Aesthetics of Everywhere

The urban scene, its people and processes. Based in DC.

Archive for the ‘geography’ Category

Six Years, Blogging Here

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I haven’t been writing on this blog as much since starting grad school, which I could have expected since I’m doing plenty of writing otherwise. But I’ve completed a year in my program here and managed to do it without too much lost sleep, so that’s one thing to celebrate! I’m grateful for all the support I have, both here and back home in DC, and have no regrets about the decision to come here. My department is filled with inspiring people who challenge me to consider new perspectives and help me flesh out new ideas. This summer I’ll be conducting research with one of them and also starting data collection for my thesis, making several Los Angeles trips, and hopefully doing plenty of cycling and rock climbing.

Department's 40th Anniversary

Celebrated the 40th anniversary of our department with geo-cake.

And happy six years to my blog. I started this “new blog” in 2008 (and I’m sure the one before was plenty embarrassing, since it was probably started in my high school or undergrad years). Here’s to six more?

Written by Crystal Bae

June 20th, 2014 at 9:26 am

Taking to the Frontage Roads

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I finally got around to taking the New York Times’ dialect quiz that’s been making the rounds online. I hadn’t yet seen anyone sharing results that were very off-base for them, so my “most similar” cities in terms of dialect surprised me: San Francisco, Fremont, and Santa Rosa. All California cities, all in the Bay Area.

NYT Dialects Map

This is peculiar because I’ve spent my life – except the past few months – in a fairly compact area in the Washington DC metropolitan region, between DC proper, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. So that little red cluster you can see on the east coast on the above map describes my home region to a tee. Looking into what this quiz determines were my “most distinctive answers” (biggest differentiators), it seems that what tilted the results towards the west was this answer:

What do you call the small road parallel to the highway? frontage road

This one’s easy. I blame my use of Adventure Cycling maps for this, as I adopted the term “frontage road” into my vocabulary when cycling through the northern US this summer. I didn’t have a term for those kinds of roads before, nor did I see a need for one, but their bicycling maps frequently route you onto frontage roads paralleling higher-traffic roads. You’d better believe I’d have a term for it if I was a rancher or farmer growing up in Montana.

NYT Dialects Map

Besides vocabulary, it would be interesting to learn more about how long it takes more subtle linguistic differences to settle in, such as accent, and how that process differs between people. In Santa Barbara, I wonder what gives me away as an east coaster first: slang and vocabulary, demeanor or mannerisms, intonation, some other obvious cue?

Being that San Francisco is my favorite California city, and I’ve been told by both coasters that it’s the most “east coast” city in California, perhaps it’s not too surprising that it’s similar linguistically and culturally. Or maybe those similarities are exactly what draw me in.

These quiz results are more interesting to me than if they had managed to point directly to the east coast cities nearest to where I had grown up. Guess I’m soaking up that California lifestyle just fine. If you’re interested in more of the same, don’t miss the Pop vs. Soda map by Alan McConchie or the wonderously detailed North American English Dialects map by Richard P. Aschmann. Here’s a relevant paper on linguistic differences within California as well. Happy Holidays!

Written by Crystal Bae

December 24th, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Los Angeles, First Take

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Reached Los Angeles on the day after Thanksgiving – a rainy one – after two days of riding from Santa Barbara. Adam and I had decided on a short Thanksgiving weekend bike tour since we finally had a chunk of free time off from work and school. Despite the rain, which left us thoroughly drenched by the time we reached LA, we enjoyed being back in the saddle and exploring new places on the California coast.

Day 1, clouds

Trail along the beach in LA

Entering Los Angeles via the Strand trail from Will Rogers Beach past Santa Monica was as relaxing as any weekend bike ride. We rode along a mixed-use path that cut right through the beach – no need to deal with traffic other than the occasional brave jogger. The path itself continues further south for a total of 22 miles in length, but we headed in towards downtown once we got to Venice. The mix of rain and sand led to lots of accumulated grime on our bikes, but the wet day also meant very light traffic once we got back to on-street riding.

It was neat wandering around Koreatown in the afternoon (eventually the rain did lighten up), as it was my first time visiting LA and because I’d been missing easy access to good Korean restaurants. We also enjoyed trying a selection of pastries from the local panaderias. It’s true that LA’s Koreatown is home to about as many Mexican immigrants as Koreans, and apparent when you walk around the neighborhood. Some streets have more Spanish-language signage while others are dominated by hangul. A vibrant neighborhood overall, with lively street life and families with young children walking around in the evening. We did also see a little bit of downtown in the early morning, though I’m sure we’ll be back to see more soon.

