Pavement pedantry

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‘The path of least resistance’, King Street, Newtown (Sydney), 2012

Here’s another one of those pedantic vocabulary posts. We’ve already done ‘sgraffito/ graffiti’ and ‘palimpsest’. Now it’s time to do ‘pavement’ because I got another email this week querying why I use that term.  In Australia, says my correspondent, we more commonly use the term ‘footpath’.  Trouble is, dear correspondent, that this blog – and indeed my whole Pavement graffiti project – is meant for an international audience, and in any case I’m obsessed with graffiti not only on places where people walk, but also on the hard surfaces where they normally drive, ride, skate and park.

It’s a tricky problem of vocabulary that I have never properly resolved. But here is how I justified using the term ‘pavement’ in my thesis. It comes with a lengthy footnote:

“By ‘pavement’ I mean hard, paved surfaces in public places. These include roads (or ‘carriageways’ in older terminology), footpaths (‘footways’ in older Australian terminology, ‘sidewalks’ in America), public squares and parking lots. Their paving materials range from cobblestones and flagstones to tarmacadam, asphalt and concrete.

Footnote: The term ‘pavement’ can be problematic in that usage varies across English-speaking countries. Respondents to my blog, Pavement graffiti, have pointed out that people in Britain usually think of the pavement as a paved footway; in Australia this seems to be the more generally accepted meaning as well, although the term ‘footpath’ is more widely used. In American English the term ‘pavement’ is used for ‘the durable surface material laid down on an area intended to sustain vehicular or foot traffic, such as a road or walkway’ (see the entry for Road surface in Wikipedia, accessed 3 March 2013).

The Oxford English Dictionary’s list of definitions of ‘pavement’ covers all these uses. Condensed, the OED’s meanings (excluding the specialised mining and zoological uses), are: a paved surface or hard covering laid on the ground (used chiefly in technical contexts); paving or similar surfacing (used as a mass noun); the paved or metalled part of a road or other public thoroughfare or the roadway (used chiefly in North America and in Engineering); a paved footpath alongside a street or road (but the preferred term in North America is ‘sidewalk’) (see the entry for pavement in OED Online, Oxford University Press, accessed 20 March 2013).

“In my extensive reading of current as well as older references – mainly from Australia, but also from Britain and USA – I have seen the term ‘pavement’ variously used by both engineers and laypeople to refer to the paved surfaces of roads, of footpaths alone, and of roads and footpaths. For my project I have chosen to use ‘pavement’ in this last, broad sense because it is the only term available that can collectively refer to all the different kinds of hard surface laid down on the ground for ease of passage, whether by wheels, feet or hooves.”

Does that help?

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‘New ashphelt’, Broadway (Sydney), 2013.

There goes another parking space

How hotly motorists defend parking spaces as cities become more and more congested with cars. Loss of street parking is one of the major objections to the creation of cycle paths like the one in Bourke Street in Sydney’s inner city.

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Parking space lost for cycleway. One of a series of stencils applied to the pavement in June 2009, this one is outside the Bourke Street Bakery. Despite objections construction of the cycleway went ahead anyway. Photo: meganix.

So the citizens of the city of Leicester in the UK must have had mixed feelings when a team of archaeologists started digging up a council car park a year ago. How many parking spaces were lost in that exercise? But today’s exciting news is that the remains discovered have been positively identified as those of medieval king Richard III, seriously maligned in Shakespeare’s eponymous play, and the last king of England to die in battle.

The skeleton of Richard III, with its twisted spine, which was discovered at the Grey Friars excavation site in Leicester. Photo: University of Leicester/Reuters, accessed via the Sydney Morning Herald website.

The skeleton of Richard III, with its twisted spine, which was discovered at the Grey Friars excavation site in Leicester. Photo: University of Leicester/Reuters, accessed via the Sydney Morning Herald website.

Asphalt paving is like a tombstone, not only over the remains of the famous like King Richard, but over the bodies of ordinary folk and indigenous people whose life and death resting places were overtaken by the establishment and expansion of cities. It is something I talk about in my article City of epitaphs  in Culture Unbound 1: 453-467 (2009).

The unassuming council car park in Leicester where the monarch’s remains were found. Photo: Getty, accessed via the Sydney Morning Herald website.

