151024 - Reading Header

This was really a tough book to read partially because it was quite philosophical, and, well, it was also in German! Still, it’s amazing what you can accomplish with some patience. I thought I’d write some of of my thoughts on this book in German as well.

In diesem Buch geht es um vier großen Themen bezüglich Raums: Kultur, Medium, Politik, und Wissen. Es ist eine sehr gute Einleitung von vielen sehr wichtigen (Raum)theoretiker wie Harvey, Castells, Lynch, und viele mehr.

Eigentlich war es sehr schwer zu lesen, außer den Texten, die ich schon gelesen hatte. Zu der Grammatik war die Satzstruktur in vielen diesen Kapiteln sehr kompliziert. Die Autoren dieser Kapitel nutzen die passiv Formen der Verben und vielen sehr lange Sätze. Der übersetzte Texte klingt auch inrgendwie seltsam.

While there were many insights that the book provided, in a more general sense it was amazing to see how many different disciplines these theories extend into, as well as showing how the question of the understanding of space has remained a hot topic for centuries. Theories range from the 16th century to present day, showing that there is still a need for many disciplines to understand how space works or how it relates to different disciplines.

Es ist schwer zu sagen, was eigentlich meine Meinung über dieses Buch ist. Es gibt vielen kleinen Kapitel, jeden mit einem neuen Rahmen, durch den man Raum sehen könnten. Statt einer Rezension, liste ich die Bücher und Autoren, die ich jetzt noch lesen will!:

Kognaitive Karten und Verhalten im Raum – Roger M. Downs/David Stea (1973)
Die Straße und die unendliche Ferne – Johannes Linschoten (1954)
Nicht-Orte – Marc Augé (1991)
Raum der Ströme – Manuel Castells (1996)
Eigenschaften der Soundscape – R. Murray Schafer (1977)
Orientalisierung des Orients – Edward Said (1978)

151024 - Reading


151110 - Stadtklang

A map I just came across today is this one – the Stadtklang map by the German Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung and Wissenschaft im Dialog. The map is part of the German government’s science year programming, this year’s theme being The City of the Future (Zukunftsstadt).

The map is an interesting way of trying to get people to submit and collect the sounds around them. Part of the map is actually an upload section where you provide the sound recordings you’ve made. What I found interesting was the flow of the site – in order to hear the sounds, you follow a link on the front page. This takes you to a list, where you can immediately input your postal code (PLZ) to hear sounds nearby. Within these audio entries, there is a smaller link saying, “see on map (Auf Karte ansehen).” I think this is great because the flow matches people’s general tendency with maps to hone in on their home first and foremost. Once a person has their bearings, they can decide to let their eyes wander and explore the map. I am often a fan of these situations where the map ‘knows its place’, so to speak.

Link (to map): https://www.wissenschaftsjahr-zukunftsstadt.de/stadtklang/mitmachen/mein/sound/23360.html


I recently finished this book, The New Urban Agenda, by Bill Freeman. Freeman writes about the current state of politics and city planning in Toronto, giving a great overview of contemporary issues in the post-Rob Ford city, as well as outlining a few recommendations about what the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) should focus on in the coming years.

One of the things that I thought was really wonderful about this book, was that it concerned itself not only with the city of Toronto but also with the whole region, extending far enough out to include Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area. Freeman outlines his idea of the general conceptual structure of the region as being constructed with downtown Toronto as a core, surrounded by the inner and outer suburbs, with Hamilton as a separate, but connected, city to the west. I think this is a great step out of the very Toronto (old city)-centric way in which many authors discuss the region, and one of the few authors I’ve read who was trying to see problems from a variety of different perspectives.

One thing however that I wondered was, who was this book really made for? I’ve encountered this with other Toronto-related books, especially information-heavy ones, that there is a kind of conversational tone in the writing, but when it comes to details, there is a lot of use of complicated terms to discuss planning and politics. For example, discussions of the OMB, or detailed information about planning process may seem second nature to someone tuned into the political life of the city, but to others, these are unclear concepts and processes that are never quite clear. I wonder if it would be boring for someone who is not in planning and politics in the city to read such books. Still, Toronto does have a relatively large group of people who are attuned to the nuts and bolts of the functions of the city.

