Places to Play

Kids don’t need an invitation to play. I have two nieces and a nephew who take any opportunity to transform their beds into trampolines, couches into jungle gyms, boxes into forts, living rooms into dance floors. 

Adults, on the other hand, need to be told to play. In a world where speed and efficiency are rewarded, play is underrated but oh so necessary. 

Westlake Park, Seattle

This temporary art installation by Downtown Seattle Association invites people to do just that: take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and play. Their website says they “offer a variety of daily games and activations – from ping pong to foosball.” When I was there the other weekend, I noticed a play area for kids, as well as portable library with books for kids and adults to enjoy.

In their other location, Occidental Square, they had a life-sized chess game. This square was really empty on a Monday morning at 9am, but I wonder how much traffic it gets other times. Do people respond to these efforts at interaction and creativity? Do you?

You can see the “PLAY” blocks in the far left corner of Occidental Square, Seattle

Seattle isn’t the only city encouraging its residents to play. I’ve encountered similar efforts in New York City and Amsterdam through public art, life-sized chess games, public pianos, and letters to climb.

Perhaps this sign is more popular with tourists (guilty), but fun nonetheless

Where there are life-sized letters, there are people wanting to climb them. Heck, there are people wanting to climb almost anything. These jellybeans that were in Vancouver’s Charleson Park are a prime example. I think some of the most effective public artworks are ones that can be touched. Humans are so hungry for contact. 

Love Your Bean by Cosimo Cavallaro in Charleston Park, Vancouver. This public artwork was a Vancouver Biennale project and has since been removed, sadly.

When I think of the word play, I think of a piano. Its presence in my various apartments over the years is akin to a good friend’s quiet constancy. For me, a piano is not just an instrument, but a physical space to unravel myself. I much prefer playing to my ears alone, but I appreciate the public pianos cropping up in virtually every city (or in Victoria’s case, along the beach where I played only to wave, wind, and husband). 

My favourite public piano so far, Victoria
Friends in Okotoks, AB

The above images all strike me as examples of placemaking, a word popular in urban planning spheres for the last few decades.

Project for Public Spaces, based in New York, has a concise article summarizing this hands-on approach to making neighbourhoods and cities more enjoyable places to live, work, and play.

With community-based participation at its center, an effective placemaking process capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, and it results in the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people’s health, happiness, and well being.

I’ll share one last example from Seattle that literally appeared like a hole in the wall. I don’t know if it was a community-driven initiative, but it felt like it fulfills the last part of the above quote. I was walking to King’s Street Station from Occidental Square to catch the bus back to Vancouver when a sign on a gate reminiscent of a high-security prison stopped me. 

Say what? How could something beautiful hide behind such ugly doors? But when I stepped inside, I kind of liked this incongruity between outside and inside, catching me unawares. 

Just as adults need places to play, we also need places to rest like this Waterfall Garden Park. An oasis of quiet and calm. I sat on one of these chairs and listened to the music of the waterfall, feeling like I had found a diamond in the rough.

Do you have any stories like this of surprise urban retreats? What’s one of your favourite places to play or rest that you’ve encountered in a city? I’d love to hear!

Valentine’s in Victoria

Thanks to Miss604 and the Victoria Film Fest, I won a trip for two to Victoria last weekend, which also happened to be Valentine’s Day weekend. I’ve never won something like this before, so that was particularly exciting and it came at such a great time for the Artist and I.


Part of the getaway package was round trip flights by float plane, which I’ve wanted to do ever since seeing Reese Witherspoon reject her opportunity in Sweet Home Alabama. (what was she thinking?!) This was on the Artist’s bucket list too, and we both loved it.



The plane fit 12 people plus the pilot. We sat at the back and watched as our beautiful city faded from view—the downtown office towers, Lion’s Gate Bridge, Stanley Park, UBC. And then we oohed and ahhed as we flew low over the Gulf Islands, trying to identify which ones we were looking at. If you don’t like a lot of turbulence, a float plane is probably not for you as you do feel every dip and turn that much more than on a regular plane, but as someone who loves that sinking feeling you get from roller coaster rides, I was totally in my element.