The unassuming council car park in Leicester where the monarch’s remains were found. Photo: Getty, accessed via the Sydney Morning Herald website.

Weekend at Walcha

Walcha is a small, neat, and sometimes icily cold town on the New England Tableland of New South Wales. A visit there on a cool (but not so cold) weekend in early November gave me the chance to do some sightseeing and inspect the town for notable pavement features. As it turned out my most interesting finds were in Fitzroy Street, the main shopping drag.

The wide footpaths outside the shops are paved with patterned concrete slabs. Very decorative but functional as well as they are deliberately designed to be non-slip.

All around the town there are public artworks and sculptures made from apparently local materials. These include several horizontal installations set into the patterned footpaths. Although they are artistically interesting, I gather that these ‘depictions’ are not appreciated by some older residents because they are not non-slip like the concrete slabs they replace.

Early on Sunday morning a contingent of Council outdoor staff was busy maintaining the roadway. One man was tracing the cracks in the asphalt by scraping out accumulated dirt with a pick.

Another worker came after him, cleaning out the dust with a leaf-blower.

Finally, the redefined cracks were filled with bitumen emulsion, leaving a kind of scribbly black writing on the grey surface of Fitzroy Street.

Being the tidy town that it is, Walcha does not have much in the way of graffiti. In fact there only seems to be one spray-can practitioner, whose few efforts are to be seen on several walls and one footpath.

A quest always enhances the experience of travelling.

 

Old Paris

Asphalt layers, Paris, 1899-1900, by Eugène Atget (From the website of the National Gallery of Art, Washington).

Yesterday a friend and I visited the exhibition Eugene Atget: Old Paris at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. As the small catalogue that comes with your ticket says, Atget relentlessly tracked down the vestiges of ‘Old Paris’ with his tripod-mounted camera. Between 1898 and 1927 he photographed everyday views of shopfronts, signs and street posters, courtyards, interiors, gardens, statues, docks and bridges. Many of these were destined for demolition but some still exist today.

Naturally I was just as interested in the surfaces of the streets as I was in the buildings that lined them, especially when Atget had captured them glistening with rain. Most of those in the photographs were cobbled, the narrow streets and laneways either sloping to drains in the centre, or cambered to kerb and guttering on either side. Not all of those with kerbs had sidewalks wide enough to walk along. In those times the whole width of the street was available to everyone – horse-drawn vehicles and handcarts, peddlers, bicyclists, strollers and shoppers. It was only with the advent of the motor car that pedestrians were irrevocably pushed to the side of the street.

For most of Atget’s career as a photographer, people appeared almost incidentally in his streetscapes. But in the early years he had often made people the subject of his pictures, recording disappearing trades and occupations. One of those early photographs shows  asphalt layers, or ‘bitumiers’, working on their hands and knees with hot asphalt and playing a part in the grand scheme to modernize the streets of Paris. You can read more about this photograph at Atget: The art of documentary photography on the website of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

The exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales runs until 4 November 2012. The framed photographs in the exhibition are not enlarged but are prints that Atget made directly from his glass negatives, around 22 x 17 cm in size. My friend and I spent four hours scrutinizing and chatting about all of the images. We have compiled a suggested list of equipment that anyone contemplating a visit should take along.

Reading glasses (for close examination of the photographs)

A magnifying glass (ditto)

A map of Paris

A French dictionary (mainly to work out what kind of businesses all those signs were advertising and what the street vendors were selling)

A folding chair or, better still, a wheelchair that you and your companion can take turns in using

A stepladder (for looking at those photographs that are hung a little too high)

Sadness

Me. Sad. Ded. Enmore Park, Enmore (Sydney), 2012.

Here is a graphic story published just recently in chalk on asphalt. I came across it one evening this week in Enmore Park outside the aquatic centre there.

The story is intense and personal. But who could have drawn it, and why here? At my place, our interpretation of the story has evolved the more we examine and discuss the words and pictures. I wonder what blog readers make of it.

Enmore Park, between the aquatic centre and the children’s playground, Enmore (Sydney), 2012.

Harbour Bridge resurfacing

In January 2012 Sydney Harbour Bridge is being resurfaced. Naturally I am interested.

