Friday, March 04, 2005

It takes a very compelling reason to get me out of bed at unearthly hours (anything before 9:00 a.m.) qualifies. I don't really mind having to do it tomorrow, because we are taking a trip around one of our local ports (only the 3rd largest in the world,hmmm......). I do have some ambivalence about the environmental impact of ports on marine life and on residents in neighbouring communities, but I'm also absolutely fascinated by their scale and the gateway to the world that they represent. Well, in this case, it's more like gateway to the Asia Pacific, which dominates imports to the US, and accounts for most of the cargo to the LA port.

I was told that George Lucas found inspiration for some of the fantastic creatures in Star Wars by looking at the gantry cranes in the Oakland port. That sounds entirely plausible. If you've ever seen a gantry crane (scroll down for a picture of a row of them at the Oakland port), you'd realise what incredible, phantasmagorical creatures they appear to be. They seem so devoid of softness, any fragility, that they are almost impossible to love. And yet, I had met a civil engineer once who told me his greatest pleasure is to look at gantry cranes. He had designed many and was absolutely fascinated by them.

Point being, industrial landscapes can have their own appeal. That's what the German government and European Union hope is true, because they've invested so much money into recasting the Ruhrgebeit into an industrial heritage tourism site. Some of the things that they've done are absolutely great. Like this old gasometer that's been converted into an exhibition space. Or the marvelous red dot design museum, a tribute to cutting edge design that is housed smack in the middle of Zeche Zollverein, an old coal mine converted to an industrial heritage site. A lot of it is ingenuity in the face of the 80s slump and lasting depression in the German steel industry. But I think a lot of it is very avant garde and visionary, and makes one rethink the very notion of heritage.

Pity the Americans don't think this way, otherwise they wouldn't be trying to replicate one cutesy fishing village after another in waterfront development schemes that do not seem to even acknowledge the rough around the edges world of seamen and dockworkers.


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