We landed in Victoria Harbour just 30 minutes from when we left Vancouver. How fast is that?! SO beats taking the ferry. And then we walked to our hotel, none other than the iconic, Edwardian, château-style Empress Hotel built in 1908 and designated a National Historic Site of Canada. To say we were excited was an understatement!

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The hotel is beautiful, inside and out. And the staff there are so delightful. They asked us if we wanted a romantic room in the turret with a round bed, and we were like, “Yeah we do!” Can’t say I’d ever seen or known round beds existed before this trip! We stayed in the turret at the back of the hotel on the 7th floor. The only unfortunate thing was that the Empress is undergoing major construction right now so the central facade that is normally covered in ivy and shows the magnificent letters of the hotel name was hidden under  a large white sheet with a printed facsimile of the exterior.


love this arched hallway!



view from the window


That’s our room up in the turret with the blinds drawn

Staying at the Empress was ideal for walking around downtown because the hotel is situated right there, in the Inner Harbour.


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You could tell love was in the air that weekend, from the decorated lampposts to the rose salads at Wild Coffee and the “kissing bench” that we couldn’t resist 😉




In the evening, we saw Our Little Sister at the Victoria Film Fest, a simple yet beautiful Japanese movie about sisterhood that was one of the best storytelling I’ve seen on cinema in a long time. (I’ll save my thoughts on that for another blog post because it needs more space than this).


Before we left on Sunday afternoon, we took a stroll to colourful Fisherman’s Wharf and saw some seals putting on a show for the crowd.

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It was a wonderful way to spend Valentine’s and we are so grateful for the generosity of all who were involved!


Impressions of Halifax

The biggest city I visited on my Maritimes adventure was Halifax, so I should give it some exposure on my blog, since I do like to feature cities. Compared to Charlottetown, it felt decently large. (I would barely even call Charlottetown a city. It felt like there were maybe 10,000 people there, but according to Wikipedia, there are actually 34,562, according to a 2011 census.) But compared to Victoria, it felt much smaller. The Internet is telling me my intuition is wrong though. Halifax and the surrounding area has 390,096 people whereas Victoria and its surrounding area has 345,164 people.

IMG_9007Now that we’ve got all that figured out, I’ll explain why I compare Halifax to Victoria, and why even though I liked Halifax, I didn’t love it.

  • Everyone hyped it up so much that my expectations didn’t jive with the reality. Even the stewardess on the plane announced, “Welcome to beautiful Halifax,” and everyone seemed to use this descriptor when referring to the city. However, it was damp and grey when I arrived, and it didn’t seem as beautiful in the rain as Vancouver is. Although maybe that’s because when I’m on vacation, any rain is an unwelcome sight.

My first photo of Halifax, waiting for the bus to take me downtown from the airport. These Adirondack chairs are everywhere!

My first photo of Halifax, waiting for the bus to take me downtown from the airport. These Adirondack chairs are everywhere!

Partial view of Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.

Partial view of Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.

  • Halifax and Victoria are both harbour cities with navy bases. Canada only has 3 (the third is in Newfoundland). Thus, they both have waterfronts which are comparable.

Halifax's Harbourfront reminded me of Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria. I enjoyed walking along here.

Halifax’s Harbourfront reminded me of Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria. I enjoyed walking along here, people-watching, and taking in the Busker’s Festival.

I ate poutine with haddock at The Battered Fish, the first of many seafood experiences.

I ate poutine with haddock at The Battered Fish, the first of many seafood experiences.

yum yum.



Look what I found! Theodore Tugboat lives in Halifax Harbour! I watched this show with my brother every Saturday morning as a kid.

Look what I found! Theodore Tugboat lives in Halifax Harbour! I watched this show with my brother every Saturday morning as a kid.

