Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

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Severe Thunderstorms: Airam and I on Our Way Home.

Keep Austin Dry!

on May 17, 2012 by SN

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Houston, We Have a Problem.

In Sina's Posts,Transportation,Trips on May 11, 2012 by SN

The first stop on my Texas voyage is Houston, named after the first and third President of the Texas Republic (1836-1846). When I think of Houston, the Johnson Space Center as well as the latest Hurricanes which hit the city near the Gulf Coast come to my mind.

Coming to Houston was a bit problematic. But that is entirely my fault. When I booked the flight I did not pay enough attention to the abbreviations AM and PM behind the flight times. When Tamás discovered the mistake, it was already too expensive to change this flight. Soooo, instead of flying out in the morning, I boarded the smaller plane at Heartsfield Jackson exactly 12 hours later.

What is Houston like? Imagine a Tropenhaus at your most favorite zoo with exotic birds singing and chirping wonderful melodies, huge teal black-patterned butterflies flying around you, bright pink, red, and orange flowers sitting on rich green bushes and trees amidst the glistening hot sun soaked in 60-90 percent humidity. Add to that roughly 2.1 million inhabitants from all corners of the world, lots of grey and beige concrete, and hundreds of mosquitoes et voilà – this is your Texan metropolis.

I would have never thought that Houston is such a great city for art lovers like me. Many of the museums are relatively new, which points to the city’s effort to transform the its image away from that of a center of oil and corruption scandals (Remember Enron?) to a young, creative, and innovative global hub. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I spent my first day in Houston exploring the rich art landscape touring the following sites:

Cullen Sculpture Garden.

Perspectives 178: Cineplex.

Les LeVesque showed all of Charlton Heston’s films in a stroposcope-like speed (above, left screen). Dutch artist Frederick Brodheck mapped the entire film 2001: A Space Odyssey in a circle with regard to movement and color (above, right screen). American artist Christian Marclay cut together sequences of telephone calls across American film history. My most favorite piece was an installation by German artist Gustav Mantel, who isolated very short clips of Hollywood films and looped them. The continuous loop of repetitive movements of body parts created the illusion that the actors are artificial beings. Check it out on his Tumblr. Mindblowing!

Moment of Zen with 14 Black Paintings Inside: Rothko Chapel.

Art in the Grass: The Mentil Collection.

  • Cy Twombly Gallery
  • Houston Center for Photography: The second highlight of my Houston museum pilgrimage featured three different photo exhibits that dealt in very different ways with the theme of age: portraits of elderly dogs, a very professional exhibit planned and organized by local high school kids (see below), and an exhibit that examined the interaction between nature and civilization.

Houston Center For Photography: Aging Exhibit Organized by Students.

Especially the CAMH and HCP exhibits put Houston on my art map. I liked how they brought up innovative topics and unconventional strategies of putting an exhibit together. I can see how Houston is a place where you can come and try out new things. That is probably why the city keeps growing and challenging Chicago as the third-largest city in the United States.

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I’ve Been to the Mountaintop! I

In German Culture in ATL,Sina's Posts,Transportation,Trips on April 27, 2012 by SN

Last year, I sent abstracts to two prestigious conferences. The first one is the CLA Conference which celebrated its 75th anniversary in Atlanta. CLA is the largest association of African American college teachers in the United States and invites research on African American, Hispanic literature and culture in particular and people of color in general. The second conference is the Show and Prove conference on hip-hop organized by the NYU Department of Multicultural Education and Programs in New York City. As it soon turned out, I was accepted to both of them, and this is the story of my extraordinary conference weekend.

Thursday, March 29, and Friday, March 30, I attended CLA at the Hyatt Regency just across from our home. I found the topic on the newly emerging field Afro German Studies highly interesting and attended the panel entitled “German-African American Scholarly and Cultural Legacies” moderated by Margaret Hampton. The panel demonstrated that there is a growing body of research investigating the connection between African American identities and the German culture. Leroy Hopkins, for instance, examined two late 19th century autobiographies. He showed how the authors had romanticized ideas of Germany, which to them was a nation unburdened by a history of oppression and slavery. One of the authors even wrote about going to Dresden to learn the most sophisticated German dialect! Ironically, their idealization of Germany happened amidst a climate of German colonization and increasing exotification of ethnic difference as exemplified by the many Völkerschauen. The panel affirmed the fact that there had been a long history of African Americans and Germany. W.E.B. Du Bois, for instance, lived in Germany in order to experience the motherland of American education. German philosophy, to give another example, has influenced many Black intellectual leaders. The novel Slumberland, which I discussed with my students in my course German Culture in the United States: Identities, Representations, and Politics, uses Germany as a place to discuss the state of race-relations in the supposed age of “post-race”. I was very intrigued by the panel not only in an academic way, but also on a more practical level: How can we inspire African American, Hispanic, and students of color to come over to Germany? After the panel I had a long conversation with Ms. Hampton and Mr. Hopkins about all of those issues.