The work is taking place over two weekends, or possibly three, depending on the weather. It is the first time in the Bridge’s 80-year history that the asphalt has been stripped back to the original concrete deck. Workers with small paint rollers on sticks will waterproof the deck with epoxy and large machines will lay a smooth asphalt surface over it. More about this on the NSW Government’s Transport website.

There were long traffic queues and cranky drivers on the first weekend as cars were diverted into the Harbour Tunnel. Presumably many people had not seen the mobile traffic signs and the advertisements that had been warning for months that the Bridge would be closed.  This weekend, after all the publicity about the delays last week, you’d think people would have got the message to take a longer route to cross the harbour. But apparently not, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. There were queues again today.

On Friday afternoon I drove over the Bridge some hours before it closed at 10.00 pm. My passenger took photos. To the left of the picture an electronic sign warns that the Bridge will be closed tonight. To the right you can see Lanes 1-3 have been newly resurfaced. The patchy asphalt on Lanes 4-6 is covered in graffiti for the instruction of the workers who will shortly be ripping it up.

Sydney Harbour Bridge partially resurfaced, 20 January 2012

The year in asphalt

All around the world the pavement has a symbolic role as well as a functional one so that, for example, during natural disasters or mass acts of civil disobedience broken asphalt is often invoked in words or pictures to depict the havoc created. Similarly, news services and bloggers publish images of pavement stains to represent the unpublishable and they scan pavement graffiti to capture the feelings of ‘the person in the street’.

Here, then, is a chronological catalogue of major news events of 2011 as told via the medium of the pavement. None of the images in this blog post is mine. I wasn’t there; I was too busy hunched over in my computer corner getting on with the Pavement Graffiti project.

 Queensland floods

“One of the few silver linings to the devastating Queensland floods could be an eventual stimulus to the economy as major repair work begins … It is still a matter of some conjecture as to which individual companies might profit. One likely candidate is Boral, which has market-leading positions in asphalt and other material for road.” (The Age, Melbourne)

 Cyclone Yasi in Queensland

Cyclone Yasi“That stretch of asphalt you see there, buried under the remains of the beach? That’s the Bruce Highway, the main (and virtually only) road to communities up the coast, and the main tourist town of Cairns. It will be a long time before Queensland has recovered from this.” (Must Use Bigger Elephants blog; ABC News, Australia)

 Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan

“Workers told how the earthquake ripped through the plant, immediately knocking out the main power. A ghastly boom was heard in the suppression chamber of reactor 4, said Kenji Tada, who was there at the time. Cracks started ripping in the asphalt and the sides of the building. They fled before the tsunami arrived and did its worst.” (The Telegraph, UK)

 Christchurch earthquake

“This is the closest I have seen to skating in post-apocalyptic world, which is my fantasy.” (Skateboarding magazine.com)

 Osama bin Laden killed

“Days after Osama bin Laden’s demise, America’s burning concern—the most urgent outstanding question, at least according to Google search trends—had nothing to do with al Qaeda, terrorism, or torture. No, the death of the world’s most-wanted man has the country thinking about something else entirely: how to get buff. ‘Navy SEAL training’ followed closely by ‘Navy SEAL workout’ were the only bin Laden-related search terms in the Top 10 … SEAL training is the most ferocious workout in the free world … The best are eventually tapped for the elite Seal Team Six—the squad that got bin Laden … On the ‘grinder’, a black asphalt courtyard, would-be SEALs spend hours doing mass calisthenics. In the pool, they are ‘drown-proofed’ by swimming with bound arms and legs. On the shore, they experience ‘surf torture’ …” (The Daily Beast, USA)

 Cadel Evans wins the Tour de France

“ ‘Relief, for sure,’ says Cadel Evans’s mum, describing what is was like to watch her son on TV during the early hours of Sunday finally set himself up to become the first Australian to win cycling’s Tour de France.” (The Australian; Herald Sun)

 Explosion and massacre in Norway

“Blood smears the pavement, as a victim is treated outside government buildings in the centre of Oslo, Friday July 22, 2010, following an explosion that tore open several buildings including the prime minister’s office, shattering windows and covering the street with documents.” (WHAS11.com; AP photo)