One of the acts at the Halifax Busker's Fest.

One of the acts at the Halifax Busker’s Fest.

Getting stuck halfway up the wave in the harbourfront.

Getting stuck halfway up the Halifax wave.

  • Halifax and Victoria are both capital cities, but with very different feels. Whereas Victoria is British, pristine, and pretty, Halifax is a more gritty city, like a sailor with a beard and a bottle of rum in his hand, telling an old yarn that you don’t quite know what to make of. I appreciated this rugged, “rough-around-the-edges” feel to Halifax though because it is so different than out west. Underneath Haligonians’ (yes, that’s what they’re called!) rough edges are really gentle, helpful souls, whereas Vancouverites maybe look more approachable or friendly but then don’t really stop to engage with strangers as much. (I know I’m painting broad strokes and there are definitely exceptions, but this is a quick summary of my impressions). And this is one area that Halifax did live up to all the talk.

Here's a sailor for you.

Here’s a sailor for you.

Entrance to Halifax Public Gardens.

Entrance to Halifax Public Gardens, a floral oasis in the heart of the city.


These gardens are quite lovely. And they're free! (unlike the outrageous prices of Butchart)

These gardens are quite lovely. And they’re free! (unlike the outrageous prices of Butchart Gardens, though not on the same scale, either.)

A local Halifax restaurant my friends and I ate at.

A local Halifax restaurant my friends and I ate at.

Known for their law school.

Known for their law school.

I loved all the bright, colourful homes in the Maritimes.

I loved all the bright, colourful homes in the Maritimes.

That being said, I obviously enjoyed taking photos (like always) and had a great time walking the streets of a new city and seeing the favourite haunts of an old friend who now lives and works in Halifax. I just don’t know if I would want to live there, but it’s a nice spot to visit, especially when the sun comes out. If you’ve been there, what are your impressions of Halifax? Do you find yourself consciously or subconsciously comparing new cities you visit with old ones you’ve lived in?

A Street Named Faithful

The art & literature magazine ArtAscent had a call for submissions on the theme of “Home”. I submitted the poem below based on my year living in Victoria. You can read the poem that was just recently published in the mag here. I’m also including it below as, unfortunately, the photograph that inspired the piece was not published with it, and I think it helps the poem make sense.

A Street Named Faithful

Tucked between ocean and city

you’re hard to find

and not that faithful

with faded blue skin

and chipped front tooth

how could I walk by each day and believe in you?


Even when set in concrete

raised eyebrows and question marks follow your name

because you’re not a place

yet I knew where I was with you


Carrying heavy bags of groceries

past the Victorian house on your corner

my soles walking the rhythms of your concrete

wishing you weren’t so long


Rainy mornings you felt my canvas shoes

the sharp point of my umbrella

poking the crevices

testing the depth of your foundation


My first greeting when I left the house

and the word calling me back

you let me know I was safe

home on a street named Faithful


If a streetcar named Desire

takes me away in my youth

in my old age

I will return to you


Cracked and peeling

when my colour has faded

and I have my own chipped front tooth

to find time and erosion

left their marks

but couldn’t erase you


© Charlene Kwiatkowski

To the Island

My less frequent posts as of late have been in part due to a vacation I took to Vancouver Island. I like to call it my “To the Island” trip as a take-off on Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

She felt… how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.

I visited several small towns along the east coast that I’ve never been to before, including Crofton, Ladysmith, Duncan, and then up to Nanaimo and down to Victoria (which I have been to before since I lived there as a grad student).

I’m not one for small towns, but I concede there is a certain charm to them when visiting. I was pleasantly surprised at the plethora of used bookstores and vintage/consignment clothing shops in a number of places. Aaron Espe captures the small town life in this song:

And I’ve tried to capture some photos that, even if they don’t exactly characterize the town, at least characterize my experience of that particular town:



There’s only one main street running through Ladysmith. It hosted the town’s annual “show and shine.”

