Posts Tagged ‘cities’
“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available… a new idea, as powerful as any in history, will be let loose”*…
Plato suggested that “man must rise above the Earth —to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” Benjamin Grant and his colleagues at Daily Overview mean to help.
Our project was inspired, and derives its name, from an idea known as the Overview Effect. This term refers to the sensation astronauts have when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole. They have the chance to appreciate our home in its entirety, to reflect on its beauty and its fragility all at once. That’s the cognitive shift that we hope to inspire.
From our line of sight on the earth’s surface, it’s impossible to fully appreciate the beauty and intricacy of the things we’ve constructed, the sheer complexity of the systems we’ve developed, or the devastating impact that we’ve had on our planet. We believe that beholding these forces as they shape our Earth is necessary to make progress in understanding who we are as a species, and what is needed to sustain a safe and healthy planet.
As a result, the Overviews (what we call these images) focus on the the places and moments where human activity—for better or for worse—has shaped the landscape. Each Overview starts with a thought experiment. We consider the places where man has left his mark on the planet and then conduct the necessary research to identify locations (and the corresponding geo-coordinates) to convey that idea.
The mesmerizing flatness seen from this vantage point, the surprising comfort of systematic organization on a massive scale, or the vibrant colors that we capture will hopefully turn your head. However, once we have that attention, we hope you will go beyond the aesthetics, contemplate just exactly what it is that you’re seeing, and consider what that means for our planet…
Tour the Earth from above at Daily Overview.
* astronomer Fred Hoyle
As we put perspective into purposeful practice, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Lewis Mumford; he was born on this date in 1895. A historian, sociologist, philosopher of technology, and cultural critic, Mumford is probably best remembered for his writings on cities, perhaps especially for his award-winning book The City in History. (See also The City– the extraordinary film that Mumford made with Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, from an outline by the renowned documentarian Pare Lorentz, with a score by Aaron Copland.)
Mumford’s approaches to technology, its history, and its roles in society were acknowledged influences on writers like Jacques Ellul, Witold Rybczynski, Amory Lovins, E. F. Schumacher, Herbert Marcuse, Thomas Merton, and Marshall McLuhan. In a similar way, he was an inspiration for the organicist and environmentalist movements of today.
Unfortunately, once an economy is geared to expansion, the means rapidly turn into an end and “the going becomes the goal.” Even more unfortunately, the industries that are favored by such expansion must, to maintain their output, be devoted to goods that are readily consumable either by their nature, or because they are so shoddily fabricated that they must soon be replaced. By fashion and build-in obsolescence the economies of machine production, instead of producing leisure and durable wealth, are duly cancelled out by the mandatory consumption on an even larger scale.
- Lewis Mumford, The City in History
… an observation that gets truer with time. Whether built from scratch…
in the developing world…
or the developed…
… cities just keep on changing, as global commerce spurs development worldwide and millions move from rural to urban lives.
More “then and now” photos of other cities at “Before and After.”
* Joesph Brodsky
As we admit that it’s tough to keep ‘em down on the farm, we might send empathetic birthday greetings to Louis “Studs” Terkel; he was born on this date in 1912. Trained as an attorney at the University of Chicago, but graduating into the Depression, he decided instead to be a hotel concierge– a post he soon deserted for the stage. In one of his first gig as an actor, he had a cast-mate also named Louis, and was asked to pick a nickname; he chose the moniker of his favorite fictional character– Studs Lonigan, of James T. Farrell’s trilogy.
In 1934, Terkel began to do radio production for the Federal Writer’s Project, which led to his own program, which daily aired on WFMT in Chicago for 45 years. Over the years he interviewed Martin Luther King, Leonard Bernstein, Bob Dylan, Dorothy Parker, Tennessee Williams, and Jean Shepherd, among many, many others.
But Terkel is perhaps better known– certainly beyond the reach of Chicago radio– for his writing, largely oral histories of common Americans– e.g., Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, Working, in which (as suggested by its subtitle) “People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do,” and The Good War”: An Oral History of World War Two, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Mark Lascelles Thornton is underway on a massive drafting endeavor: a fully-realized skyscraper city that spans an 8 foot by 5 foot spread. “The Happiness Machine,” as he is calling the project, collects the world’s most iconic superstructures and lines them up along a monumental axis that forms the spine of the imaginary metropolis…
Thornton’s impossible skyline borrows towering landmarks new and old from eight major cities, including New York, Chicago, London, Shanghai, and Taipei. The Willis Tower (aka the Sears Tower) and Taipei 101 bookend the piece, while its center is occupied by the likes of One World Trade Center, the Gherkin, and the Shard…
As we reorient ourselves, we might recall that it was in this date in 1967 that the first Human Be-In was held in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Announced on the cover of the first issue of the The Oracle as “A Gathering of the Tribes”– and occasioned by a new law banning the use of LSD– it featured performances by the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and speeches and readings by Richard Alpert (AKA “Ram Dass”), Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Dick Gregory, Lenore Kandel, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jerry Rubin. “Refreshments”– “White Lightening,” specially formulated tabs of acid– were supplied by “peoples’ chemist” Owsley Stanley. Hell’s Angels handled security, which amounted to reuniting lost children with their parents.
The Be-In of 1967 kicked off the Summer of Love.
Be they company towns, aimed at keeping workers close to their jobs, or national capitals, designed as civic monuments, planned cities are just that: laid out in advance and constructed from scratch. Wired‘s collection of “Planned Cities Seen From Space” offers a glimpse of how 10 of these purpose-built cities turned out…
As we argue with our architects, we might send silly birthday greetings to Joseph Grimaldi; he was born on this date in 1778. The most popular English entertainer of his day, Grimaldi was an actor, comedian and dancer who effectively invented the character of The Clown as today we know it. He became so dominant on the London comic stage that harlequinade Clowns became known as “Joey”; both that nickname and the trademark whiteface make-up that Grimaldi created were, and still are, used widely by all types of clowns. His catchphrases “Shall I?” and “Here we are again!” still get laughs in pantomimes.
