CITY BREATHS

Posts tagged city

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Amsterdam’s Morphology, A History

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Amsterdam, today.

All cities have a unique story to tell about their spatial history. So does Amsterdam. The layout of the inner city canal ring was even inscribed on the World Heritage List by Unesco in 2010. Lately, I have been doing some research into the Dutch world heritage sites - most of the sites have to do with land design, water engineering and planning - which inspired me to look at Amsterdam’s old and new urban patterns with fresh eyes. Here is a little visual history of the city’s planning.

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Amsterdam, 1538 (looking from north to south).

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The pre-1600 inner city today.

Above is one of the oldest known painted or mapped cityscapes of Amsterdam, by Cornelisz Antonisz from 1538. The map is basically upside down, with Amsterdam (that evolved from a late 12th century fishing settlement) looked at from the North. The dam in the centre is now Dam Square. The city is walled (on the left side at Zeedijk and on the right at Singel). The pattern of the old city is still intact, with some of the waterways now paved.

The first big extension plan was formed in the first decade of the 17th century. Because the city was literally full after the Golden Age started, it was decided to build a canal ring around the old city and move the defence wall outward (over 1km eastwards and almost 1km to the west). The canal ring was built in two phases, one starting in 1610 and one starting in 1660.

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A 1657 map showing the large canal ring extension (south side up).

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The canal ring today (take a look at how green it actually is).

The first extension of the canal ring (from Brouwersgracht in the west to Leidsegracht) was a huge relief to the city, releasing the pressure on its land. It was filled up quickly with some of the richest Europeans migrating to one of the classy canals. The second extension (completing the concentric half to the east) was finished by the time the city’s immense prosperity had already started to decrease. It took almost two centuries (until around 1900) before all plots laid out were built on. De Jordaan was also part of the first canal ring extension. It was a planned segregation, with the three canals built for the rich (especially Heren- and Keizersgracht), and the Jordaan area built for the poorer workers and industries.

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De Jordaan today (it is located on the very right of the 1658 map above).

The city’s economy only really started growing again in the second half of the 19th century. That is when plans for expansion were made again. The first residential bit outside of the canal 17th century extension was built in 1870 (as part of an 1866 plan than never was executed except for this part, because it turned out to be too expensive). This was the northern part of the current De Pijp area. The city expanded concentrically in these years after, according to the 1876 Plan-Kalff.

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First 19th century expansion of De Pijp

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The 1876 Plan-Kalff

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Staatsliedenbuurt, part of the 1876 Plan-Kalff.

The next large expansions were undertaken between 1920 and 1940, consisting of Plan Zuid (South), designed by Berlage, and Plan West. These developments included a lot of Amsterdam School architecture.

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Plan Zuid.

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Plan Zuid today.

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Plan West with the respective architects of the building blocks.

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Plan West today.

After WWII, several big urban plans have been realized. Much of it, realized between 1951 and 1966 was the execution of the General Extension Plan of 1935. Most of these developments are based on early modernist ideals. 

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General Extension Plan.

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The functionalist Slotermeer, a result of the General Extension Plan.

The Bijlmermeer was built just before 1970 and is considered one of the most radical post-war plans in The Netherlands. Part of it has already been demolished because it turned out to be not as utopian as planned.

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Bijlmermeer plan.

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Bijlmermeer today.

Lately, Amsterdam turned to the water, with the KNSM-Island (1990s), Java-Island and IJburg (both 2000s) being the largest expansions. Currently, the second part of IJburg is being built. In the near future, Amsterdam wants to house the increasing population mostly by densifying the existing city.

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Java- and KNSM-Islands.

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IJburg (a few years ago, GMaps seems to be behind some five years).

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Amsterdam, 2040

Filed under Amsterdam Berlage architecture canals history planning modernism city urbanism

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Definition of a City #10

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Italo Calvino

“The city consists of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past”

- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972, p. 9).

———
This is part of a series of definitions of cities featured on City Breaths. The aim is to collect definitions from different perspectives. The definitions will tell us something about what the role of urban space is in sustaining human life, the way we experience and perceive urban space and the sensations it creates in us. You are welcome to add more definitions.
The other definitions can be read here.

Filed under definition of a city Italo Calvino space memory city urbanism

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Cities ≠ Their Countries


Singapore, one of the few city-states in the world (image: jjcb)

          Amsterdam ≠ The Netherlands
          Berlin ≠ Germany
          London ≠ England
          Glasgow ≠ Scotland
          Istanbul ≠ Turkey
          New York ≠ The USA

The list is endless.

Not only has there been a centuries-long struggle between the city and the state; the general culture, identity and feel (and of course their economies, demographics, politics, etc.) of large cities often don’t correspond to that of the countries they are located in.
I think it has to do with the fact that cities are the most visible articulations of economic, social, political and cultural dynamics, and therefore change faster and more often than nations. 
Another interesting notion is that large cities are starting to look more and more alike, as a result of the globalization of media, (consumption) cultures, policies, design, etc. I wonder what the result of this tendency will be, combined with ongoing urbanization and faster travelling ideas, cultures and symbols.

Filed under city state urbanism

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The Olympics and the City

Yesterday I got to know about an upcoming project of Gary Hustwit. He’s the guy behind Helvetica, Objectified and, most recently, Urbanized. His next thing will be a photo book about the legacy of the Olympics in former host cities. I think that’s an interesting question to ask: what will a city be like after the events are over?