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If that wasn’t rural enough, I was about to get even more country by staying on this picturesque farm on the outskirts of town.


A day lounging at the beach, petting goats, and walking the boardwalk around Crofton’s harbour.

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The town doesn’t look like much from the highway, but once you turn off and actually get into the downtown area, it has some really quaint spots. Duncan is also known as “The City of Totems.” Apparently there’s over 80.

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Home of Nanaimo bars and Diana Krall. Lovely, colourful harbour city.

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I took the least amount of pictures here, probably because I took so many when I lived in this city. In any case, I love visiting this old “home” and running the ocean route along Dallas Road I used to do as a student.


Pico Iyer says we carry many versions of home inside of us and I think that is very true. Sometimes we may even call a place home that we’ve never lived in but dream of living in, because we spend just as much time thinking about it. I had never thought about that until he said it, but it made sense. Vancouver was home to me long before I moved there. So, where is home for you? Small town, big city? Both?

Here’s the TED talk if you have fifteen minutes:

I Said I Would Never Do It

Blog, that is.

Then again, I said I wouldn’t do a lot of things:

  • buy a digital camera
  • get facebook
  • get a cellphone
  • get an e-reader

Yeah, so I tend to dig my heels in when it comes to new technology. I own all of these items now (well, the last one was a gift), so I guess I come around eventually.

In university, my friends joked that I was so behind the times. More than behind the times. Before my brother generously gave me his old iPod a few years ago when he upgraded, I was still carrying around a discman. Well, I didn’t carry it around too often for obvious reasons (i.e. social embarrassment). I ran without music in my ears and struck up a lot more conversations than I do now with people sitting beside me on buses and trains.

My “home” bus station in Ottawa

I signed up for facebook on the last day of undergrad – my attempt at doing something “dramatic” to celebrate this significant day, something that my peers had persistently pressured me to get for four years, and here I was, finally giving in and making it a much bigger deal than it deserved. In hindsight, the timing wasn’t so great either. With two weeks of exams still to study for, I had to fend off a new and highly potent form of distraction that normal students who got fb in first year had already learned to (somewhat) manage.

The next year when I moved to Victoria for my Master’s program, I capitulated and got a cell phone, after realizing my mom, like usual, was right. My landlord would likely not have a phone I could use for long-distance calls and it was time for me to become more “connected.” The Telus guy looked at me incredulously.

“Seriously? You’ve never owned a cell phone before?”

“Nope. Is it really that weird? I’m sure you’ve seen other people like me before?”

“Yeah, I have. It’s just that they’re usually over 65.”


Considering this history, I suppose it was kind of ironic I chose a title for my blog that has such strong associations with cell phones . . .

textingthecity started a year ago today because of 2 things:

1)   the anticlimactic moment after defending my Master’s thesis and realizing, “hey, I still really love my topic and want to keep talking about architexturewho can I talk to?”

readers, thanks for letting me talk with you!

2)   boredom, needing something to fill my time between sending out resumé after countless resumé

dog days in Victoria

And guess what? I’m really enjoying this blogging thing. For someone who associates the day she got a cell phone with the word “traumatic,” I’ve come a long way. (In my defense, it was a smart phone, okay? to go from nothing to that was mildly overwhelming). And my favourite part? The community of people and their words, art, and interests I’ve been gratefully introduced to.


A brief look at where textingthecity has been:

It was born in Victoria in a yellow room

It travelled to Ottawa and New York to follow Mondrian and learn a lesson in expectations and reality.

It relaxed in Hawaii’s pacific waves.

It vicariously went to London through the hopes and heartbreaks of Olympic athletes.

It frequently returns to its home base of Vancouver, through such characters as a feline hotel guest and storytelling windows.

For this coming year of blogging, I hope to feature more examples of urban art, literature, and architecture outside of Vancouver, whether or not I actually travel there myself. So yes, I hope to change it up a bit more on here . . .

That being said, some things will never change. Like my firm resolution to never get twitter.