Houston’s Underground Tunnels

Apparently, Houston has an extremely intricate series of walkable tunnels that exist below the downtown area. These tunnels, modeled on the ones below Rockefeller Center, while connecting large portions of the downtown area, have not been centrally planned. Instead, “befitting Texans’ distrust of government, most of it is private; each segment is controlled by the individual building owner who deigns to allow the public access during business hours — and then locks the doors on nights and weekends. Some parts, like those belonging to the former Enron buildings now leased by Chevron, are closed to outsiders altogether.” This private component is probably the most astounding part of the entire tunnel network.

Chittenango, NY: The Land of Oz

Yellow Brick SidewalkChittenango, east of Syracuse, is a small village in Upstate New York that most would simply pass by without a second thought. However, someone tipped me off to its claim to fame: L. Frank Baum, the writer of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (and the rest of the series), was born there. And its residents have taken this extremely seriously.

I was visiting Albany and decided to go through Chittenango on my way there. I found a yellow brick sidewalk lining the main street, sundry Oz-themed stores (including Ruby Red’s Diner and the Emerald City Grill) and even an Oz museum, which unfortunately was closed when I was there since it is currently moving to its new location in the soon-to-be-renovated library (I was told this when I stopped in at the Village Hall). Anyway, nothing theme-park-like here, but certainly a pleasant place to stretch your legs.

Transportation Future, via A.C. Clarke in 1946

In Arthur C. Clarke’s 1946 short story Rescue Party (the first he ever sold), he offers an intriguing view of how rapid transportation of the future has changed the world and its cities:

For the culture of cities, which had outlasted so many civilizations had been doomed at last when the helicopter brought universal transportation. Within a few generations the great masses of mankind, knowing that they could reach any part of the globe in a matter of hours, had gone back to the fields and forests for which they had always longed. The new civilization had machines and resources of which earlier ages had never dreamed, but it was essentially rural and no longer bound to the steel and concrete warrens that had dominated the centuries before. Such cities as still remained were specialized centers of research, administration or entertainment; the others had been allowed to decay, where it was too much trouble to destroy them. The dozen or so greatest of all cities, and the ancient university towns, had scarcely changed and would have lasted for many generations to come. But the cities that had been founded on steam and iron and surface transportation had passed with the industries that had nourished them.

Yes, the Rust Belt has seen better days. But for the only surviving cities to be one-trick ponies (such as DC for administration and Las Vegas for entertainment) is unlikely. Diverse cities are the ones that are the engines of innovation and the ones that people wish to live in. Furthermore, the importance of proximity for people is one that will probably not simply be invented away. We are social creatures and while we all prefer differently sized cities, I have a feeling that cities are here to stay.

As a bonus, here’s another fun quote from the story:

The great room, which had been one of the marvels of the world, meant nothing to them. No living eye would ever again see that wonderful battery of almost human Hollerith analyzers and the five thousand million punched cards holding all that could be recorded on each man, woman and child on the planet.

Police Sirens, and introducing the Rumbler

There are a wide variety of sirens at the disposal of police. However, there is now a new type of siren being added to their repertoire:

Christened with a tantalizing name, the Rumbler, it sends out low, bone-rattling vibrations, so it is not only heard, but also felt. One has been tested on the streets of New York, but the jury is out on whether it is effective, offensive or terrifying.

Floating Cities

There are two types of floating cities: cities that float in water (see ocean colonization) and cities that float in the sky (such as Cloud City). Both are still theoretical; the latter is really theoretical.

Geoffrey Landis provides an interesting point though about building floating cities on Venus, whose surface is generally considered to be akin Hell:

However, viewed in a different way, the problem with Venus is merely that the ground level is too far below the one atmosphere level. At cloud-top level, Venus is the paradise planet.

(quote from Wikipedia)

Green Space Cools Cities

According to a recent study, adding parks in urban spaces can cool the city by as much as 4°C.

Vegetation cools local temperatures when the water it has absorbed is evaporated from its leaves – much like the cooling effect of perspiration. The researchers say that the increased greenery would not have to involve building new parks. For instance, green roofing – roll-out strips of soil planted with succulents, commonly used in Germany – would have a similar effect.

The Shifting Demography of America

The WSJ recently had an article entitled The Realignment of America, by Michael Barone, which attempts to give a finer-grained picture of the demographic shifts in America than the simple ‘the Snow Belt to the Sun Belt’. Barone defines four categories of cities and their associated patterns of change, and then provides a bit of political commentary. These categories are Coastal Megalopolises, Interior Boomtowns, Rust Belt, and Static Cities. Provides a quick summary of some interesting trends in the US.

China Plans a Pre-Fab Green Metropolis

Wired Magazine has an article entitled Pop-Up Cities, about the plan for a large new city near Shanghai, called Dongtan:

Dongtan’s master plan — hundreds of pages of maps, schematics, and data — has almost nothing to say about architectural style. Instead, it outlines the world’s first green city, every block engineered in response to China’s environmental crisis. It’s like the source code for an urban operating system.

There is lots of info and details here about large-scale urban design within the context of being extremely environmentally friendly. A very exciting idea, and an interesting article.