Tag: Urban

Of watches and cities

Monday, 9 March, 2015 0 Comments

Apple is holding one of its famous product-presentation events in San Francisco today. The focus will be on the company’s Watch, which is a big bet for Apple as  this is its first major product launch since the iPad, five years ago, and the first one under CEO Tim Cook’s leadership. If we’re so good at making things like watches and phones, how come we’re getting worse at making beautiful cities? That’s the question posed by the London-based Swiss thinker Alain de Botton in “How to Make an Attractive City,” a new video from the School of Life.

The best cities are a mix of wide and narrow streets, says de Botton. A city should be easy to navigate for both humans and vehicles, with avenues for orientation and alleys that allow us to wander and experience a sense of mystery.


Wanted: a Foster of fenestration

Tuesday, 13 May, 2014 0 Comments

Dan Hill cannot be accused of inactivity. Along with writing the City of Sound blog, which stands at the crossroads of urban design, culture and technology, he’s “executive director of futures” at Future Cities Catapult, a global centre of excellence on urban innovation, and he somehow finds time for the job of adjunct professor in the Design, Architecture and Building faculty at the University of Technology in Sydney. In this piece for Dezeen on the challenges posed by crumbling city infrastructures, Dan Hill is on song:

“Though it once seemed unlikely that we would have a Steve Jobs of thermostats and smoke alarms, it turns out that’s the culture Nest emerges from. And perhaps it suggests that we also need an Isozaki of insulation, a Foster of fenestration, a Prouvé of plumbing, a Rogers of rewiring, an Utzon of U-values… and more importantly again, a development or investment model that enables service retrofit within a market shaped to value that.”

Language note: Dan Hill applies alliteration there to nice effect and the use of words beginning with the same sound, which was once popular with poets, is now beloved of rappers. The late Tupac Shakur’s If I Die 2Nite is typical: “My enemies scatter in suicidal situations / Never to witness the wicked shit that they was facin.” By the way, most of Shakur’s songs revolved around themes Dan Hill would be familiar with: violence and hardship in crumbling cities.


The towers, domes, theatres and temples of London

Monday, 7 October, 2013 0 Comments

Our blogging theme this week is the city, ancient and modern, with its towers, domes, theatres and temples. We’re kicking off with an urban sonnet by William Wordsworth describing London, viewed in the early morning.

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 — 23 April 1850)


An all-female enclave of Islamic business feminists

Wednesday, 8 May, 2013 0 Comments

Is this the cityscape of the future? “In 2050, the nouveau-riche arrivistes stake their big skyline claims on the public eye. That glassy, twisting spire, as gaudy as any Christmas ornament, is owned by offshore Chinese. The gloomy tower with 85 stories of modestly greyed-out windows is an all-female enclave of Islamic business feminists. The scary heap that resembles a patchwork quilt of iron was entirely crowd-sourced.” According to the American science fiction author, Bruce Sterling, that’s a possible (frightening) scenario for our urban destiny.

Sterling is one of seven experts commissioned by the BBC to look at ways cities may evolve. “Bruce’s Sterling’s vision of the future city,” which kicks of the series, deserves the term dystopian. “The mid-century city has created means of food production that are post-agricultural. With swordfish extinct and cattle way beyond the budget, the people eat — well, to put it bluntly, they mostly eat algae, insects and microbes. Of course this tasty goop has been effectively refined, rebranded, and skeuomorphically re-packaged as noodles, tofu, and hamburger substitute. Soylent Green is crickets.”

Interestingly, Sterling mentions Dubai and followers of his Beyond the Beyond Wired column will be aware of his interest in “Gulf Futurism“, in which a recurring theme is the ubiquity of the shopping mall. “Only engineers and architects will ever rub their hand at this dreadful prospect,” writes Sterling, not just about the Gulf mall, but about the future city. And then he hits his stride:

“These modernists are in secret collusion with the feral urban crows and hungry pigeons picking over the blast zone. For years, while a sentimental mankind clung to a museum economy, they have rehearsed another city, some angular, rational monster with an urban fabric that’s a whole lot more nano-, robo-, and geno; buildings they can shape, and that will henceforth shape the rest of us.”

