Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Palo Alto, California -- Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University

I spent July 2013 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California to conduct research work at the Hoover Institution Archives, which are named after the 31st President of the United States of America Herbert Hoover.  Archives are stored inside the Hoover Tower and also at its base inside the Institution’s reading rooms.  Steps that lead downward to reading room are constructed with monochromatic wood paneling, which makes for a cool swing back to mid-century style upon each entry and exit to the archives. 

Hoover Tower

my research card to the Hoover Institution

mid-century staircase toward Hoover Institution Archives reading room
Stanford’s campus is magnificent.  Terracotta tiles adorn rooftops to deflect the Californian sun.  Arched walkways frame the eye in a manner conducive to concerted focus and reflection. And piazza-style squares outfitted with palm trees, gardens, and fountains encourage meeting, exchange, collaboration – staples of the neighboring Silicon Valley. 

Memorial Arch entry into Stanford
a couple of Stanford's numerous arched walkways

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Independence, Missouri -- small-town Americana

I spent June 2013 in Independence, which is a town of 100,000 in Missouri, USA.  I visited here for research work at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, and during this period I learned much about this town's varied histories which make Independence most quirky.

1. Nineteenth-century trading routes converged in Independence, which stretched toward Santa Fe, Oregon, and California.  Merchants met at the Courthouse Exchange to barter deals over a pint of local ale.  This pub remains open in the town’s city square and I quickly became a regular, ordering unfiltered Kansas City Boulevard Beer (of Missouri) and $1 tacos -- a.k.a. grad student bread & butter.  

town square; Courthouse Exchange pub


2. Latter Day Saints (Mormons) settled in Independence and dedicated a sight near to which a Community of Christ Temple was recently erected with rather modern and marveling architecture.  Churches of other Christian denominations also flood Independence and locals are fond of naming their children after ‘strong biblical names’, such as Elijah which is the son of my lovely server Heather at Ophelia’s Restaurant in the city square. 

Community of Christ Temple; taxi driver's dashboard; local license plate

3. The 33rd President of the United States and architect of the post-WWII world order, Harry S. Truman, was born in Independence.  Here can thus be found Truman’s home, a United Nations Plaza where Truman spoke about America’s signing the UN Charter in San Francisco, and the Truman Library.  At the Library I used archives of declassified correspondence and unclassified speeches regarding the Truman Administration’s policy interventions in South Asia and also East Asia, which were shaped heavily by Cold War interests.  Adjacent to the archives is a museum which displays the original document in which Truman authorized an atom bomb over Japan, among other artefacts.  The museum presents history in a very balanced fashion by prompting visitors to express their own views on the efficacy of Truman's administration.  One example is a journal for guests to record why they agree or not with Truman’s authorization of an atom bomb.     
Truman home; Truman in bronze in pavement; Truman statue; UN Plaza

entry sign for Harry S. Truman Library; personal researcher card; archive research room

Truman authorization of atom bomb over Japan; guests to Truman Museum invited to react to atom bomb

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Kansas City culture

Afternoon at some heavy-hitting art museums. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art permanent collection is thin but comprehensive -- one or so Rothkos, a Van Gogh, maybe a Picasso -- enough to at least show you abstract, impressionism, cubism, and so on. The newly-added Bloch wing has an unremarkable interior but the contemporary collection that it houses is very special.  Nearby is the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art which is far smaller and also far better curated.

courtyard of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Nataraja statue at Nelson-Atkins
hallway towards classics wing at Nelson-Atkins
Egg by Subodh Gupta (2010); constructed from cooking utensils found in India at Nelson-Atkins
Wrapped Motorcycle by Christo and Jeanne-Claude (1997) at Kemper Museum
Kemper Museum

River Market borough -- labyrinth of lofts.  Sunday farmer's market features local nectarines, spicy mexican mocha, decorative antlers and antique game boards, flowers, and of course pints of Kansas City Boulevard beer.

Sunday booths in Rivermarket

innovation central -- local firm
this is how we once rolled

America's entrepreneurial spirit.  Great inventions to experience at the Maker Faire event (see http://makerfaire.com/ ), situated in the grand Union Station.  The latest apps and web browsers, musical instruments, three-dimensional printers, and barbeque sauces.  Killer wheels spotted the pavement outside.


Shakespeare in the park. Beer, burritos, and fireflies -- just as William intended. At Southmoreland Park, near to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Fantastic experience, even if I could hardly follow any of the script of As you Like it.

Shakespeare in the Park at Southmoreland Park

Monday, July 1, 2013

Why would Dorothy leave? Kansas City and my density theorem of urban intimacy

Kansas City has blown my mind, which is largely a function of my own ignorance. Prior to visiting (for extended research work), I knew relatively little about Kansas City.  I wrongly assumed it was insignificant, perhaps with unremarkable architecture, an indistinct history and culture, a provincial vibe.  Pictured below are images that rectify my mistake.  The Country Club Plaza features endless Spanish-inspired spires that date back to the 1920s.  The Rivermarket borough of lofts that fronts on the Missouri River offers local specialties (including Kansas City barbeque) and great views of the city's skyline.  Union Station glows purple at night, and in the day it teems with even more energy from local festivals like the Maker Faire inventors' exhibit.  The Kauffman Centre for the Performing Arts is the city's newest acquisition -- architectural marvel fit for the city's symphony, opera, and ballet.  

Country Club Plaza

view from Farmer's Market in Rivermarket

view of Union Station from Liberty Memorial hill

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
night bicycle ride along the Missouri River at Richard L. Berkley Riverfront Park

Kansas City has taught me that I love my cities big or small, and not in between.  

Why? Because big cities and small ones offer the population density requisite for intimacy.  And intimacy is medicine.  This is in fact a concept form urban planning, which I learned about from a film named Urbanized (see http://urbanizedfilm.com/ ).  Bigger cities that figure around 10 million in population throb with so many people vehicles shops noise that you cope with the anonymity by building wonderful relationships with your local grocer, newsstand, bus driver, and so on. My own reference point for big cities has been London, New Delhi, and Bombay.  Soon I will add Hong Kong and Taipei to this list.  On the flip-side, smaller cities that figure around the mark of 500,000 to 1 million are small enough to force a similar dynamic, of seeing folks often enough to prompt you to say hello more frequently, to build relationships perhaps.  My experiences in Ottawa, Oxford, Lucknow, and Kansas City have been illustrative.

Medium-sized cities, on the other hand, typically spread a population too thin  -- the density is too thin – to cultivate the same embeddedness, connectedness. This has been my experience of Chicago where a richly architected downtown core is hollowed out after office hours as urbanites migrate northward to relatively separated boroughs, albeit hip areas.  Toronto, Montreal, and San Francisco are good exceptions to this rule since although their population sizes are smaller, their urban design achieves magnificent density since their downtown cores are closely woven with neighboring historic districts and residential areas.