On Friday morning I moderated a panel on “Looking to Ancestors, Autobiography and Memoir for Post-Colonial and Political Insight”. My presentation examined how Sister Souljah’s 1994 autobiography No Disrespect reconfigured of the slave narrative genre in order to make the point that slavery continues to exist in American society. The panel went very well and I got great feedback on my talk. Yeah!

Attending CLA brought me many new ideas for research projects, but also projects that involve student exchanges. If I were at Oglethorpe University longer, I would definitely look into those programs more closely and set up an exchange program.

After attending CLA in the morning, I rushed to the airport and boarded the plane to New York City.

Off to NYC! Downtown Atlanta from the Plane.

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Somewhere over VA, probably.

Red-Eye

on January 1, 2012 by Tamás

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En Route

In Status,Tamás' Posts,Transportation,Trips on November 22, 2011 by Tamás

We’re on our way to Memphis with Megabus. Just crossed into another time zone.

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“The Poster Child of Sprawl”

In Sina's Posts,Transportation on October 8, 2011 by SN

Each city has its very own spatial challenges. Chemnitz fights against demographic change. The Ruhr Area faces the Strukturwandel (structural change). New York City’s main challenge is gentrification. Atlanta’s urban fate is Sprawl. The Environmental Justice Resource Center defines Sprawl as “random unplanned growth characterized by inadequate accessibility to essential land uses such as housing, jobs, and public services like schools, hospitals, and mass transit.”  The other day I eagerly discussed this issue with a colleague who is teaching an excellent course on Urban Ecology.

Atlanta’s Sprawl is a quite recent phenomenon. For most of the 19th century, the city was dominated by agriculture. Only in the 20th century, industrialization substantially transformed the landscape as the city’s expansion coincided with the victory of post-WWII car culture. New suburban neighborhoods were created far out, because now it was possible to drive downtown to work.

In the late 1940s, authorities also decided for Atlanta to be located on three major interstates. Since then, the interstates I-20, I-75, and I-85 all have met here. As a result, national traffic from the Great Lakes to Florida and from Texas to the Atlantic coast had to go through the city and established it as a major car transportation hub in the South.

Atlanta Land Use 1973-1997. Source: NASA

[For a larger video version, please visit the NASA website directly.]

As a decisive spatial issue, Sprawl has deeply influenced the local culture, the people’s way of thinking, and their lifestyles:

  • The people depend on gas prices. Currently the gas price varies between $ 3.80 (around Labor Day) and $ 3.34 (fuel a few days ago at Gulf in Decatur) per gallon.
  • Each day, rush hour traffic literally clogs the concrete arteries of the city. The traffic updates on morning TV are as pivotal as world news in Germany. You can imagine that car accidents happen frequently and cause major delays.
  • Driving as the main mode of mobility is deeply ingrained in the local culture. Oglethorpe University students even drive from their student dormitories to the faculty buildings – a distance of ca. 500 m!!!
  • The air quality is notoriously bad despite its increase over the past 30 years from the category “hazardous” to “moderate”.
  • People spend almost a life-time in their cars. The average commute time varies, but people commute up to 1,5 hours one way each day!  The professor, for instance, lives 18 miles away which is “only” about a 35-45 minute drive without traffic jams. As I showed previously, my commute takes about one hour each day. Btw, when I told my colleague that I take public transportation to university, he said smilingly “Oh, this is VERY European.”
  • Neighborhoods close to MARTA, such as Inman Park, Brookhaven, or Virginia Highlands, are ridiculously expensive. People with lower income are literally forced to live in the suburbs. The professor regularly conducts an experiment with his students in the Urban Ecology program. He gives his students fictional data (income, family size, mortgage, etc.) and asks them to find a place to live in Atlanta. The students almost always end up in the sprawling areas, because that is the only place they can afford.
  • And finally, what happens to people who are not able to drive anymore, because of their age or bodily dysfunctions?

