From the “walking cities” of 1815 to the sprawling cities of today

In recently teaching about the development of the American suburbs, I was reminded of the description of “walking cities” in 1815 provided by historian Kenneth Jackson makes in Crabgrass Frontier:

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The first important characteristic of the walking city was congestion. When Queen Victoria was born in 1819, London had about 800,000 residents and was the largest city on earth. Yet an individual could easily walk the three miles from Paddington, Kensington, Hammersmith, and Fulham, then on the very edges of the city, to the center in only two hours. In Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, and Glasgow, the area of new building was not even two miles from city hall. (14)

While the focus here is on congestion, the time it takes to walk through such density in a major city is notable: in a few hours, one could traverse a significant portion of the city.

Introduce technology with more speed – trains, streetcars, cars, etc. – and cities could expand in space. People could live further from work (the proximity of home to work for many is a feature of the 1815 city that Jackson also notes). The city could go on for miles. The suburbs could extend even further. But, the ability to see a significant portion of the city in a single walk became much harder.

Bringing large cities to the Metaverse

Meta may not have done well in this past week’s news cycle but at least one global city is headed to the Metaverse:

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This month, Seoul plans to launch the first stage of Metaverse Seoul, an ambitious five-year plan to code a digital re-creation of the South Korean capital. When it’s finished, residents will be able to explore historical sites, tour museums, attend virtual events, and even stop by City Hall to hack away at red tape without leaving their couches. Given Governor Jared Polis’ love of all things high-tech—including collecting state taxes in cryptocurrencies—it’s only a matter of time until Colorado follows suit, starting with our own capital city. Which is why we came up with some of Metaverse Denver’s most important points of interest.

There are a lot of possibilities here in addition to what Seoul is pursuing. Should a city aim for a brick for brick recreation? A hint or flavor of the offline city? A new kind of experience? An online site meant for tourists and/or those considering relocating? A place to try out new ideas? A gathering place for current residents?

One quick reminder as cities and communities consider this: the online and offline realms are not separate. What ends up in the Metaverse at the behest of cities will be connected to the offline city and vice versa.

Like Wakanda, drop the suburbs so cities and rural areas are closer

Why do we need suburbs between city and rural life? Perhaps the fictional Wakanda offers an answer:

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“One of the things I love about Wakanda, if you notice, if you watch ‘Black Panther’ carefully, there’s the city, the city’s got all this mass transit and all this housing parks and all this stuff,” explained Chakrabarti, who wrote a book called “A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America.” “And the moment you leave the city, you’re in farmland. And there’s this connection between rural life and urban life.”

He added: “I just think that is a really interesting paradigm to think about people, either living in super dense circumstances or really living in true rural hinterland and doing the things that we need everyone to do in farmland, which is grow our food and all of that stuff. And it would mean you would use a lot less land on this planet at the end of the day.”…

Whether major American cities ever transform from where we are today — heavily suburbanized and car-dependent — remains to be seen. But all we have to do is look to Wakanda for an idea of how our cities of the future could work.

I would argue that the American suburbs are popular, in part, because they appear to offer both features of city and rural life. Suburbanites like access to housing, jobs, and cultural amenities but they also want smaller communities and proximity to nature. With cars, they can on their own schedule access these features.

I remember the first time I saw in person this cleaner break between a city and rural areas. I had a chance to spend several days in Tokyo while in college. On one day, we took a train out of the city. As we moved at a high speed away from the city center, we suddenly moved from the denser city to fields. The same break could be seen from the air when flying in and out of the city.

This is not typically the case in the United States where suburbs might stretch for dozens of miles from the city limits before finally dwindling out. Moving more people into denser locations would indeed free up land or freezing development in metropolitan regions within an established boundary would do the same.

Should millionaires and billionaires in the suburbs count when looking at the wealthiest cities in the world?

A new list ranks the wealthiest cities in the world by the number of the wealthiest residents. Do the wealthy in suburbs count? For New York City, the top city on the list, they appear not to:

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The Big Apple is home to 345,600 millionaires, including 737 centi-millionaires (with wealth of USD 100 million or more) and 59 dollar billionaires. New York is the financial center of the USA and the wealthiest city in the world by several measures. It is also home to the world’s two largest stock exchanges by market cap (the Dow Jones and NASDAQ). Perhaps most notably, total private wealth held by the city’s residents exceeds USD 3 trillion — higher than the total private wealth held in most major G20 countries…

It should be noted that there are several affluent commuter towns located just outside New York City that also contain a large amount of top-tier wealth. Notables include: Greenwich, Great Neck, Sands Point and Old Westbury. If these towns were included in our New York City figures, then billionaire numbers in the combined city would exceed 120.

The San Francisco listing, #3, includes a broader set of communities:

The San Francisco Bay area — encompassing the city of San Francisco and Silicon Valley — is home to 276,400 millionaires, including 623 centi-millionaires and 62 billionaires. Home to a large number of tech billionaires, Silicon Valley includes affluent towns such as Atherton and Los Altos Hills. This area has been steadily moving up the list of millionaire hubs over the past decade and we expect it to reach the top spot by 2040.

