Lauren Kroiz, Assistant Professor, History of Art

September 18 - Reading Cities as a Blind Person | Chris Downey, Architect; Georgina Kleege, English

September 25 - Sensing San Leandro: Capturing Cityscapes through Sensors | Greg Niemeyer, Art Practice; Ron Rael, Architecture and Art Practice

October 2 - Experiments in Online and Print Journals on Cities

  • Urban Pilgrimage | Padma Maitland, Architecture and South and Southeast Asian Studies; Lawrence Yang, East Asian Languages and Cultures
  • Participatory Urbanisms | Karin Shankar, Performance Studies; Kirsten Larson, City and Regional Planning and Architecture

October 9 - Uneven Modernity and the “Peripheral” City: Between Ethnography, History and Literature in Tbilisi | Harsha Ram, Associate Professor, Slavic Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature

October 16 - Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area | Shannon Steen, Associate Professor, Theater, Dance & Performance Studies

October 23 - Urban Space, Spectacle, Memory and Music in Nineteenth-Century Vienna |Nicholas Mathew, Associate Professor, Music

October 30 - Nature, Culture, and Conflict at a Shoreline Landfill: The Albany Bulb | Susan Moffat, Project Director, Global Urban Humanities

November 6 - The Art of Change: Exploring Neighborhoods in Transition | Sue Mark, Artist,, Anisha Gade, MSArch candidate, UC Berkeley

November 13 - From 1904 Dublin to the Megacity: Public Access in Ulysses and Katarina Schröter’s The Visitor | Catherine Flynn, Assistant Professor, English

November 20 - The Tokyo Model: Lessons in Slum Non-Clearance from the World’s First “Megacity” | Jordan Sand, Professor, Japanese History and Culture, Georgetown University

Topography of Tears

When we cry, whether it be from rolling on the floor laughing or from grieving over the loss of a loved one, are our tears just tears? Are they all the same?

The Topography of Tears is a study by Rose-Lynn Fisher of the micro-structures of tears studied through a microscope, magnified 100 or 400x.

This study is a fascinating compliment to the work of Masaru Emoto studying the effect of words, thoughts, and images on water, shows that the microstructure of tears depend on the emotion that brings them out.

I love how she writes,

Roaming microscopic vistas, I marvel at the visual similarities between micro and macro realms, how the patterning of nature seems so consistent, regardless of scale. Patterns of erosion etched into earth over millions of years may look quite similar to the branched crystalline patterns of an evaporated tear that took less than a minute to occur.

Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as a rite of passage. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling into consciousness. Wordless and spontaneous, they release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis: shedding tears, shedding old skin. It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.

Laughing Until Crying Tears Rose Lynn Fisher Topography of Tears

Onion Tears Rose Lynn Fisher  Topography of Tears


Tears of elation at a liminal moment Rose Lynn Fisher  Topography of Tears


Tears of ending and beginning Rose Lynn Fisher  Topography of Tears


Tears of Grief Rose Lynn Fisher  Topography of Tears


Tears of Rememberance Rose Lynn Fisher  Topography of Tears


Tears of those who yearn for liberation Rose Lynn Fisher  Topography of Tears


Tears of timeless reunion Rose Lynn Fisher  Topography of Tears

Knockout and New Perspectives on Violence

*Note: This piece was originally written in Winter 2014, forgotten about, and published when rediscovered a year later. Originally posted on

If you were assaulted on the street would empathy be your response? Here’s why it was mine.

As I lift myself off of the concrete sidewalk, two women nearby run to me asking, “Oh my god! Are you alright? Are you hurt?” Piercing pain pulses down my nose, across my lips and to my chin, and as I touch my face, I realize it’s from the freezing winter wind chilling the blood flowing from my nose and mouth.

The women lead me off of the dimly lit street into the girls’ school we’re directly in front of and to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, my face has already begun to swell. My gums have torn from my upper lip, my nose is bleeding, but there are no broken bones and only a small abrasion on my cheek.

I’ve just been an unsuspecting participant of the infamous ‘Knockout’ game, where mostly teenagers punch unsuspecting passers-by in the face, attempting to knockout their victim in one blow. Unlike most knockout cases, my attacker was alone and didn’t flee the scene running away. The women who helped me said he only slightly turned his head to make sure nobody pursued him and kept walking. I never even saw the attack coming. Afterwards, I would struggle with the anger that arose and a jarring disconnect that comes with suffering the consequences of an attack without having fully experienced it. Oddly enough, it was in this vacuum of a clear place for blame to fall that created space to think deeply about accountability and the broader drivers of violence.

