The BBC's Finlo Rohrer laments the "slow death of the purposeless walk," an activity replaced by modern transit and planned, regimented leisure/exercise activities. But there's hope!
Across the West, people are still choosing to walk. Nearly every journey in the UK involves a little walking, and nearly a quarter of all journeys are made entirely on foot, according to one survey. But the same study found that a mere 17% of trips were "just to walk". And that included dog-walking.
It is that "just to walk" category that is so beloved of creative thinkers.
"There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively," says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking.
"Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I'm far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and 'thinking'."
I suspect there is an element of benign self-deception in the idea of a purposeless walk. I walked a lot when I lived in the city, apparently without purpose, but there was concealed purpose in the rhythms and pressures of urban living. You walk to manage your environment, even when there is no destination. Walkable cities subtly help you do this. Read the rest
This neat map presents Europe not as a collection of countries but as a diagram of its largest cities; the accompanying post argues that large cities effectively transcend their host nations and will become the 21st century's geopolitical order
not all urban areas are growing at the same speed — or are growing at all. All of Italy's and Greece's urban centres are losing inhabitants, as are the Ruhr and Katowice, Ostrava and Bucharest. Biggest winners? Istanbul and Ankara, plus two other Turkish cities, and Brussels and Amsterdam — all gaining more than 2 percent p.a. Growing more modestly, at 1 percent, are the English and Scandinavian cities Read the rest
Pittsburgh has its robots and even Detroit has its dreams, but some rustbelt cities have nothing much left. Flint, Michigan. Read the rest
The Narrow Streets SF site tries to imagine what San Francisco would be like with streets redesigned for humans instead of cars, allowing the space clawed back from the roads to be used for more housing.
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My friend Malena Seldin and her pals launched Local Lathers, a wonderfully-creative new line of natural, handmade soaps that are inspired by neighborhoods and landmarks, like the "Brooklyn Bridge Daily Grind" that smells of sandalwood and coffee! Read the rest
A 1973 snapshot from Fountain Square in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I grew up but unfortunately was too young to make the scene documented in the photos below and at Retronaut. (via Dave Rosser)
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"Tiny Worlds" is a delightful trilogy of short films about imaginary miniature city services dealing with the small trash littering the streets and sidewalks of London. The series was created by Rushes, a Soho video production house. Above is "Tiny Worlds: Bulldozer." Below, "Tiny Worlds: Submarine" and "Tiny Worlds" Logging Truck." (via Laughing Squid)
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Andrew Hardin, a grad student from the University of Colorado's geography department, created an interactive map that shows how long it takes to get there from here in several major U.S. cities. A paper reveals the methodology used. [via Flowing Data]
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Chinese developers are vying to build a massive China-themed retail center and casino in New York's Catskills. The 600-acre project is called "China City of America" and, surprise, it's highly controversial. I think it might do better in the hometown of hyperreality, Las Vegas! You can see the pitch at the China City of America site and read about it below:
"Developers pitch bringing a piece of China to Sullivan County" (YNN)
"Mysterious China-themed 'city' proposed in New York’s Catskills" (Fox News, thanks Bob Pescovitz!) Read the rest
Cities are the most effective form of weather control
humans have come up with, writes Tim De Chant at Per Square Mile. (This is weather
control we're talking about. Human-caused climate
change is a different thing.) The presence of a city — from pollution particles in the atmosphere, to the heat island effect, to the way tall buildings change air currents — probably both increases rainfall and changes where that rain lands. Read the rest
Fast Company's spectacular gallery of Joseph McNabb tiny (yet unspeakably vast) wooden metropolis looks like a mad, pre-computer age game of Sim City. Interviewed by John Brownlee, the sculptor demonstrates a rigorous science fiction.
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The cities McNabb carves do not exist in the real world: they are fantastic cities conjured solely from his own inner world. Nevertheless, McNabb's sculptures are inspired by the activity of real cities, if not their literal architecture. ... Given the detail required to create a city skyline from scratch, a single sculpture might take McNabb upwards of three months to complete. His finished sculptures come in numerous forms, including skylines that take up every inch of surface of an entire planet (shades of Coruscant!) or a Niven-esque Ringworld. McNabb has even made a city that defies gravity on the underside of a table, each leg its own towering skyscraper.
