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Posts Tagged ‘cities

“The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand”*…

 

Build your own with The Medieval Fantasy City Generator

* Italo Calvino

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As we wander within the walls, we might spare a thought for Henry I, King of Castile and Toledo; he died on this date in 1217 when a loose roof tile fell on his head.  He had become the monarch two years earlier, at age 10, when his father (Alfonso VIII of Castile) passed away.  His mother was Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile, the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

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Written by LW

June 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears”*…

 

“‘A woman’s place is in the home’ has been one of the most important principles in architectural design and urban planning in the United States for the last century,” Dolores Hayden, an urban planning historian, wrote in her 1980s essay What Would a Non-Sexist City Be Like?

Now we’re at a crucial point in urban planning because some of our age-old systems have been upended by innovation or economics. We have Uber and other ride shares replacing traditional transportation systems and Elon Musk trying to build the high-speed Hyperloop and underground tunnels. And our lifestyles are in flux: More young people are sharing homes before they get married, and they’re living with their parents longer.

We can’t design away sexism or the creepy dude waiting at the train platform. These are some of our culture’s oldest, most insidious problems and urban planners alone can’t solve them. But urban planners are now looking to new designs and technology that, for the first time, should include the other half of the population…

Toward a more inclusive city: “Sexism and the City.”

* Italo Calvino

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As we muse on metropoli, we might recall that it was on this date in 861 that the Viking burned Paris to the ground (for the third time since the Siege of Paris in 845).   The invaders also torched the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which they pillaged again in 869.  in 870, King Charles the Bald ordered the construction of two bridges, the Grand Pont and the Petit Pont, to block the passage of the Vikings up the Seine.  In 885, Gozlin, the Bishop of Paris, repaired the city wall and reinforced the bridges, enabling the city to resist an attack by the Vikings, who tried again twice (in 887 and 888), but were repelled each time.

Paris then enjoyed 90 years of (relative) peace, until 978, when the city was laid siege by The Holy Roman Emperor Otto II.

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Written by LW

May 28, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above / Don’t fence me in”*…

 

All of humanity could fit in a building the size of this red box, though it wouldn’t be very comfortable…

The human urge to own land sometimes borders on the absurd… Do we have too many cities with too few people in them? (Answer: Yes!) But there’s an implicit question embedded in that notion of anti-NIMBY place-making, once posed by Leo Tolstoy: “How much land does a man need?”

Tolstoy’s answer was pretty grim. But leave it to a YouTuber to take that existential literary question literally by asking, “How much land does humanity need?”

That’s the issue enterprising online video-maker Joseph Pisenti explores on his channel, Real Life Lore.

Pisenti ups the ante on the density game by examining two more specific questions in three videos: How large would a city need to be to fit all of humanity, and how big would a building need to be fit every human being?…

More metropolitan musing– and all three of the videos– at “Could the Human Race Fit in a Single City?

* Lyric from the song “Don’t Fence Me In”; music by Cole Porter, lyrics by Porter, adapted from a poem by Robert Fletcher.  Originally written in 1934 for an unproduced film musical (Adios, Argentina), it was recorded a decade later by Roy Rogers, and (almost simultaneously) Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters; later it was covered by Ella Fitzgerald, and many others.

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As we speculate about space, we might spare a thought for Jean-Baptiste Poquelin; he died on this date in 1673.  Better known by his stage name, Molière, he was a respected French actor who became one of the great comedic playwrights in Western literature.  His worldy farces– The Misanthrope, The School for Wives, Tartuffe, The Miser, The Imaginary Invalid, and The Bourgeois Gentleman.–  earned him popular adulation… and the scorn of moralists and the Catholic Church.  At the time of his death, French law forbade the burial of actors in the sacred ground of a cemetery. But Molière’s widow, Armande, asked the King if her spouse could be granted a normal funeral at night.  The King– a fan– agreed, and Molière’s body was buried in the section of a cemetery reserved for unbaptized infants.  (Molière’s remains were later transferred to grand Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and re-laid to rest near those of La Fontaine.)

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Written by LW

February 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling; namely, the strange”*…

 

How did cities emerge? Where were they located? How did they change over the course of human civilization? How did they change their surroundings?

The answers to these questions are available, but hard to access. The United Nations World Urbanization Prospects, for example, only tracks urban populations and their locations from 1950 on, and so offers only a small, relatively recent snapshot of urbanization. The work of the historian Tertius Chandler and the political scientist George Modelski is much more extensive. The two painstakingly gathered population and archeological records from as far back as 2250 B.C. The problem, however, is that their data exist in the form of tables that are stuffed with hard-to-decipher numbers and notes.

new paper published in Scientific Data takes a stab at mapping the information Chandler and Modelski gathered. Yale University researcher Meredith Reba and her colleagues digitized, transcribed, and geocoded over 6,000 years of urban data…

More at “Mapping 6,000 Years of Urban Settlements.”

* Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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As we take it downtown, we might recall that it was on this date in 455 CE that the Vandals completed their sack of Rome.  Three years earlier, the Vandal king Genseric and the Roman Emperor Valentinian III, had betrothed their children, Huneric and Eudocia, to strengthen their then-new peace treaty, but had delayed the wedding, as Eudocia was only 5 at the time. But on the 16th of March in 455, Valentinian was assassinated, and Petronius Maximus rose to the throne.  Petronius, more concerned to consolidate power than to observe the decencies, married Valentinian’s widow, Licinia Eudoxia, and had his son Palladius marry Eudocia. Genseric was not amused; he sailed immediately with his army to Rome.  The Vandals knocked down the city’s aqueducts on their way to the gates– which were opened to the invaders after Genseric agreed to Pope Leo I‘s request that he not raze the city nor murder it’s inhabits wholesale.  The Vandals satisfied themselves with treasure and with a group of “hostages” including Eudocia and her mother.  Petronius Maximus and Palladius had killed by an angry Roman mob before Genseric arrived.

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Written by LW

June 16, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The more advanced a society is, the greater will be its interest in ruined things, for it will see in them a redemptively sobering reminder of the fragility of its own achievements”*…

 

With its mathematical layout and earthworks longer than the Great Wall of China, Benin City was one of the best planned cities in the world when London was a place of “thievery and murder.” So why is nothing left?

This is the story of a lost medieval city you’ve probably never heard about. Benin City, originally known as Edo, was once the capital of a pre-colonial African empire located in what is now southern Nigeria. The Benin empire was one of the oldest and most highly developed states in west Africa, dating back to the 11th century.

The Guinness Book of Records (1974 edition) described the walls of Benin City and its surrounding kingdom as the world’s largest earthworks carried out prior to the mechanical era. According to estimates by the New Scientist’s Fred Pearce, Benin City’s walls were at one point “four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops”…

More on the fabulous city and its fate at “Benin City, the mighty medieval capital now lost without trace“– one of the Guardian’s excellent “Story of Cities” series.

* Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

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As we “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!“, we might recall that it was on this date in 1498 that Vasco da Gama, landed at Kappad (or Kappakadavu locally), a famous beach near Kozhikode (Calicut), India. The first European explorer to make the journey, his expedition gave the Europeans a sea route to reach the wealth of the Malabar Coast, and resulted in European domination of India for about 450 years.

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Written by LW

May 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing”*…

 

If you’re planning to relocate but want to live somewhere with a near-exact temperature profile, where should you go?

That depends: Folks in San Francisco might choose San Luis Obispo 200 miles south, or Portugal’s Cabo Carvoeiro 5,600 miles east, as these locales have 99 percent similar monthly temperatures. Chicagoans could go to Ottawa or Dalian, China, whereas New Yorkers will feel at home in Dover, Maryland; Milford, Delaware; or Makhachkala, Russia.

That’s according to an engrossing map tool from Codeminders that compares places with equivalent climates…

More at “A Guide to Finding Cities With Nearly Identical Temperatures“– and try it for yourself here.

* “Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.”

– Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

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As we ponder the differential impacts of climate change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1900 that a massive storm spread record snows from Kansas to New York State. Snowfall totals ranged up to 17.5 inches at Springfield IL and 43 inches at Rochester NY, with up to 60 inches in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State.

Central Park, after the storm

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Written by LW

February 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available… a new idea, as powerful as any in history, will be let loose”*…

 

10/2/2014  L’Eixample.  Valencia, Spain (39°27′53″N 0°22′12″W)      The urban plan of the L’Eixample district in Valencia, Spain is characterized by long straight streets, a strict grid pattern crossed by wide avenues, and square blocks with chamfered corners.

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…

9/30/2014  Erosion.  Betsiboka River, Madagascar  (15°48′55″S 46°16′13″E)       Dramatic evidence of the catastrophic erosion in northwestern Madagascar is seen at the rapidly expanding Betsiboka River Delta. Deforestation of the country’s central highlands for cultivation and pastureland has resulted in the most significant erosion recorded anywhere in the world (approximately 112 tons/acre), which transforms the river to this vivid orange color.

Tour the Earth from above at Daily Overview.

* astronomer Fred Hoyle

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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

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Written by LW

October 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

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