Milestones in urban planning

Urban planning has undoubtedly evolved rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century. The Atlantic Cities wrote an article detailing the latest exhibit put on by SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association) called “Grand Reductions: Ten diagrams that changed urban planning” which presents vital changes in urban planning through the use of 10 important diagrams.

The image above is Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Broadacre City,” a proposed urban development designed to give each landowner one acre of property on a 36 square mile parcel of land. The idea was first made public in 1932 during the rise of America’s shift towards suburbanization and sprawl. Wright’s idea would only have furthered the suburban problem that is currently being beaten down by the new-age urbanism of shared spaces and tight-knit communities in urban centers. As Broadacre City spaces neighbors out and focuses on land rather than community, an America modeled after this vision would leave citizens distant and isolated.

Hippodamus of Miletus of the 5th century BC is often regarded as the “father” of urban planning. From his wikipedia:

His plans of Greek cities were characterised by order and regularity in contrast to the more intricacy and confusion common to cities of that period, even Athens. He is seen as the originator of the idea that a town plan might formally embody and clarify a rational social order.

One can say that urban planning started with Hippodamus of Miletus, as he introduced orderly city planning which was the first to be truly planned. However, the SPUR exhibition begins its history of modern urban planning with Ebenezer Howard‘s garden city of 1903, seen below.

Ebenezer Howard designed the garden city at the turn of the 20th century in order to combat the polluted and overcrowded cities that made up a large part of urban life in his day. The idea was to have a 12,000 acre city with a population of 58,000 in the center with several smaller cities of 9,000 acres and populations of 32,000 connected by canals to the center city. Spreading everything out would reduce pollution and the entire “garden city” would be roughly 66,000 acres with a population of 250,000. The idea was adopted in the planning of two English towns, Letchworth and Welwyn, but neither worked quite as ideally as Howard’s plan, and both contributed to the problem of urban sprawl characterized by the first half of the 20th century.

This is an interesting concept introduced in New York City’s 1916 zoning laws. It basically says that skyscrapers in New York City must taper off as they get taller as to maximize the amount of sunlight the streets below receive. It’s a clever idea that more cities really should implement. Not only does it make the streets of NYC brighter and more lively, but it also results in what I consider to be a beautiful skyline as seen below.

The exhibition closes with the idea that planners are moving more towards environmental planning due to the ever-increasing global temperature. The focus of planning has shifted and planners are now more conscious of the environment and it can be seen in their work. The environment is a priority whereas it was hardly considered during the first part of the 20th century.

SPUR’s exhibition is open until February 28th, 2013 and is held at the SPUR Urban Center Gallery in San Francisco. It’s free so check it out!

All images and info via The Atlantic Cities and Wikipedia


Leo Belgicus: 16th and 17th century mapmakers drew the Low Countries as a lion

The Low Countries – or the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and a small part of northern France – were often displayed in the form of a lion on 16th and 17th century maps. The “Belgian” lion was often displayed in homes as a symbol of Dutch patriotism. Strangely, it followed one of the two iterations shown above – it either had a normal orientation as it is in the upper image (north at the top, Netherlands as the head, the spine following the coast of Belgium), or it was rotated at is in the lower image (west at the top, Netherlands being at the rear of the lion, and Belgium and the modern French department of Nord-Pas-de-Calais at the lion’s head). I made two maps in arcGIS to give a better idea of what these maps show.

This map displays the same area shown in the uppermost Leo Belgicus, with north as it truly is. The shape of a lion’s head, face, back, and chest is easily discernible. However, this lion shape only covers roughly from the shoulder up. The shape below covers more of the area of a lion.

This map is a rotated view of the Low Countries, with the shape of the lion in the lower image of Leo Belgicus above. This design is also a convincing lion-like shape, as it encompasses more of the body and only cuts off the legs and the face.

Now my question is, was the rotated design considered that much more lion-like that artists like Jodocus Hondius would rather sacrifice proper orientation in favor of a nice design? Hondius’ rotated design, created in 1611, came 28 years after the original design of Leo Belgicus by Michael Eytzinger in 1583. Nearly every subsequent incarnation of Leo Belgicus would be properly oriented as well, including those in 1609, 1617, 1648, 1650, and 1707.

Either way, it’s pretty cool how pride can be put into the design of a map.

Info from wikipedia and world digital library.

Antiquity À-la-carte uses GIS to display roads used in ancient times

The Ancient World Mapping Center over at the University of North Carolina has made an awesome application with GIS interface that combines my love of maps, history, and transportation. You can look at different geographical features from various eras of history, from Archaic Greece to Late Antiquity. Among the features are cities, temples, roads, aqueducts, and urban areas, among others.

Pictured above is Ancient Rome and the roads leading out of it, which I find fascinating. I think it’s amazing to see the roads that were used by the ancients to travel and transport goods and to see how Romans navigated through the mountains to get where they needed to go. The map is incredibly detailed and has roads that stretch throughout the extent of the Roman empire, as well as roads used during other eras.

Here’s Rome and the whole of modern Italy at 1:3120000. It’s incredible to see the roads used throughout the peninsula. This can be done anywhere in the world. Finally, below is the whole of Europe. I’m just blown away that we have the ability to visualize roads used 2000 years ago! I’m going to be playing with this website for a long time.

The application: Antiquity À-la-carte

World’s largest underground rail station is an urbanist’s dream

Hong Kong’s “Express Rail Link West Kowloon Terminus,” to be completed in 2015, will be the largest subterranean rail station in the world. Hong Kong’s station will rival Beijing’s West Railway Station, and at 4.6 million and 5.5 million square feet respectively, these stations are nothing to balk at.

The station is also a fine example of modern urbanist architecture – designed by Andrew Bromberg at Aedas, the station’s design blends in well with Hong Kong’s urban setting. The sloping roof of the station features trees and other vegetation, as well as a walkway designed to present pedestrians with a beautiful view of the city. Furthermore, the platforms and railways will be entirely underground, so there won’t be any sort of major redesign to the city itself.

Architect’s site via Weburbanist

The London Tube turns 150

Here’s an interesting article from The Atlantic Cities about the history of London’s Tube map. The Tube celebrated its 150th birthday on January 9th, and its map has gone through at least 12 iterations since it opened its doors to the public in 1863. The map’s original design was a confusing set of meandering lines, and it wasn’t until 1933 that Harry Beck‘s modern map layout was adopted.




Speaking of Tube maps, Animals on the Underground is worth a look. Paul Middlewick takes the Tube’s map and highlights animals found within the tangle of colored railways. My personal favorites are Hornchurch the rhino and White Chapel the polar bear.


White Chapel:

Global Freedom of the Press

Click to enlarge

Here’s a neat map from the Reporters without Borders website. It ranks the level at which freedom of the press is upheld across the globe. I find it interesting that the press is not free at the highest level in America, where freedom of that sort is protected by the constitution. However, being an American citizen, it’s not surprising that freedom of the press isn’t ranked higher here. Also interesting is that Namibia is the only country south of the equator to be in a “good situation,” while many countries in the northern hemisphere make the cut.