Having studied city planning in Toronto, I was already quite familiar with the debates that Freeman was discussing. Still I see a lot of value in this book as being a general introduction to the practice of planning in Toronto – it basically covers my whole first year of my planning program. His suggestions are, for the most part, the current trend in Canadian (Torontonian) planning discourse, including: advocating for public-private partnerships, preventing greenfield development, increasing mixed-use development, disbanding the OMB (planners often passively or implicitly wish this), increasing affordable housing, retrofitting older buildings, investing in alternative energy sources and green technologies, and advocating for non-automobile transportation modes.



A perennial problem in Berlin, for some reason, is figuring out where the city’s transit zones start and end. A seemingly simple question, but somehow so difficult to find answers to. The city’s transit operator, the BVG, has the map locked up in strange locations on the website, making it difficult to find the map.

I thought I’d do a service and post files here (as of May 2015):

ABC BVG Berlin Transit Map Karte (PDF 244 KB)
ABC BVG Berlin Transit Map Karte (PNG  940 KB)

with a bunch of common searches: ABC Berlin, ABC map Berlin, ABC Karte Berlin, ABC BVG, BVG Karte Berlin, BVG map Berlin, Transit map Berlin, plan BVG,

Accessibility doesn’t only mean putting information online – it has to be easy and quick to access too! Check out the bvg’s website here:

On October 13, 2015, I gave a presentation to the Smell Lab, a community organization organized out of the Spektrum art space in my neighbourhood of Neukölln. It was a great opportunity to dust of some of my chemistry notes from some of my past projects in flavours and fragrance sciences and it fostered a really great discussion around the science of smell and air.

If you’re interested in seeing the presentation, the slides are available here:

The Science of Smell (3MB PDF)

As an important side-note, if you do have any questions about smell, feel free to leave a comment or send a message. The Smell Lab will be organizing more events as well as monthly meetings and a reading group. Check us out here: Smell Lab

(Photos courtesy of Chaveli Sifre and the Smell Lab)

I recently recieved a copy of Making Toronto Modern: Architecture and Design 1895-1975. The book is about the discourse and action around architecture in Toronto during some of the city’s most formative years. The author, Christopher Armstrong, lays the book out in different periods which relate to changing public opinions, global events and happenings. In all, Armstrong has written a really interesting book that shows the somewhat slow and, at times, quite apprehensive development of modernist architecture in the city, ending of course with the city’s move towards postmodernism in the 80s.

Reflecting on it, my main takeaway from the book was that Toronto has a clear and historical pattern of apprehension towards new trends in planning and architecture. From its early years, there seemed to be a number of outward-looking city-oriented people, forever in conflict with city bureaucrats, traditionalists and (at least from their perspective) an anti-aesthetic or provincial population. It seemed that people were always suspicious of the merits of modernist architecture. One of the very interesting points that were mentioned was that the relative lack of modernist representation in detached housing (except in the inner suburbs of today’s city) was in part due to people’s relative lack of interest in living in modernist housing – demand for older Victorian and Georgian forms were much more favoured.. For this reason, high-rise residential rental or public housing is over-represented as modernist housing was affordable and efficient for this building form and followed the interests of the developers.

Something else I noted was that, throughout the book, it seemed that Torontonians had been jealous of other cities, forever trying to emulate them. In some ways though, the constant back-and-forth between progressives and traditionalists, between outward-looking groups and more selfish individuals, between aesthetics and cost, led to some very stayed and cautious development. This is especially in comparison to many of the other cities of North America where highways, uniform suburbs and vast separation of uses are still being dealt with today (fashions in their time of development). Perhaps Toronto’s critical attitude, which everyone loves to complain about, is a blessing in disguise.

Another thing that came through in the book was the importance of Toronto’s very strong and active public. The people that would be inhabiting these buildings were often some of the harshest critics of the style. Through political means, through market means and through citizen activism, people made their opinions strongly heard. This is especially true of the activism surrounding the prevention of the Spadina Expressway – a highway project that would have cut through the central city and whose avid critic was Jane Jacobs. As mentioned, people also voted with their dollars.

It’s very interesting to contrast this to architecture in Berlin and many European and American cities where modernist architecture and modernist master planning was more openly supported. Toronto’s history seems much less tumultuous (to say the least) compared to that of Berlin in the same time-period. Still I have so many questions about how building happened in Berlin in the post-war period as a relatively new resident of the city. So many works I’ve read about the city conceptualize architecture as an independent object, rather than as a function of or relationship to history, markets, power, politics, and bureaucracy. I see this as one of the great strengths of this book, and as well with the general tone of discussions in Toronto about architecture and planning. Though perhaps not the most celebrated aspect of Torontonian planning discourse, you can’t read a book about Toronto without reading about the OMB (or at least subconsciously wondering how the OMB could have been involved).