Entering Koreatown LA

Written by Crystal Bae

December 9th, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Road Trip to Big Sur

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A great weekend trip up north to Big Sur, a scenic part of the central California coast where I had last been on the bike trip with Adam. It was definite change to see things from inside a car, with the tight curves of the Pacific Coast Highway passing in a blur. I was both pleased to see other cyclists enjoying this beautiful stretch of coastline and anxious about how little space they really had on the road, with a constant stream of fast-moving cars and motorcyclists enjoying the drive. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d ride the PCH again on a bicycle, at least not on a busy weekend.

Big Sur Panorama

Big Sur is an interesting area. The first time we passed through we couldn’t figure out when we were actually in Big Sur. The signage seems to disagree on what bounds the region. There’s a little community that calls itself “Big Sur” toward the northern reach of Big Sur, but the region continues quite a bit further south along the PCH. The shift in landscape is very apparent as you leave Big Sur, however.

We hiked through stands of coastal redwoods and set up a miniature tent city at our site. With the decreasing daylight, we donned headlamps and finished cooking dinner into the darkness. We consumed close to twenty heads of garlic in one meal (almost 2 heads of garlic per person). An early start that morning, a good uphill hike, and 10 o’clock quiet hours meant we were all in our tents with plenty of time to sleep off the long day.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a great choice if you’re looking to camp in the area. It’s popular but large enough to accommodate hundreds of people, and offers hiking trails in walking distance of your site.

Big Sur Redwoods

Valley Trail Hike in Big Sur

Big Sur Waterfall

In the evening, we took time out to admire the stars. You can see so many out there.

Written by Crystal Bae

October 6th, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Claims to Fame

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I love arriving at a new place that welcomes visitors with a sign that goes beyond the standard highway sign. They show off local pride and give you a sense of place that helps you distinguish it from any other town. Small towns in America often plaster their claims to fame on their welcome signs, ranging from the modest (Twin Bridges, Montana: “The Small Town That Cares”) to the baffling (Alexandria, Minnesota: “Birthplace of America”). I looked that one up later.

Birthplace of America

Many towns, of course, merely describe their physical location. Portland, Michigan, for example, calls itself the “City of Two Rivers,” which I suppose you won’t argue; it sits at the confluence of the Grand River and the Looking Glass River. Some towns pay respects to the local fauna, which I like to think may be more abundant than the people there. This could be the case of Norwalk, Wisconsin, “The Black Squirrel Capital of the World.”

Others were amusing to me when read in succession. We were welcomed by a sign to Fargo, North Dakota: “Gateway to the West” only to find that a few days of riding later we were in Mandan, North Dakota: “Where the West Begins.” I guess the gateway to the west is positioned two hundred miles east of where the west actually starts. It goes to show you how flexible place boundaries are depending on who you ask.

However, my favorite small town claim to fame may have to be the welcome sign for Marion, North Dakota: “Why Not Stop & Stretch” – simple and self-effacing. And a perfect suggestion if you’re cycling through.

Written by Crystal Bae

September 1st, 2013 at 5:04 pm

For Every Headwind, There is Another Headwind

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As cyclists know: For every uphill, there is a downhill, but for every headwind, there is another headwind.

That’s a good recap of our past three days of riding. Coming into the Columbia River valley going west, we knew to expect the constant headwinds, but it’s been a real challenge to make our planned distances for each day. We’re fortunate that our schedule is flexible and there are many campgrounds along the Columbia River, and stopping ten or fifteen miles short hasn’t really thrown our plans. We are arriving in Portland tomorrow and planning to take a rest day there before we head to the coast (!).

That being said, we can’t complain because the riding has been beautiful.

Along the Columbia River

Wind Farms

View from the top

Along the orchards

We have also been meeting more and more cyclists every day as we near the west coast. Today, we even met three cyclists from Santa Barbara, who were on a bike tour that started from Seattle. Their blog is Ready Riders. I talked to Bob about the maps he uses to navigate, and it turns out he’s using OpenStreetMap downloaded maps so he can look at them offline on his iPad while riding. Pretty interesting solution – the iPad doubles as their blogging tool, as well.

Written by Crystal Bae

July 30th, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Crossing North Dakota

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Yesterday we went across the North Dakota-Montana border, after a solid week of riding through North Dakota prairie lands. The landscape of North Dakota was flat and monotonous until we got west of Bismarck, but the biggest challenge for us was dealing with the constant sun in a place with few trees and few populated places.

