The Past of Cities

Harpo

Getting away with it
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I have started several "future of" threads in Science & Nature, so perhaps I can start some "past of" threads here, beginning with cities.

I have always been fascinated by how cities grow and change over time, and lost cities, and different cities having once been the biggest in the world, and so on. And now in the modern age, we have aerial photography, Landsat imagery, etc.

This photo shows how Las Vegas was in 1947

image.jpeg
 
This is a treasure trove
Historic Cities: Maps & Documents

While the maps themselves, especially in hi-res, are fascinating, I also enjoy the illustrations that sometimes appear around the borders. Great for all sorts of quotidian details.
 
New York City:

The%2Bclose%2Bof%2Ba%2Bcareer%2Bin%2BNew%2BYork,%2B1900-1906.jpg




There is an old panoramic image I saw in an antique store, many years ago, that I'm seriously regretting not purchasing... and fear it is not now or will ever be on the net. It showed a freshly laid intersection in what has been inner-city Detroit for decades... but, was clearly was from the early 20th century as they laid out roads for automobiles. There was even a new street-sign on the corner which made the intersection obvious.

That said, on each of the what would eventually, quickly, turn into building filled blocks, there were cornfields now only separated by the newly laid roads... The city was a-changin'. A wonderful image, I fear, I'll never see again.

K2
 
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If there was any book I could choose that had the most influence over me, then it would some adaptation of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, that I must have had out from the public library, sometime in the 1960's as a very small child. It resonated with me living in 1960's Gateshead because that was the epitome of the brutalist urban sprawl; the post-war modernism regeneration of towns. All around me, houses and streets were being replaced by concrete shopping malls, hotels and multi-story car parks, or so it seemed. We eventually had to move ourselves, because our house was compulsory purchased, to build a bypass that never got built ironically. In the 1980's and '90's they started pulling all that concrete down again. The "Get Carter" car park was demolished with explosives. They realised they had sucked the life out of the centre of town. It's still a strange place in the streets that were once so busy when I was child. Now they have the Sage and the Baltic Mills art gallery down by the Tyne, but the old centre of town is just a spaghetti mess of roads.

So, I come down to London, only to live in the most bombed-out area during the Second World War. Almost nothing of Penge was left after the war. Not only did the government intentionally mislead and direct German bombers south of their targets, but the Victoria to Dover railway tunnel was also a target itself, and if bombers didn't use all their bombs over London, it was in just the right place to drop them on the way back. We didn't get the big hi-rises though. That was Croydon. They got rid of all their planning restrictions in the 1960's to become the "Dallas" of the south of England.

However, I've come to love the hi-rise and the city. Better that people live in cities with their economies of scale that they bring. Better that they build upward in cities, rather than outwards into green fields. I love how Hong Kong is shoe-horned into every available space between it's hills.
 
another good resource Old Maps Online

Trying to remember the title of a short story I enjoyed. Probably read it in some collection in the last ten years --the pov was a city and the city told its life story, starting as a hamlet, its growth, a brief period as a capital, and then decline to a provincial town.
 
If there was any book I could choose that had the most influence over me, then it would some adaptation of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, that I must have had out from the public library, sometime in the 1960's as a very small child. It resonated with me living in 1960's Gateshead because that was the epitome of the brutalist urban sprawl; the post-war modernism regeneration of towns. All around me, houses and streets were being replaced by concrete shopping malls, hotels and multi-story car parks, or so it seemed. We eventually had to move ourselves, because our house was compulsory purchased, to build a bypass that never got built ironically. In the 1980's and '90's they started pulling all that concrete down again. The "Get Carter" car park was demolished with explosives. They realised they had sucked the life out of the centre of town. It's still a strange place in the streets that were once so busy when I was child. Now they have the Sage and the Baltic Mills art gallery down by the Tyne, but the old centre of town is just a spaghetti mess of roads.

So, I come down to London, only to live in the most bombed-out area during the Second World War. Almost nothing of Penge was left after the war. Not only did the government intentionally mislead and direct German bombers south of their targets, but the Victoria to Dover railway tunnel was also a target itself, and if bombers didn't use all their bombs over London, it was in just the right place to drop them on the way back. We didn't get the big hi-rises though. That was Croydon. They got rid of all their planning restrictions in the 1960's to become the "Dallas" of the south of England.

However, I've come to love the hi-rise and the city. Better that people live in cities with their economies of scale that they bring. Better that they build upward in cities, rather than outwards into green fields. I love how Hong Kong is shoe-horned into every available space between it's hills.
Almost every town I have ever lived in (Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea) had their old hearts comprehensively bombed out of them in the blitz, and were rebuilt cheaply and often quite badly after the war. Understandable given the lack of funds and the massive reconstruction effort, combined with concrete technology, brutalist fashion, as well as the rise of the motor car. It is really only in the last 25 years that these dull concrete structures have started to be replaced with more interesting town planning. All coinciding with the loss of traditional high street function as we go increasingly on-line for our shopping. Interesting read in the Guardian today.
 
One thing I like about living in York is that the medieval city boundaries are still very visible both in real life and on the map, thanks to the whacking great fortifications. The modern outer ring road describes roughly the same upside-down-heart shape as the walls, but is at least 5 times the size. And this is one of the slowest-growing UK cities: it's been a bit of a backwater since Tudor times.
 
One thing I like about living in York is that the medieval city boundaries are still very visible both in real life and on the map, thanks to the whacking great fortifications. The modern outer ring road describes roughly the same upside-down-heart shape as the walls, but is at least 5 times the size. And this is one of the slowest-growing UK cities: it's been a bit of a backwater since Tudor times.
remember though it was the Victorians who rebuilt them...
 
Yes, and the gigantic lancet arch that leads out to the railway station is certainly not original medieval!
there's a great bit in the Great Yarmouth city walls- largely knocked down now- where the victorians cut a hole in the mediaeval walls to let light into a school
 

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