Los Angeles, #6, also includes suburbs:

This area is home to 192,400 resident millionaires, with 393 centi-millionaires and 34 billionaires. Our figures for this area include wealth held in the city of Los Angeles, as well as nearby Malibu, Beverly Hills, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Santa Monica. Key industries include entertainment, IT, retail, and transport.

And the methodology suggests there are six cities on the list where the city is defined more broadly.

There could be a variety of reasons for looking at wealthy residents just in cities or also including metropolitan regions. Depending on setting these different boundaries, how much might it change the rankings?

Does bringing agriculture to cities erase the distinctions between cities and rural areas?

Urban agriculture is a growing field. Does it blur the lines between cities and country?

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As more people pour into metropolises—urban populations are projected to double in the next three decades, according to the World Bank—scientists like Bousselot are investigating how designers and planners can ruralize cities, greening roofs, and empty lots. The concept is known as “rurbanization,” and it could have all kinds of knock-on benefits for ballooning populations, from beautifying blocks to producing food more locally. It dispenses with the “city versus country” binary and instead blends the two in deliberate, meaningful ways. “You don’t have to set this up as a dichotomy between urban and rural, really,” says Bousselot. “What we should probably focus on is resilience overall.”…

But while rurbanization has enticing benefits, it has some inherent challenges, namely the cost of building farms in cities—whether on rooftops or at ground level. Urban real estate is much more expensive than rural land, so community gardeners are up against investors trying to turn empty spaces into money—and even against affordable developments aimed at alleviating the severe housing crises in many cities. And while rooftop real estate is less competitive, you can’t just slap a bunch of crops on a roof—those projects require engineering to account for the extra weight and moisture of the soil.

But the beauty of rurbanization is that agriculture and buildings don’t have to compete for space. Urban land is limited, which means that high-yielding, fast-growing, space-efficient crops work great, says Anastasia Cole Plakias, cofounder and chief impact officer of Brooklyn Grange, which operates the world’s largest rooftop soil farms. “That said, we approach the design of our own urban farms, as well as those we build for clients, with the consideration of the unique character of the community in which we’re building it,” says Plakias. “Urban farms should nourish urban communities, and the properties valued by one community might vary from another even in the same city.”

The primary dividing line referenced here is the presence of agriculture: this happens in rural areas, not so in cities. Bring agriculture to denser population centers, and important lines are crossed.

Maybe? Adding agriculture may or may not affect some of the key features of cities and rural areas: population, population density, land use (not just agriculture), amenities, and ways of life.

Perhaps this is more of an experiment that is just starting up. What are the effects of introducing significant amounts of agriculture plots in major American cities?

Considering Silicon Valley a city in order to compare it to Jerusalem and Athens

Is Silicon Valley a city? Maybe it works in order to compare it to Jerusalem and Athens:

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And this new city is growing in power. Never before have the questions of Athens and the questions of Jerusalem been mediated to us by such a great variety of things that vie for our attention and our desires. Silicon Valley, this third city, has altered the nature of the problem that Tertullian was wrestling with. The questions of what is true and what is good for the soul are now mostly subordinated to technological progress—or, at the very least, the questions of Athens and Jerusalem are now so bound up with this progress that it’s creating confusion…

If Tertullian were alive today, I believe he would ask: “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem—and what do either have to do with Silicon Valley?” In other words, how do the domains of reason and religion relate to the domain of technological innovation and its financiers in Silicon Valley? If the Enlightenment champion Steven Pinker (a resident of Athens) walked into a bar with a Trappist monk (Jerusalem) and Elon Musk (Silicon Valley) with the goal of solving a problem, would they ever be able to arrive at a consensus?…

The extent to which people begin clustering in one of the three cities—the extent to which they isolate, fortify the walls, and close the gates—is the extent to which our culture suffers. Nobody can remain isolated in one city for long without losing perspective. Self-styled rationalists hostile to religion close themselves off from millennia of embedded wisdom (or they merely invent their own form of cult or religion, based on reason). Religion that doesn’t respect reason is dangerous because it denies a fundamental part of our humanity, and the detachment can result in extremism that, at its worst, can justify unreasonable or even violent practices in the name of God. And Silicon Valley’s excesses—like the now defunct company Theranos, the cult-building of Adam Neumann, or the technology bubble of the late ’90s—are characterized by a detachment from reason and a failure to recognize the secular forms of religiosity that led to those things happening in the first place…

The most important innovations of the coming decades will happen at the intersection of the three cities—and they will be created by the people who live there.

What makes a city? A denser population center with economic, political, and social activity.

In the discussion excerpted above, Silicon Valley sounds less like a population center and more like the locus of a particular idea or culture revolving around technology and utilitarianism. Can a sprawling area outside a major city truly be a city? Is there a geographic center to Silicon Valley? Are there public spaces used by many? Is there a unified government or social structure?

