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Posts Tagged ‘cities

“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

“What I like about cities is that everything is king size, the beauty and the ugliness”*…

 

… an observation that gets truer with time.  Whether built from scratch…

Dubai, UAE, 1990-2013

or rebuilt…

Tokyo, Japan, after WWII in 1945 and 2013

in the developing world…

China’s high-tech hub, Shenzen, 1980-2011

or the developed…

Paris, France, 1900-2012

… 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

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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 KingLeonard BernsteinBob Dylan, Dorothy ParkerTennessee 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 DepressionWorking, 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.

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Written by LW

May 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

The Impossible City…

 

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…

Read the whole story at Architizer; and see more of Thornton’s work on his Tumblr (from whence, the illustartions above).

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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.

Artist (and event co-organizer) Mark Bowen’s poster for the Be-In

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Written by LW

January 14, 2013 at 1:01 am

The best-laid plans…

 

Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for the U.S. Capital

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…

Walter Burley Griffin’s design for Canberra

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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.

Grimaldi, au naturel

Grimaldi, in character

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Written by LW

December 18, 2012 at 1:01 am

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