 Riots in England

“After the rioting every night this week, the news headlines told a bleak story of communities under attack. But hours later locals wearing wellies and washing up gloves were reclaiming the streets with brooms, bin bags and dustpans … The main problem was broken glass from shopfronts … The hardest thing was cleaning up the remains of burnt-out cars … A community is forged on shared values. So, it’s understandable that local residents are keen to mobilise for a clean up, says Tony Cassidy, a psychologist at the University of Ulster … the immediate urge is to remove the damage that resembles an ‘ugly stain’ on their neighbourhood.” (BBC News Magazine)

Royal wedding

“To encourage more Australians to visit the UK British street artist Joe Hill has created dazzling 3D image showing the iconic Royal Wedding of Princess Catherine and Prince William. The bird’s eye view of Prince William and Princess Catherine’s nuptials can actually be seen on a Sydney pavement.” (Prince William Wedding News blog)

 Steve Jobs dies

“Ahmed Shafai, of Palo Alto, writes ‘Steve, you made our lives easier’ on the pavement outside the Jobs home in Palo Alto, California” (BBC News World)

 Occupy Wall Street

“In a tense showdown above the East River, the police arrested more than 700 demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street protests who took to the roadway as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon. The police said it was the marchers’ choice that led to the enforcement action. ‘Protesters who used the Brooklyn Bridge walkway were not arrested,’ Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, said. ‘Those who took over the Brooklyn-bound roadway, and impeded vehicle traffic, were arrested’. But many protesters said they believed the police had tricked them …” (New York Times)

 Muamar Gaddafi is overthrown and killed

“In Benghazi, on the main square where it all started, they were slaughtering camels in celebration … And in the cafes, people were watching TV pictures – more graphic than any shown in Britain – of a bloodied Gaddafi dragged along and beaten, feebly protesting, before a gun was put to his head. The picture then cut to the dead ex-leader being rolled onto the pavement, blood pooling from the back of his skull.” (The Telegraph, UK)

 Protests in Egypt continue

“Fresh clashes erupted in Cairo between police and protesters demanding the end of military rule … A pitched battle between hardcore protesters and armed riot police has been going for five days straight. The fight turned a few-block radius of downtown Cairo into a virtual war zone. Police and protesters formed ever-shifting battle lines delineated by torched-out car skeletons and blackened sheets of corrugated metal, along a street littered with broken bottles and chunks of asphalt.” (Global Post)

 Leveson Inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal

“Sheryl Gascoigne, the ex-wife of former England footballer Paul Gascoigne, is now giving evidence to the inquiry … Gascoigne says journalists who followed her ‘hoped I would give birth on the pavement’ … She is speaking about the effect of the media pursuit had on her family. She says it was especially tough on her children, who often could not go out and play.” (The Huffington Post, UK)

 Conference on Global Warming, Durban

As the year neared its close this conference gave commentators the opportunity to trot out a collection of familiar pavement metaphors.

 “Perhaps it was Yogi Berra, the great baseball player, who best summed up the results of the latest fraught round of climate talks … ‘When you come to a fork in the road,’ he said, ‘take it.’ For the past two years, ever since the disappointing Copenhagen climate summit, the 194 negotiating nations have stood indecisively at just such a junction. In one direction leads a steep and rugged pathway to a global agreement – legally binding on developed and developing countries alike – to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. In the other lies a gentler and more beguiling roadway, paved with voluntary measures and good intentions, which looks like leading to an ultimately hellish climate.” (The Telegraph, UK)

“Durban Platform Paves Way for Global Climate Treaty by 2015 … By the end of the meeting, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was agreed to by 190 nations …  In addition to a roadmap for a more comprehensive climate treaty, the EU and nine other nations also pledged to take new emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol …” (Carbon Capitalist)

 Occupy Wall Street movement continues

“Yep…  Occupy pavement…  Works for me…  What a lost cause…  I have news for these idiots:  Wall Street never missed a step.  And they were up there in their glass towers looking down and laughing.  Absolutely wasted effort on the part of these street people…” (Burton Blog)

Not a good note to end on, I’m sorry. But to all my readers, thank you for your support and encouragement. I hope the coming year is a fulfilling one for you.