Over at the Information Daily, my Institute for the Future (IFTF) colleague Jason Tester wrote about "Maker Cities," a concept that IFTF is currently exploring through on-the ground ethnography and a forthcoming forecasting game, created with BB's legendary developer Dean Putney! Jason writes:
The DIY ethos of making isn’t limited to creating physical objects—stuff. Makers are starting to reimagine the systems that surround the world around them. That is, they are bringing the “maker mindset” to the complex urban challenges of health, education, food, and even citizenship.
Makers are coming together in civic innovation hackathons to prototype new forms of citizen-led governance. Makers experimenting with new forms of community launched what would become the sharing economy, establishing new ways to measure and create value in local economies. And needing capital to make their ideas real, makers were the earliest adopters of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Crowdfunding raised an estimated $2.8 billion in 2012 to fund projects, and new specialized sites like neighbor.ly and Fundrise focus on group fundraising for municipal projects like building parks or upgrading failing infrastructure.
This last space of civic crowdfunding points to a common thread found in many of these broader examples of making—the systems being remade are often rooted in cities.
"Citizens Will Make the Future of Cities
" (Information Daily)
Maker Cities game (IFTF)
(image: "Lego Chicago City View 2001" by Otto Normalverbraucher)
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Over at Fast Company, our pal Chris Arkenberg wrote about how advances in synthetic biology and biomimicry could someday transform how we build our built environments:
Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.
Tools like Project Cyborg make possible a deeper exploration of biomimicry through the precise manipulation of matter. David Benjamin and his Columbia Living Architecture Lab explore ways to integrate biology into architecture. Their recent work investigates bacterial manufacturing--the genetic modification of bacteria to create durable materials. Envisioning a future where bacterial colonies are designed to print novel materials at scale, they see buildings wrapped in seamless, responsive, bio-electronic envelopes.
"Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers
" Read the rest
Top contenders this year
: Louisville and Fremont, Nebraska. Time to start filling out those brackets, water fans! Read the rest
I'm honestly not sure which is weirder: That Clean Air Asia made an interactive map of air pollution that visualizes various cities' smog levels in terms of nose-hair length ... or the fact that thicker, more luxuriant nose hairs really do reduce your risk of asthma. The world is a strange place, people
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We talk a lot about chain stores and the way their proliferation takes away the individual character of American cities, replacing it with a homogenized urban landscape of Wal-Marts, malls, and Applebees*. But some scientists think businesses and buildings aren't the only thing making our cities look more alike.
The ecology of cities could be homogenizing, as well — everything from the plants that grow there, to the number and density of ponds and creeks, to the bacteria and fungi that live in the soils. My newest column for The New York Times Magazine explains why ecologists think cities are becoming more alike, and what it means if they're right. The really interesting bit: The effects aren't all uniformly bad.
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“Americans just have some certain preferences for the way residential settlements ought to look,” Peter Groffman, a microbial ecologist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., recently told me. Over the course of the last century, we’ve developed those preferences and started applying them to a wide variety of natural landscapes, shifting all places — whether desert, forest or prairie — closer to the norm. Since the 1950s, for example, Phoenix has been remade into a much wetter place that more closely resembles the pond-dotted ecosystem of the Northeast. Sharon Hall, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, said, “The Phoenix metro area contains on the order of 1,000 lakes today, when previously there were none.” Meanwhile, naturally moist Minneapolis is becoming drier as developers fill in wetlands.
Over the long run, keeping stuff like tree limbs and compostable waste out of landfills is good for cities. There's only so much space in a landfill and getting more land is extremely expensive. So why haven't more cities hopped on the curbside composting bandwagon, or at least banned yard waste from landfills? There's probably a lot of factors that go into those decisions, but one, apparently, is the influence of large, private companies that handle waste collection
and see the diversion of re-usable waste as a detriment to their income. (Via Chris Tackett) Read the rest