We were lucky not to hit too many days of the infamous North Dakota winds, but we did get some ferocious crosswinds on the day we left Fargo. There was nothing to break the wind for miles and miles, except in the places where trees were planted in a line along the road. It’s unbelievable how precise of a grid is laid upon North Dakota – the roads meet at right angles, sometimes cutting right through a lake. I love riding along watching the birds, and it’s especially entertaining to watch them try to fight the wind.

Lake in North Dakota

In Bismarck, our host Ron showed off his deep knowledge of North Dakotan history, assuring us that he had passed those history lessons onto his grandchildren. At breakfast, Ron encouraged us to fill up: “You got miles to go before you sleep… and miles to go before you eat.” The towns along our route west from Bismarck were fairly spread out – thirty miles or so between places to stop. Later that afternoon, we talked with a woman from Fargo who takes each of her grandchildren on a trip across the state when they’re in the fourth grade studying North Dakotan history. We met her and two of her grandchildren in New Salem at the largest Holstein cow in the world, Salem Sue. Morton County also boasts its place as the largest producer of cattle, hay, and oats in the state of North Dakota.

Salem Sue in New Salem, ND

The big talk of the state is, of course, the Bakken Oil Field and the oil production business that comes with the use of fracking there. The predictions for how much oil potential there vary and seem to always be adjusted upwards, but generally it seems like it’ll be booming for at least fifty years.

There are so many people working in the oil fields that not everyone can find housing – some live tightly packed in “man camps” which are basically bunkers for workers, some work two weeks on, two weeks off in Bismarck or someplace else where they keep their homes. Checkout lines at Wal-Marts run for hours. We’ve been told it’s tough to find contractors to do any other kind of work in the surrounding area, since so many are employed by the oil business. And fatal traffic accidents occur daily in those areas. (Luckily, the closest we came to witnessing the boom times firsthand was when we passed through Dickinson, and we sped through there quickly.) It sounds like there are a lot of trade-offs for the new economic prosperity.

Before we crossed the border into Montana, we were treated to gorgeous views of North Dakota’s Badlands and a cute Fourth of July celebration in historic Medora, a very touristy and well-maintained town with a locally-famous musical they put on every summer.

North Dakota Badlands

Written by Crystal Bae

July 6th, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Wisconsin Trail Riding

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Wisconsin has been a wonderful state for cycling so far. With an extensive trail system and well-maintained facilities, it was an enjoyable ride from Milwaukee to Madison to Trempealeau (crossed into Minnesota after that). We didn’t need to navigate leaving Milwaukee from the ferry, since we just followed our new friends to Waukesha. Chad and Amy gave us great routing advice for the next leg of our trip, even printing us a copy of the annual ride to Madison that they organize with their friends.

Leaving Waukesha, we hopped right onto the Glacial Drumlin Trail. This is one of Wisconsin’s state trails, which serves pedestrians, cyclists, and snowmobile riders (in the winter). There is a daily or annual fee for trail usage – you can buy a trail pass at local businesses or sometimes at self-registration boxes along the trail. It’s $4 for a one-day pass, or $20 for an annual pass, and they’re good for any trail in the state of Wisconsin.

Here’s us getting trail-legal.

Wisconsin Trail Passes

We took the Glacial Drumlin Trail to Dousman, a town with a bike shop on Main Street called the Bike Doctor. We stopped in to talk to the staff there and look around: coffee bar, lots of cycling snacks, great bike selection, and all kinds of apparel. It was worth the stop for the conversation, though we didn’t need any bike parts or service.

Bike Dr Dousman

Bike Dr Dousman

From Dousman, we took a series of backroads with low traffic. The county roads in Wisconsin are named by letter rather than number, which is kind of amusing – you’ll see signs that say something like “County X.” For most of this stretch, we only had to follow County Road B. A long, relaxing break in the central park later, we got back onto the Glacial Drumlin to finish our ride into Madison. Good trail riding and a smooth, fast descent into Madison. We reveled at the appearance of a bike lane, and spent a great day and a half in Madison, staying with friends, walking the square during the Saturday Farmers Market, and drinking Wisconsin beers on the Student Union terrace.

We left Madison by way of the city riverside trail near the UW campus, then found our way west to the bike trail along Route 12. After that trail ended, we took some country roads into Reedsburg, where the 400 State Trail picked up.

Wisconsin has four connected state trails – the Bike 4 Trails: The 400, Elroy-Sparta, La Crosse River, and Great River State Trails. Our favorite of these was the Elroy-Sparta trail, which links together several small towns with amenities for trail users and passes through three refreshingly cool tunnels. We even noted that the Elroy trail station had free showers for trail users!

