Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Category: Urban (page 1 of 2)

New Orleans in the rear view

The final of 50 parade floats in the Chalmette Irish, Italian and Isleno parade, where they not only throw beads and trinkets, but also vegetables, fruit, and here, toilet paper.

The final of 50 parade floats in the Chalmette Irish, Italian and Isleno parade, where they not only throw beads and trinkets, but also vegetables, fruit, and here, toilet paper.

It has a sprint since getting back from AAG in New Orleans. It was my first time at that epic event, spread across several downtown hotels. I was surprised to actually run into people I knew from other organizations like IASNR and topics like rangelands, ecosystem services and climate adaptation that I didn’t necessarily connect with Geography, including MES alum Paul Sylvestre, now doing a PhD at Queens. Didn’t lay eyes on my Dalhousie colleagues, however, without effort.

Geography is big enough in its traditional form, but it has expanded and become much more problem-based than the Australian Geographer’s Association meeting in 2005 after which I swore off Geography conferences (that one kept human, physical and spatial geographers in never-the-twain separate sessions irregardless of topic). Happily surprised, I attended four or five of the Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation special sessions organized by the Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group, which had many highlights but particularly memorable were Hannah Gosnell’s talk on happiness and regenerative grazing (HM) in Australia, and Neil Adger’s speech after his lifetime achievement award, as well as his former postdoc Don Nelson’s moving tribute. I was pleased with the content if not the crowd size in the two sessions in which I participated, on Recycling Energy Landscapes and (via Mike Smit on our new SSHRC) in Computation for Public Engagement in Complex Problems: From Big Data, to Modeling, to Action.

Phase 3 of a 3-phase demonstration of the value of wetland buffers in protecting cities from storm action in the Cabildo Museum.

Phase 3 of a 3-phase demonstration of the value of wetland buffers in protecting cities from storm action in the Presbytere Museum.

It was grand to be back in New Orleans after 16 years, even through a deluge event with flood warnings. I was lucky to get into my old apartment which was wide open, being gutted for renovation. My old boulangerie is still there (though the fougasse is not as I recall), and the streetcars still charm. The French Quarter Festival was on – all local music – and the best food we found was offered by ex-military cajun Adam Lee out of a small pub kitchen uptown in Prytania Hall. A muffuletta sandwich from the Central Grocery, eaten in the sun in front of Jackson Square listening to a brass band, came second. Nothing else came close. Very cool to see ‘planning for water’ and the importance of wetland buffers highlighted in the Presbytere’s museum installation on Katrina.

Erstwhile Fazendeville, Chalmette Battlefield

Erstwhile Fazendeville, Chalmette Battlefield

On our last day in town we ventured east, Ubering through the Lower 9th Ward (hit hardest by Katrina) onward to Chalmette, which was having its Irish, Italian and Isleno (Canary Islander) parade (see top picture). For some reason lost to time those on floats pelt paradegoers with fruit and vegetables, as well as the usual plastic beads and trinkets. Potatoes, carrots, CABBAGES: I even saw someone holding a pineapple. We killed some time first at the Chalmette Battlefield, where American forces beat off the British in 1814. Alongside the straining levee, the Mississippi running high after the deluge, the cemetery and battlefield were very wet. Crayfish chimneys were all over the wet lawn of the former battlefield. I was saddened as much by the story of Fazendeville as by the earlier loss of life . Quoting from the plaque:

Jean Pierre Fazende, a free man of colour and New Orleans grocer, inherited land within the battlefield in 1857. After the Civil War, he divided it and sold it to freed slaves from local plantations. Eventually the community grew to more than 200 people and became known as Fazendeville. The National Park Service bought the land in 1966 after long, contentious negotiations.

Where did they move to? Mostly the New Orleans 9th Ward, that area so hard hit by Katrina. What a bad joke. The old main street is visible only as a linear depression today, but the plaque says the community still meets. Like the residents of Africville here in Halifax, or former residents of what is now the Gagetown weapons range in New Brunswick, they have reunions and otherwise somehow keep the community alive after being forcibly removed.

Chalmette Battlefield Cemetery, inundated

Chalmette Battlefield Cemetery, inundated

Urban stasis … what about rural?

Mural on the in-progress Roy Building on Barrington Street, downtown Halifax, featuring a quote by architect Daniel Liebskind.