As hinted at above, for much of human history and still in some places today, cities are religious centers. This is less the case in the United States where downtowns are dominated by commerce and finance, not religious congregations and practices. But, providing religiosity or meaning at work in a deconcentrated Silicon Valley may not work out as well as hoped.

What will be the first “city of the future”?

Multiple efforts are underway around the globe to construct new kinds of cities. Here is an overview of some of this work:

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Telosa is set to be built on 150,000 acres in either Nevada, Utah or Arizona, and 50,000 “diverse” people will call it home by 2030, according to newly released details from Lore — a serial entrepreneur who sold Jet.com to Walmart for $3.3 billion and the parent company of Diapers.com to Amazon for $545 million.

“We’re not just building a new city — this is a new model for society,” Lore said at a Telosa “town hall meeting” in July, adding that he wants his new city to be “sustainable and equitable to all.”

It’ll be governed by a principle he calls “equitism,” which seems to be a mashup of democracy, capitalism and socialism…

Floating City in the Maldives is envisioned as a large cluster of hexagonal structures that rise and fall with the sea, with room for up to 20,000 people. It’s set to be completed in 2027

Toyota Woven City is a company town being built in the foothills of Japan’s Mount Fuji. The proposal calls for a 2,000-person city where Toyota “will test autonomous vehicles, smart technology and robot-assisted living,” per CNN.

Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is a “master-planned eco-complex designed to show off the UAE’s commitment to sustainability,” Bloomberg has reported.

Net City in Shenzhen, China, is another company town being built by tech giant Tencent. It’ll be a Monaco-size metropolis for 80,000 workers, CNN reports.

Several other projects are briefly mentioned in the article. Across all of these proposed communities, there are several patterns:

  1. Created by the ultra-wealthy or corporations.
  2. Incorporating sustainability or new technology.
  3. A limited population.

It strikes me that we now have a good sense of what megacities are around the world: they have a certain population and share common traits regarding land use, economics, and social life. Such cities are relatively new in human history but now they are common. So then what exactly needs to be different for a new community to be a futuristic city? A different aesthetic? No cars or limited cars? Much greener? Smaller in scale? Different social arrangements?

Downtown activity in American and Canadian big cities before and after COVID-19

A new report looks at recent activity in the downtowns of American and Canadian cities compared to that of several years ago:

Activity is down quite a bit in multiple major cities.

Officials in Cleveland do not think the national study, based on cell phone data, quite lines up with what they see in their city:

City officials and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance say the U.C. Berkeley study doesn’t provide an accurate accounting. The “downtown area” in the study doesn’t match what Cleveland locals would describe as their downtown, according to maps shared with cleveland.com.

Data that the DCA publishes each month is less grim, but also doesn’t point to a full recovery.

DCA’s recovery report said there were 4.01 million visits to downtown in May, a 71% recovery compared to May 2019. Visits improved to 4.14 million in June, a 77% recovery, according to the DCA.

There is the matter of measuring this well and the matter of interpreting and using the data for particular purposes. If the consensus of researchers is that downtown activity is down in many places, what policy, economic, and social implications would this have?

Is it about the home or the location of the home?

I recently saw this:

I think this is promoting living in the country as the person making the statement would be okay with a cabin rather than a mansion. The cabin looks like it is in decent shape, but it is no mansion.

However, this gets at a question I wonder about a lot: what exactly is it that motivates many people to select where they live? Here are several of the major factors:

-How many resources they have? What can they afford?

-What kind of neighborhood or community do they want to live in?

-Proximity to work.

-Quality of schools.

-Proximity to family.

-Preferences for kind and style of residence.

If you choose to live in a cabin in the country, you are elevating some of these factors as more important than others. But, is the choice primarily about the country and nature, the relative lack of people, the different kind of house, or something else? Reducing it to a binary choice of cabin/country versus city/mansion is simple but the decision might be much more complicated.

10 of 30 NFL teams play in the suburbs of the city whose name they hold

Ten NFL teams have a big city in their name but play in the stadiums located in the suburbs of that big city. Here are the 10 (sourced from here and here):

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-Buffalo Bills play in Orchard Park

-Dallas Cowboys play in Arlington

-Los Angeles Chargers play in Inglewood

-Los Angeles Rams play in Inglewood

-Miami Dolphins play in Miami Gardens

-New York Giants play in East Rutherford (New Jersey)

-New York Jets play in East Rutherford (New Jersey)

-San Francisco 49ers play in Santa Clara

-Washington Commanders play in Landover (Maryland)

Two bonus suburban teams: the Arizona Cardinals, not named after a city but a state, play in suburban Glendale and the New England Patriots, named after a region and not a city, play in suburban Foxborough.

If the Bears end up in Arlington Heights, that would push the number of suburban NFL teams up to 13 total.