As a last point, I noticed that Toronto relied a lot more on market forces to construct new buildings, and thus relied much more on the demand from buyers. In today’s Toronto, it does really seem like demand is more so for the property price rather than the structure itself, with so many new buildings mimicking modernist and corporate-modern designs in regards to condominiums, and (often quite strange) post-modernist forms in residential housing. With so many of these buildings attracting so much demand, I wonder if perhaps Torontonians have realized that our collective aesthetic taste manifests primarily in the form of a good-enough-form that puts the $$$ in our eyes?

Since moving to Berlin, I’ve been reflecting more and more on my ‘hometown’ Toronto. For all its foibles, it really is a great place. However, as I’ve left most of my Toronto books back in Canada, and while my Berlin book collection is continuously growing, I’ve sought the advice of friends and colleagues on what their favourite Toronto-related books are.

Here is the growing list:

  • In the Skin of a Lion – Michael Ondaatje
  • Historical Atlas of Toronto – Derek Hayes
  • Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels
  • What We All Long For – Dionne Brand
  • The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood 
  • Smart Address – Alec Keefer
  • uTOpia – edited by Jason McBride and Alana Wilcox
  • GreenTOpia – edited by Alana Wilcox, Christina Palassio and Jonny Dovercourt
  • Local Motion – edited by Dave Meslin, Christina Palassio and Alana Wilcox
  • HTO – edited by Christina Palassio and Wayne Reeves
  • Stroll – Shawn Micallef and Marlena Zuber
  • Everyday Law on the Street – Mariana Valverde 
  • Making Toronto Modern: Architecture and Design, 1895-1975 – Christopher Armstrong
  • The Ward – edited by John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg and Tatum Taylor
  • Concrete Toronto – Edited by Michael McClelland and Graeme Stewart 
  • Full Frontal T.O. – Patrick Cummins and Shawn Micallef
  • Toronto Modern – various 
  • No Mean City – Eric Arthur 
  • Shape of the City – John Sewell
  • Shape of the Suburbs – John Sewell 
  • Unbuilt Toronto I and II – Mark Osbaldeston
  • Some Great Idea – Edward Keenan
  • Accidental City – Robert Fulford
  • Toronto’s Ravines and Urban Forests – Jason Ramsay-Brown 
  • Toronto: Part 1 – Elaine Benwell
  • Toronto: Biography of a City – Allan Levine
  • Toronto: Transformations in a City and Its Region – Edward Relph
  • The New Urban Agenda: The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area – Bill Freeman
  • The Toronto Carrying Place: Rediscovering Toronto’s most Ancient Trail – Glenn Turner
  • Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story – Robyn Doolittle 
  • How We Changed Toronto – John Sewell 
  • Toronto, The Belfast of Canada – William J. Smith
  • The Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore – Ron Brown
  • Lost Breweries of Toronto – Jordan St. John
  • Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
  • Fifth Business – Roberson Davies
  • The Incomparable Atuk – Mordecai Richler
  • How Should a Person Be? – Sheila Heti
  • Lie With Me – Tamara Faith Berger 
  • Paying for It – Chester Brown 
  • Headhunter – Timothy Findley
  • Lost Between Houses – David Gilmour
  • All My Puny Sorrows – Miriam Toews
  • Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen – Kate Taylor 
  • King Leary – Paul Quarrington 
  • How Happy to Be – Katrina Onstad 
  • Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel 
  • Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town – Cory Doctorow
  • The Chaos – Nalo Hopkinson
  • Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto – Shawn Micallef
  • Army of Lovers: A Community History of Will Munro, the Artist, Activist, Impresario and Civic Hero Who Brought Together Toronto’s Club Kids, Art Fags, Hardcore Boys, Drag Queens, Rock ’n’ Roll Queers, Needlework Obsessives, Limpwristed Nellies, Stone Butches, New Wave Freaks, Unabashed Perverts, Proud Prudes and Beautiful Dreamers – Sarah Liss 

Thanks to people for the suggestions/ideas on Facebook and Twitter – if you have more suggestions, tweet me or send me an email at sheraz24@gmail.com. I hope to grow the list and perhaps start an international Toronto book club – to be decided!