The street had been dimly lit, and the night was cold, with everyone I’d passed hidden away behind their layers. My attacker fully passed my field of vision before pivoting around to hook punch me from outside of my peripheral vision. I didn’t see the blow coming. At first, trying to make sense of what had happened, I felt surprisingly little. In addition to the numbing effects of shock, the anonymity of the assault made it even more difficult to process my response. It was as if I needed to place blame before I could allow myself to feel one way or another. The whole experience of victimhood became almost impersonal as I listened from an oddly removed place to the anger and concern of friends and family. People threw around words like ‘degenerate,’ even though they knew as little about him as I did. From this place of detachment, ‘degenerate’ started sounding more like a scapegoat. Assuming my attacker belonged to a lesser place–be it ethically or socio-economically–seemed to give people a false sense of security by identifying an easy enemy, yet he was still on the streets and we had no clue about what drove him to do it.

As time went on, it became easier to own and understand my feelings. I was less concerned with him being on the streets as I was with why he did it. It occurred to me that for a person to be able to hit another person–let alone a small woman–for no obvious motive, not even to make a quick buck, he must feel extremely angry. No surprise there, I felt that anger in the form of a fist on a collision course with my face. But the way he did it made me think he must have felt extremely powerless, too. Did the anonymity make it easier for him to disconnect with the implications of what he did? I think back to when I was a self-destructive teenager brimming with angst how I’d stupidly put myself and others at real risk in misguided attempts to discharge my own feelings. In spite of wanting nothing more than to hate him and move on with it, I couldn’t help but identify with – or at least somewhat understand – the need to cope with internal conflict by externalizing those feelings through anger and destructiveness. Possibly as surprising as the attack itself, my response to it became a mélange of anger and empathy.

Make no mistake, I am angry at my attacker, whoever he is–though considerably less than my friends and family are. I am angry at him for the physical damage he caused, but even more so for the fear he created. For the first time in my life, I was painfully aware of the vulnerability of being a small female, especially on an island with eight million strangers where the luxury of personal space is limited. But this societal wariness that lingers below the surface has stoked anger in me that seeks accountability from more places than just my attacker.

As Zaid Hassan wrote in The Social Labs Revolution, “violent conflict is a largely avoidable product of ineffective approaches to social issues.” Inequality is now strongly correlated with social issues like violence. I began to look at our practices that alienate and disempower people, which wasn’t hard. It’s smeared across the edifices of society. Instead of picturing the face of my attacker, all I could see was people depicted in the ‘Wolf On Wall Street,’ or as Sam Polk recently wrote in the New York Times, the CEO who feels justified in receiving $14 million in compensation and an $8.5 million bonus while his corporation advises its employees on how to live on poverty wages. My once tepid anger flared. These individuals and the consequences of their actions cause more than just one instance of a relatively obscure crime, yet almost never face any accountability for the cost it imparts on society.

There’s plenty of blame, anger, and accountability to go around, so let’s feed it up accurately. Merriam Webster defines a degenerate as “one degraded from the normal moral standard.” Perhaps ‘degenerate’ is an appropriate word to use, after all, but for a different kind of person than most who use the word are referencing. There are more levels of causality than an action and its immediate outcomes. An action does not happen in isolation, but as a result of a range of precursors that set the stage for it to happen.

I blame my attacker. I also blame the megalomaniacs and the institutions they hide behind to acquire power and money and meaningless material things at the expense of others. I blame the policies that overlook so many parts of our population, and overlook the injustices sanctioned in lackluster regulations for the fossil fuel and financial industries.

Some may write-off my response, because victims are often discounted as irrational; and the fact that I can’t place my attacker means I’m looking for a scapegoat somewhere. I say it has given me a rare ability to approach blame and accountability in more objective way. In this instance, blame has been placed on both the attacker and the active drivers of the societal disease and inequality that feeds violence. What I am not saying is that aggressors should not take responsibility for their actions. They absolutely should. However, we as a society should consciously widen our definitions of victim and aggressor–and the word degenerate–and the sphere of responsibility to have a much keener understanding of the ripple effect of our politics and our businesses and our cultural practices. Only then can aggressors–in both the traditional and non-traditional sense of the word–be acutely aware of how they play into a vicious cycle of otherness, anger, and societal ill so we can take effective actions to mitigate them rather than exacerbate the problem through irrational reaction. In a social phenomenon like ‘knockout’, it’s not just about getting punched in the street by some ‘degenerate.’ We need to open our eyes in our anger and quickness to blame those that we don’t understand to be able to really address violence.