There are increasingly efforts to end Sprawl. One strategy is building houses that unite all social functions in one place. Near Atlantic Station new loft-style buildings are being built where people have everything nearby: apartments upstairs, businesses downstairs, and groceries in walking distance.

The 2008 financial crisis also temporarily stopped Sprawl. You can see those suburban ruins very nicely from the plane: Razed forest that indicates future usage and new roads leading nowhere.

I think Sprawl will continue to be Atlanta’s most pressing issue. It all depends on how city officials, urban planners, and the public will manage to change the culture of mobility in the future.

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“Why Are You Here So Long?”

In Tamás' Posts,Transportation,Trips on September 27, 2011 by Tamás

I owe you an entry about my travel woes. Well, I don’t know that I really owe you one, but I’ve been meaning to describe my trip a bit.

It all started at Chemnitz central station on Tuesday afternoon, when I learned that my train had been cancelled, no explanation given and no bus shuttle set up in its place. This train usually runs once every hour, but there was a general feeling that there would be no further trains for the day. Generally speaking, Chemnitz’ connection to the German railroad system is rather poor for a city of its size (about 280,000 people) and so the only viable alternative was to head southwest instead of northwest, on a slow local train, and take it from there. So I did, and I reached Düsseldorf with some two hours delay and after having taken a completely different route than intended. Half of my trip took place on trains that were more crowded than usual and lacked tables as well as power outlets.

Luckily my six year old brick phone was a good business phone at the time, one of the first generation umts phones, and I had access to the Deutsche Bahn website to help me plan my connections. Had I waited in line to ask service personnel I would have gotten to Düsseldorf even later. During these hours I also learned that the reason for the train cancellations was a rather serious accident. Guess in the end I can call myself lucky not to have been on that one.

In Düsseldorf I stayed with Adrián, whose sounds I can recommend by the way, a really nice fellow and a good host.

The flight the next day was rather uneventful, which is good I guess. There was no in-seat entertainment, but I had my laptops and things to do anyway. It was actually my longest flight to date (dethroning Berlin – NYC), but that didn’t bother me much. The post-flight hours were worse ;)

Atlanta is actually the world’s busiest airport. Statistically, a plane arrives or departs every 33 seconds. The line at immigration was long. There was another flight, from Mexico I think, that had landed just seconds before ours, and it felt that it took ages for these passengers to get cleared. Frequent calls for spanish translators, frequent calls for escorts of passengers to some further questioning. Let’s just say then and there I felt glad not to be Hispanic. I had hurried from the gate to immigration, overtaking numerous of my peers. Ironically, only to witness how at some point nearly everybody behind me was told to use the then empty booths for US citizens instead, since things took so long. Subjectively it felt as though I was in the slowest lane. I know, it always does, but I was just about the last person from my flight at immigration.

The officer and I didn’t exactly “click”, and I was asked the question that became the title of this post three times in a row, with varying intonations. Apparently my amorous reasons were dissatisfactory.  I tried to keep the tone of my answers friendly. Eventually I made it in, even though a little aggravated: I had come off a long flight, had been standing in line for 45 mins or so only to be exposed to a repetitive staccato. What exactly happened when I left his desk is a matter of perspective I think. Let’s just say I grabbed my passport but not my customs declaration since it seemed to me that he was keeping it. It dawned on me that something was amiss when I reached customs.

In hindsight, maybe I should have felt more grateful for the 20 minutes that I was then given to sit down and chill before a customs officer processed my “case”. But it felt tough to “chill”. All sorts of thoughts went through my head. Finally, it was established that my tax declaration was found at immigrations, lying on the floor. At least they spared me a detailed examination of my bag.

Things took a slightly brighter turn at the body scanner when it turned out that I, coming from the leftmost of three crowded lanes, could walk through the metal detector instead, without any hassle whatsoever. Let’s see if I can remain unscanned during all the trips to come though.

Oh, and Atlanta is one of the very few airports where you first claim your baggage at the terminal and then check it in again, to pick it up much, much later at the main entrance hall. It took a while for my bag to appear there, since everybody else from my flight had been long gone and the people clearing the bags seemed to wait and collect a critical mass rather than sending each bag on the journey on its own.

I was finally out of the airport some two hours after landing, ready for adventures :)