Sparta, Bicycling Capital of America?

The trail itself gains elevation as it approaches each tunnel, but then rewards you with a nice descent on the other side of the tunnels. Tunnel #1 was the most interesting, with the interior resembling a cave (there are bats, too) more than a man-made tunnel. Camping along these trails is easy to plan, as campsites are noted on the maps.

Once we completed these interlinked trails, we used Adam F‘s advice to help route our trip up the Mississippi River. Thanks for your tips along the way! Today we mostly rode on the Great River Road / Route 61 up to Red Wing, Minnesota, where we’re staying tonight. We were treated to some beautiful views of the Mississippi. Onwards to Minneapolis tomorrow!

Written by Crystal Bae

June 19th, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Falls Church Mapping Party

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The MappingDC group met this weekend for a sunny day of OpenStreetMap (OSM) mapping in Falls Church, Virginia.

The past couple of weeks we’ve been digitizing building footprints from satellite imagery in advance of the “mapping party,” which is a gathering to conduct an on-the-ground survey. I’ve been getting the hang of using JOSM, the Java OpenStreetMap editor, which is great for repetitive tasks like tracing buildings.

Digitizing Buildings in OSM

To coordinate our activities, we tried out a tool called MapCraft to help us track which areas had already been traced and divided up ‘slices’ of the overlaid cake diagram to prepare for surveying. This was a nice way to coordinate when several people were editing Falls Church from different locations.

MapCraft tool to prepare for Falls Church mapping party

A group of seven of us gathered at Mad Fox Brewing in ‘The Little City’ of Falls Church, Virginia on Saturday to gather details on buildings and other points of interest in the area. We had a good mix of newbies and more experienced mappers, and were able to pair off to go into the field to collect data. Mostly we relied on paper printouts – thanks to Brian for the great preparations! – of specific sections of the area, so we were able to cover more ground in a short amount of time. A few of us also took GPS tracks and waypoints using either dedicated GPS devices or smartphones. Since the building footprints were already on OSM, it was easy to navigate with the printed maps and take notes about tags to add later (name, address, use, etc). We reconvened after an hour or so of walking around Falls Church, and spent a little time updating the features in OpenStreetMap. I regret not taking a “before” screenshot of Falls Church before we focused our attention there, but there is a definite improvement in the coverage of that area.

If you have any interest in joining a mapping party or just learning more about OpenStreetMap, join the MappingDC Google Group and come out to a future event. Ideas for next events include the Arboretum, updates to Chinatown and Georgetown, and a trip to Baltimore.

Written by Crystal Bae

March 10th, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Recommended read: “Walkable City” by Jeff Speck

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The latest book by renowned city planner Jeff Speck is Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time (2012). This is a follow-up to Suburban Nation, his popular work on sprawl in America’s suburbs.

Walkable City by Jeff Speck

“It turns out the way we move largely determines the way we live.” (55)

What I really enjoy about Jeff Speck’s writing is that he explains city planning concepts in a way that is universally relatable – to anyone with or without a background in planning, whether a resident of the city or the suburbs. It’s clear his writing is meant to grow mass support for urban living and walkable cities, and though he employs plenty of statistics to make his arguments, he keeps the material from sounding dry or inaccessible.

Speck moved to Washington, DC after leaving his home in South Beach, Miami, and has also lived in the various towns and cities he has helped plan. This means he can draw upon plenty of firsthand experience of what makes a city livable and capable of drawing new residents. (If you live in DC, you’ve likely seen his flatiron-style home at 10th and Florida Avenue NW.) His city planning experience also lends itself to his writing, and he pulls many real-world examples of the advantages of walkability and what makes certain cities so magnetic.

Speck centers the text on his “General Theory of Walkability” which centers on four conditions of what makes a good walk. It must be (1) useful, (2) safe, (3) comfortable, and (4) interesting. From this theory, he then presents ten steps for creating a more walkable city. As a self-proclaimed generalist, he recognizes that to design a city one cannot disregard cars, bicycles, transit, or the other elements at work. Speck makes sure to touch on these points in turn. The result is a book that is tuned into the physical and cultural landscape of cities today, as well as the demographic and geographic shifts currently at play in America. Jeff Speck didn’t write Walkable City for the planners, but for the people who live in these communities.

Jeff Speck’s Twitter feed is @JeffSpeckAICP.

Written by Crystal Bae

January 16th, 2013 at 8:44 pm