Extraordinary phenomenon

I’ve recently started following a Facebook page that might just be more enamored with Alan Watts than I am. It recently posted this quote, and it hit a chord with me. There’s been a growing movement around self-love, because a lot of (dare I say most?) people really struggle with that. At the same time, it’s easy to look at the stars and the mountains and wonder at their existence. At their beauty. What if we could see ourselves through a similar lens?

Alan Watts You and the trees and the galaxies

Image Via (original source unknown)

“What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.” – Alan Watts





All New

No matter how often I help others refine and create their messages, it’s invariably one of the most difficult tasks to do for myself. Updating my website over the past couple of months has been no exception. I’ve made it through the process, and I have an awesome new site that I’m super happy with. And it just so happens I can now add website design to my list of already varied capabilities. So, pop on over and take a look, and please share in your networks!

Research, Strategy, Story.





Wrestling with wild lions: The most magical 13 minutes of your day online

The endless stream of underwhelming content on the web can be overwhelming. It’s videos like these that restore my faith in the direction of the digital medium: it somehow manages to transport us back to the things we’ve tried so hard to distance ourselves from and smack us in the face with the beauty of everything we’re connected to.

A researcher in South Africa has studied and known these animals for ten years and has become so intimate with them that he can greet them in the wild like they were siblings. I particularly love how when he’s asked if he sees himself as a ‘lion whisperer’, he replies, “In a phrase people coin because of the relationships I have and the ability I have to interact with these animals without having to make them submit through fear? Then yes.”

Watch it. It’s sure to be the best 13 minutes of your online day.




Me, A Mule, and Colombia’s Lost City

Colombia. What an awesome country. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was happily surprised when we went for my 30th birthday last year (yes, it’s a 7 month late birthday posting).

Living in New York City, what I wanted most was to get out of the concrete grid. With two weeks to run amok, we chose to explore the northern coast extensively, rather than not spending much time in any one place by also exploring inland towards Medellin and Bogota. The focus of the trip was a five day trek into the Colombian Sierra Nevada’s Tayrona National Park to La Ciudad Perdida, The Lost City.

It took a steep three-day hike up the mountain on foot to get there, and on the fourth morning we made the ascent to the ancient city on a long and slightly treacherous stone stairway up through the thick of the forest. In the heart of the Sierra, the jungle opened out to an extensive network of paths and clearings and ruins that outline the blueprint of the ancient civilization of the Tayrona people. La Ciudad Perdida is 600 years older than Macchu Pichu. Unlike Macchu Pichu’s big rock formations that have weathered the time, the Tayrona people built huts out of organic materials, which have eroded away over the years and left nothing but circles of land raised on rocks where each family built their home and an extensive system of rock footpaths weaving around the city of hills and rock pools that made up the ancient city.

Colombia Jungle Collage 2

In retrospect, the climb to the city was as much as a treat as reaching the city itself. Almost immediately as we embarked on the dirt road at the start of the trip, submersing ourselves in the vibrant green and oxygen-thick air, I felt clearer and lighter than I’d been in a long time. My eyes and my body were drinking in the life all around me, and throughout the trek I would often have to stop and take in the splendor of the gigantic leaves, the train of ants carrying leaves on their backs, and the ancient trees. It was exhilarating. We climbed steep slopes, crossed rushing jungle rivers (thank goodness for it being the dry season and the river was relatively cooperative), and stopped to swim in gorgeous little pools along the way. Every day, it would rain like clockwork around 2:30 in the afternoon, cooling us down from the hard trek.

Colombia Jungle Collage 1

After three and a half days of climbing up the mountain range, we had become quite fit, and a handful of us decided to keep pace with the guide’s son and cook, Ricardo, on the path down. He had always gone ahead of us, making it to camp in time to start preparing food. He was about 17 years old, tall and fit, and he made this journey often. To keep up with him, we had to run.

It was glorious. It felt like we were flying through the jungle weightlessly.

About 45 minutes into our run, all my weight came crashing down onto my left ankle as it rolled out of place.

My blood was hot and adrenaline was pumping, and though I could hardly feel any pain, I knew it was bad. We were 30 minutes from our next camp, and about a 12 hour hike to the village of Machete, the start and end point of the trip. We were still in the middle of the jungle. There was no way I could walk the remainder of the way to camp, and there was no choice but for me to be carried. The Fella was the first to carry me, but tired quickly. The other two guys with us took their turns, too, but they didn’t last long, either. As you learn from mafia movies, human bodies can be unwieldy.