Megan

Nostalgia

Pavement artist, Stanmore (Sydney), 2009

Not only do I write a ‘Pavement graffiti’ blog, but I will soon be launching a website called ‘Pavement appreciation’. This is all connected with a postgraduate research project I have undertaken on ‘Reading the pavement’.  If it all sounds like some sort of obsession then I’m afraid it is. I was recently forced to speculate that I must have had a revelatory encounter with asphalt as a small child.

This is not as silly as it sounds. The surfaces of roadways and footpaths are such an ordinary part of our everyday lives that we tend to ignore them through familiarity. But we could probably all look back to memorable moments that involved asphalt or concrete pavements and the marks upon them – scabby knees and other gravel-rash injuries, arrow chases through suburban streets, jumping over the cracks in the footpath so as not to be eaten by bears, sweaty handball games on courts painted on the school playground, mastering the art of drawing a hopscotch the right size and shape. Some Sydney people will remember being puzzled as a child at seeing ‘Eternity’ chalked on the pavement in the city.

When Marcel Proust (À la recherche du temps perdu) describes impressions in the present that revive similar sensations from the past he mentions not only the taste of the madeleine, but the unevenness of the paving-stones. Occasionally you find childhood recollections of the pavement in the works of other writers as well. Clive James, for example, in his Unreliable Memoirs describes daredevil feats in his pram-wheeled billycart and the ‘slide of the back wheels which got me round the corner unscathed, leaving black smoking trails of burnt rubber’. And in her essay Earthworm Small, Barbara Hanrahan tells how her family moved to a better part of Adelaide in the 1950s, but ‘I kept on wanting the old suburb. Cracked asphalt, corrugated iron stamped with the trademark of a royal crown, lavatory creeper and morning glory …’.

I wrote about some of my experiences with chalk and pavement in a journal article a few years ago (Eternal City). This nostalgia carries over into my present project, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I am vindicated by British academic Elizabeth Wilson, who writes in her article Looking backward: nostalgia and the city, ‘Although the practice of academic research is meant to be an objective activity, one part of the ‘postmodernisation’ of such work has been a greater recognition of our subjective investment in it. The anthropologist and psychoanalyst, George Devereux, once wrote that all research is autobiographical, and this seems particularly clear in recent writings about urban space and cities’.

Hopscotch, Carlton (Melbourne), 2008

Elephants on parade

Shared path, College Street at Whitlam Square, Sydney, 2011

 

The relationships between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians are fraught and while some people are pleased with the new cycle lanes and shared pathways being installed by the City of Sydney, others are not. So it’s nice to see that some people have managed to keep their sense of humour.  Congrats  to the anonymous stenciller for this embellishment of a sign on the corner of College and Liverpool Streets, and thanks to the good sports in the Cycling Strategy department at the City of Sydney for drawing it to my attention.

And while pondering the similarities (if any) between an elephant’s thick skin and the wrinkled greyness of the asphalt, I thought I’d dig out a couple more pavement pachyderms from my archives.

Elefant Traks music label, King Street, Newtown, 1999

Asphalt elephant, Queens Parade, Wolllongong, 2003

Maps

At this point in my Pavement Graffiti project I’m thinking about maps – the formal and the informal, the fanciful and the accidental.

Two lovely books that I ordered arrived on my doorstep this week. The first is Kris Harzinski’s From here to there:  a curious collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association. It contains the kind of mud maps that people draw for one another on the back of an envelope or on a page torn from a notebook. Harzinski is just as interested in the story behind the map as he is in the map itself. But he doesn’t use the term ‘mud map’. It was only while researching this blog post that I realised that this term, which I use from time to time, is Australian in origin.

The second book is The map as art: contemporary artists explore cartography by Katharine Harmon. There are 360 works reproduced here. Described on the back cover blurb as ‘a collection of visionary topographies and imaginary geographies’, these artworks are executed in many different media. Two I particularly liked featured map-like marks on the ground: Nina Katchdourian’s Moss Maps are ‘scrambled atlases’ of lichen on granite rocks; the Rock Maps of eight-year old artist Theodore Lamb are photographs of cracks in rocks.

Lamb’s Rock Maps remind me of photographs I have taken of cracks in asphalt. They show up best after rain and this ‘map’, taken in Stanmore (Sydney), even includes a sky-coloured lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year I photographed a wonderful map drawn by a boy on the footpath outside his house in Rozelle. His play world grew each day.