His conclusion is bleak: “To tell the truth, we never liked that city. But it just keeps happening.” By the way, Bruce Sterling does live in a city, an old one. Around 28 BC, the Romans created a military camp there and called it Castra Taurinorum.


The Architecture of Density

Wednesday, 2 January, 2013 0 Comments

The urban landscapes captured my Munich photographer Michael Wolf look like collages of pixels created by graphic designers who cut their teeth on Lego. But they are very real buildings in today’s megacities, especially Hong Kong. Although these are residential silos, what makes Wolf’s images so perturbing is the almost complete absence of human inhabitants. But in many of Asia’s great cities, the concept of space, both private and public, is dramatically different to that which is considered “normal” in the West.

Hong Kong living


Hen party

Sunday, 2 September, 2012

hen party “When a random group of girls decides to get together. Not letting boys ruin their gongshow, and just basically girls being girls. You’re with your fellow ladies, and don’t have to worry about looking too hot or anything, boys are not present, and you basically just have the time of your life with […]

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What’s a city? And do you live in one?

Thursday, 19 July, 2012

It is said that by 2030, two out of every three people worldwide will live in cities. This is the Urban Century, in other words. The excellent NPR Cities Project looks at the complexity of urban life today and strives to decode the meaning of “urbanism”. To this end, the infographic “Do You Live In […]

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Global cities of the future

Thursday, 26 January, 2012

Over the next 15 years, 600 cities will account for more than 60 percent of global GDP growth. Which of them will contribute the largest number of children or elderly to the world’s population? Which will see the fastest expansion of new entrants to the consuming middle classes? How will regional patterns of growth differ? Those are some of the questions posed and answered in “Urban world: Mapping the economic power of cities” by the McKinsey Global Institute. The interactive inforgraphics turn the mapping and the exploring into a rewarding journey through our urban future.

Note: “Half of global GDP in 2007 came from 380 cities in developed-regions, with more than 20 percent of global GDP coming from 190 North American cities alone. The 220 largest cities in developing-regions contributed another 10 percent. But by 2025, one-third of these developed-market cities will no longer make the top 600; and one out of every 20 cities in emerging-markets is likely to see its rank drop out of the top 600. By 2025, 136 new cities are expected to enter the top 600, all of them from the developing world and overwhelmingly — 100 new cities —from China.”

600 cities


Arrival City

Tuesday, 3 January, 2012

“We will end this century as a wholly urban species.” That’s the startling claim made by Doug Saunders in the preface to Arrival City, his excellent book on the global transformation that’s taking place as huge numbers of people abandon rural life to build a better future in the city. But it’s not just any city that Doug Sounders concerns himself with, which is why he has coined the term “arrival city” to describe the places that are the new magnets for the new migrants and where, he contends, that “the next great economic and cultural boom will be born, or where the next explosion of violence will occur.”

Arrival City The question, then, is not so much “What is an arrival city?” as “Where is an arrival city?” And in answering the question, Saunders brings us to places with names such as Petare, Mulmund, Karail, Dorli, Kibera and Shenzhen. Then there’s Los Angeles. As an “arrival city”, Los Angeles is a great success, says Saunders, “because it is constantly sending its educated second generation into more prosperous neighbourhoods and taking in waves of new villagers, in a constantly reiterated cycle of ‘arrival, upward mobility, and exodus.'” In Los Angeles, this has led to the development of effective immigrant political cultures and the culmination of all this was the election in 2005 of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, “the first arrival-city child to end up running one of the America’s major cities,” as Saunders puts it.

At a time when the rural-urban equation is changing as never before, Arrival City deserves a wide readership.