Ricardo decided he would take over, and he handed his pack to the guys to carry. It was not far from my weight – he had been carrying foodstuffs and cooking supplies the whole time, and our group of 14 had already been eating from it for two days. With me on his back, we set off. Somehow, he still outpaced the others, leading the pack jumping stones across rivers and along perilous paths that dropped to the riverbed far below – all in rainboots. When we made it back to camp, though my ankle was akin to an over-sized grapefruit, I was able to hobble around camp to shower and pull myself together. I hoped that the next day the swelling would subside and I might be able to hobble my way to the end.

The next morning, I woke to a rock for an ankle. In contrast to the heat and adrenaline from the day before, it had cooled over night and would not move. There was no way I could finish the trip on foot. Our group went ahead while Ricardo went to rent me a horse (read mule) from an indigenous man who happened to also be going to town that day. When he returned, we set off on the last day of the trip, me on my carriage and the Fella on foot. While it can be expected that it would be difficult for a city man whose livelihood depends on sitting at a computer to keep up with Ricardo, one would also expect that as a man of six foot four inches, his long legs would give him an advantage on Jose, who was well below five feet. But it was the hike of his lifetime.

When we finally caught up with the group who had left ahead of us and surpassed them even, I decided that the Fella would be fine in the company of the group, and I could gallop ahead. Only, he continued to walk with Jose, who spoke no English, and the Fella does not speak Spanish. Though it was difficult, the Fella felt proud that he was able to keep up with the person who was a foot and a half shorter than him. Some way down the path, Jose pulled some cocoa leaves from his bag and licked a stick of seashell powder from the gourd at his hip to activate the cocoa leaves he had started chewing. Legend has it, he then looked at the Fella, flashed him a green, cocoa leaf- stained grin, and shot up the next hill as if he were Mario in a Nintendo game, hopping up and out of the fella’s site complete with bouncing sound effects. Meanwhile, I galloped through the jungle down the trail to Machete with a trader who I’d come across, where I waited for the group to arrive with my foot up (but still no ice) and a beer awaiting for the Fella.

Colombia Jungle Collage 3

Having fell in love with the land of Northern Colombia, we had hoped to continue our trip exploring the seaside and rivers westward, but my ankle decided otherwise. Instead, we found a little hostel with a pool in a nearby touristy town called Taganga, where the Fella got his PADI certification while I sat with my foot up in a hammock, reading. I can’t say the trip was ruined. The story may have even been worth the fall, but when I got back to New York City, I found that the only place more difficult to have a sprained ankle than the Colombian jungle was the concrete jungle.

Check out more pictures of the trip including Cartagena and Santa Marta.




Wonders of the Web: Wait, What’s This Day All About?

Realizing rather belatedly that Valentine’s Day was nearly upon us, a night of obligated celebration sounded, well, like any obligation, unappealing. I was, and still am, tempted to have a House of Cards celebration night instead. But aside from all the push for people to buy things they don’t need – lingerie and hot outfits and jewelry, it’s nice to stop and tell the people you love that you love them. For a similar reason, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – nothing but sharing a delicious meal with the people you care about. No worries to be had about the etiquette around presents and who did or did not get what. Valentine’s Day can be a reminder not of what you don’t have, but to be appreciative of what we do have! So for me, it’s about doing something you enjoy with someone you love – like reading a book, cooking a cake with your sister, or putting that gorgeous chess set you just bought your fella for his birthday to use (now you know what I’ll be doing).


Fact: sexy underwear aren’t the only way to feel sexy.


28 kids awkwardly expressing their love on Valentine’s Day. These are pure gold.


Love your life?


How to survive Valentine’s Day, according to Gala Darling’s radical self love project.


Dumb ways to valentine.


A Colombian Adventure in Pictures

With no reprieve from the winter cold, I’m revisiting the pictures of our trip to Colombia for my 30th birthday in May.

We spent our time on the Northern Coast, and I loved it so much, I want to go back to see everything we didn’t get to see. It’s polished and gritty, upcoming and ancient, quaint and trendy. All the while speaking Spanish! I could spend months there, easily.

Below is a round-up of pictures from our trip, and another post is in the works on our trek to La Ciudad Perdida, The Lost City.


Cartagena Colombia

Colombia Jungle Collage 1Colombia SM