Mural on the in-progress Roy Building on Barrington Street, downtown Halifax, featuring a quote by architect Daniel Liebskind.

Halifax is a mess. I’m not kidding. For those of us who have cars and kids in summer camps all over the place, instead of its usual peaceful summer self, Halifax is detour central. Downtown is under construction, with towers pushing out of heritage skins, and two of the five roads leading into the dreaded Armdale Rotary are closed for various reasons. This is relatively new. For years, nothing could be built downtown, it seemed, because of the need to protect views to the 18th century defensive citadel at the heart of the city. While the volume of work simultaneously underway is inconvenient, it is like a wildfire spreading after decades or centuries of fire suppression. This is Yellowstone, circa 1988.   Liebskind is right (see photo). The citadel is not what Halifax is about anymore.  It doesn’t meet new needs for urban densification, for instance. (It also bears mentioning, it never did meet needs; the Citadel was never attacked.)

But why stop at cities? Why is it that busses line up on cruise ship days to take thousands of visitors  to Peggy’s Cove? Peggy’s Cove is a simulacra of an 18th century coastal Nova Scotia fishing village, with its Peggy’s Point Lighthouse sitting atop massive granite outcrops arguably the most photographed place in the region. Rather than relying on fishing, this place and others like it now rely on tourism that commemorates a Golden Age idea of ‘Maritimicity’ (coined by eminent Canadian historian Ian McKay in 1988). We might need rural places for new things, like renewable energy, but if we’re not careful, the ‘tourism state’ will deny such alternate visions.

Lab alumna on Quirks & Quarks

Ellen Whitman identifying post-fire understory vegetation in Northern Alberta.

Ellen Whitman identifying post-fire understory vegetation in Northern Alberta for her PhD at the University of Alberta.

Exciting to hear Ellen Whitman, MES 2013, on CBC Radio 1’s Quirks &Quarks this past weekend, talking with Bob McDonald about her summer field season on post-fire impacts in the north. She did a great job, and touched briefly on her work with Eric Rapaport and I on her Masters working on fire at the peri-urban fringe of Halifax. She is now working on her PhD in Mike Flannigan’s lab at the University of Alberta, looking at fire regimes and adaptation under short-interval fires, combining field observation and remote sensing. Exciting to hear about her progress, and rather awe-inspiring to hear her expertise, so eloquently and smoothly delivered during the 15-minute segment.

Another successful Globalink internship

With Jingwen (June) Qin on her last day as a Mitacs Globalink intern.

With Jingwen (June) Qin on her last day as a Mitacs Globalink intern.

Farewell to Jingwen (June) Qin, who headed back to China early this morning to begin her final undergraduate year of urban planning at Wuhan University. She has been working with me on a research project this summer, funded by the Mitacs Globalink, using Sina Weibo social media to understand Chinese student perspectives on Halifax. It was great to have her overlap with Ruoqian (Joy) Wang, last year’s Globalink intern, who has just arrived to begin her MES at SRES with Karen Harper and I. I hope June takes a similar path back to us next year. Thank you, and bon voyage, June.

Ode to a dead tree

A female woodpecker at work on a dead backyard tree in Halifax, August 2016.

A female woodpecker at work on a dead backyard tree in Halifax, August 2016.

I’m sitting at my home desk, watching a female pileated woodpecker eviscerate a standing dead tree in my backyard greenbelt in search of a meal. If the backyard neighbour had her way it would already be pulled down, but it’s arguably on ‘our side’. Thank goodness: this is such an important tree. It used to be taller, but through various animal uses it has been structurally weakened and sections have come down in windstorms. The hole near the top of the photo was dug by a pair of northern flickers this spring, but they were forced out of it by lazy but persistent starlings, who raised two young there. A local red squirrel has a cache in the top of that side, and I see his tufted ears as he takes inventory. The woodpecker is almost through to the other side now – she can crawl right into the hole to work – and if this wind gets any stiffer I think we’ll see the tree shortened yet again. But I won’t be pulling that snag down. I’ve got front row seats to a rare display of urban nature.

She then checked all our trees for weak points, including this oak I've been worried about.

She then checked all our trees for weak points, including this oak I’ve been worried about.

Later the same day: This bird is better than a professional arborist. She has visited all our trees now and judged them sound. This is a relief to me, though an annoyance for this hungry animal.

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