Grimaldi’s memoir, edited by his fan Charles Dickens (who had, as a child, seen Grimaldi perform), was a best-seller. The annual memorial service held for him (in February at Holy Trinity Church in the London Borough of Hackney) is attended by hundreds of clown performers from all over the world– who attend in full make-up and costume.
In 1939, the American Institute of Planners released the documentary The City. It was an all-star endeavor: directed by the photographers and filmmakers Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, from an outline by the renowned documentarian Pare Lorentz, with commentary by urban theorist Lewis Mumford and a score by the extraordinary Aaron Copland.
The film begins with a look back, a nostalgic celebration of the bucolic: “Working and living, we found a balance. The town was us, and we were part of it. We never let our cities grow too big for us to manage. We never pushed the open land too far away.” Then it screeches into the Industrial Age, documenting the crowded, dirty, slum-lined streets of the then-modern metropolis… building to the challenge, “Who built this place? Who put us here? And how do we get out again? We are asking.”
The balance of the film, redolent with a powerful Positivist optimism, looks to science– and the “science” of planning– for answers.
What’s fascinating, as Sarah Goodyear observes in Atlantic Cities, is that the blissful visions of 1939 are not far removed from our own:
…the idealized suburb/cities presented in the film are all walkable and bikeable. Autos are part of the urban disaster that is to be left behind by progress. We see from the air the familiar cul-de-sacs of today’s America but there are no six-lane arterial roads, no massive shopping centers with enormous parking lots. Kids ride around on bicycles along paths that look very much like what you see in the Netherlands of today, and in a few American cities such as Boulder, Colorado, or Davis, California.
The film was made at a historical moment when artists and thinkers like the ones who worked on it believed that rational, humanistic approaches to planning could triumph over entropy, corruption, and simple thoughtlessness. It seems like an impossibly idealistic view to have held, especially on the eve of World War II. Watching The City, it’s easy to feel a longing for that idealism, not to mention the level of craftsmanship that went into the film itself. Even the “fast food” presented with humorous disdain in the movie looks positively artisanal compared to the fare at McDonald’s.
The City is now more than 70 years old, and yet the dilemmas it presents are if anything more acute than they were in 1939. The urban areas of India and China, in particular, are facing exactly the same issues of industrial pollution and slum proliferation that plagued the American cities of the early 20th century. Will they be able to avoid even a fraction of the mistakes America made as it idealistically moved forward into the perfect, planned future? Here’s how The City wraps up:
Order has come, order and life together….We can reproduce the pattern and better it a thousand times. It’s here, the new city, ready to serve a better age. For you and your children, the choice is yours.
The full film:
* Lewis Mumford (who also advised, “Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.”)
As we reach for our copies of Jane Jacobs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that Charles Fourier published his utopian Universal Harmony. A social philosopher considered something of a radical in his own time, Fourier pioneered a number of notions now more mainstream (e.g., he was a supporter of women’s rights and is said to have coined the term “feminism'; he championed a “minimum wage”). Fourier’s urban vision was one that reflected his belief that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success; he believed that poverty (not inequality) was the principal cause of disorder in society. He proposed cooperative communities built around phalanstère, units of 1500-1600 people living and working together for mutual benefit. Fourier’s ideas influenced French politics (e.g., the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune) and writers from Dostoevsky (The Possessed) to Walter Benjamin (Passagenwerk); and they inspired a number of utopian communities in the U.S.
From Cotonou in Benin, with just more than 1.5 million people, to the Tokyo metropolitan region, with more than 42 million inhabitants, a total population of 1.2 billion people– 35 per cent of the world’s urban population in 2010– live in one of 129 ‘extended metropolitan regions’ across the world. LSECities has taken a closer look:
Using Google Earth satellite imagery, we captured a ‘snapshot’ of where people live and estimated ‘net densities’ by systematically tracing the built-up area of each metropolitan region – including central zones, satellite towns and the peripheral areas (a detailed methodology can be found online). The fact that 23 million people in Manila occupy a space one eighth the size of the same number of New Yorkers, or that Atlanta in the USA is 25 times larger than Hong Kong with roughly the same population, says something about the capacity and resilience of urban form as well as physical and geographical constraints…
Explore further at LSECities’ “Measuring the World’s Urban Footprint.”
[TotH to Flowing Data]
As we hail a cab, we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that Union General William T. Sherman ordered residents of Atlanta, Georgia, to evacuate the city. Sherman had taken Atlanta with little effort, and had promptly destroyed rail lines that might connect the city with Southern reinforcements. Preparing to march on, Sherman didn’t want to be responsible for the civilian population of the city, so decided to evict them: from September 11- 16, 446 families, about 1,600 people, left their homes and possessions and were “dropped” by Sherman’s men far south of the city, in the vicinity of the remains of the defeated army of Confederate General John Bell Hood. In November Sherman and his men, having resupplied themselves with the goods that remained in Atlanta set out on their infamous “March to the Sea,” destroying nearly everything that lay in their path.
This simple interactive animation by Periscopic, in partnership with UNICEF, illustrates the changes in urban population from 1950 up to present, through projections for 2050. Circle size represents urban population and color is an indicator for the percentage of people living in cities or towns.
[via Flowing Data]
As we contemplate concentration, we might celebrate International Women’s Day.