Urbanized
Hustwit’s last project, Urbanized, turned out to be a really enjoyable documentary. At first, I thought ‘how the hell are you going to capture today’s urbanization in one documentary?’, but I backed the project anyway through a Kickstarter campaign. The result was quite impressive, in terms of giving an overview of the many challenges our cities are facing, and because of its visual presentation of pressing urban issues. The problem is that you can’t include all the necessary - historical, cultural, economic, architectural, etc - nuances in a 85-minute documentary. Therefore I think the film is particularly good for a wider audience of people not being experts in the urban studies or architecture fields, showing some of the pressing issues that everyone should be aware of. To me, watching the film only raised countless questions, only making clear that “the city” is far too elusive and undefinable to understand or ‘fix’ as a whole. But still, I’m planning to show Urbanized to my parents, so that they will get a sense of what it is I’m spending all my time on.

The Olympic City
Hustwit now started working on a new project, together with photographer Jon Pack. It will be a photo book that looks at the legacy of the Olympic Games in former host cities around the world.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing this book. Hosting the Olympics has be come a means for cities to create prestige value and attract all kinds of investments in the global arenas cities nowadays compete. It is always thought to generate tourism and business activity. But what happens after the Games are over? That’s what this book will be about. 



Olympic benefits
Although the book will document both the successes and failures, I’m quite sure the total sum of costs and benefits involved with organizing the Olympic event is a negative one. This is something Belgian Professor Stefan Kesenne recently showed in a publication about the impact of large sports events on the local and national economy of the host city. While candidates for hosting such a big event (the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup) always present extremely positive models showing the miraculous economic blessings of organizing it, realities are invariably less bright. These reports are often so misleading because they are carried out by lobby groups or other ‘idiots’ (as Kesenne puts it) that only show say what the IOC or FIFA want to hear, because otherwise they can forget about the event.
The exorbitant investments accompanying the organization of such an event create jobs, of course. But “so does building a bridge in a desert”, says Kesenne. The largest benefits of the tournaments, being the tv-rights and ticket revenues, go straight to the IOC and FIFA.  

With this in mind, I think The Olympic City will be a valuable book because it visualizes the misleading planning and broken promises always associated with the Olympics. Unused, inactive and decaying sports facilities, instead of flourishing economies and vibrant urban districts. And I believe a photographic book can be a strong medium to get your message across. 

Oh yes, you can support the project through its Kickstarter campaing. Check out the video of the makers below.

Source: Kesenne, S. (2010) “The orchestrated public misleading of IOC and FIFA" (In Dutch)

Filed under city olympics London Athens Beijing legacy failed architecture

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Italo Calvino on the Historical Layerdness of the City


Entry of the Spinhuis, a former women’s penitentiary. The Spinhuis now houses the University of Amsterdam’s sociology department. ©Panticore

"The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls [..]" 
       - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1974 (p.11)

Filed under city history quote rhythmanalysis urban theory Italo Calvino urbanism

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Definition of a City #8

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Henri Lefebvre

"The city can be defined as a place where differences encounter, acknowledge, and explore one another, and affirm or cancel out one another. Distances in space and time are replaced with opposites, contrasts, and superimpositions, and with the coexistence of multiple realities."

           -Christian Schmid, interpreting Henri Lefebvre's analysis of the urban (from: The Urban Revolution, De l’État, tome IV: lec contradictions de l’État moderne, The Production of Space), In: Cities for People, Not For Profit - Critical urban theory and the right to the city, 2012, New York: Routledge.

But following Lefebvre’s reasoning, there is no fixed definition, and never will be:
"The concept of the city no longer corresponds to a social object […] However, the city has a historical existence that is impossible to ignore. Small and midsize cities will be around for some time. An image or representation of the city can perpetuate itself, survive its conditions, inspire an ideology and urbanist projects. In other words, the "real" sociological "object" is an image and an ideology!"
                 -Henri Lefebvre (in: The Urban Revolution, p. 57) 

Christian Schmid (2012) responds:
Actually, Lefebvre derives his understanding of urbanization as a reshaping and colonization of rural areas by an urban fabric as well as a fundamental transformation of urban cities. The consequence of this transformation is the dissolution of the city itself: for Lefebvre, the city can no longer be understood as an object or as a definable unit. It is instead a historical category that is disappearing as urbanization progresses. This also means that the term city becomes problematic. How can the urban still be theoretically grasped under conditions in which society as a whole has been urbanized?”

——
This is part of a series of definitions of cities featured on City Breaths. The aim is to collect definitions from different perspectives. The definitions will tell us something about what the role of urban space is in sustaining human life, the way we experience and perceive urban space and the sensations it creates in us. You are welcome to add more definitions. 
The other definitions can be read here. 

Filed under definition of a city urban theory city Lefebvre urbanism

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Ryu Itadani’s Hand Drawn Urban Interpretations


Omotesando, Tokyo ©Ryu Itadani

Japanese, Berlin-based artist Ryu Itadani creates colorful interpretations of (mostly real world) cities, giving crispy-cartoonesque urban impressions.


Hong Kong ©Ryu Itadani


Youchien ©Ryu Itadani


Tokyo ©Ryu Itadani


Omotesando Hills, Tokyo ©Ryu Itadani

first seen at Magical Urbanism

Filed under art city architecture

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Urban Abstractions

Vienna-based studio Olschinsky, consisting of Peter Olschinsky and Verena Weiss, works at the intersection of illustration, graphic design and photography. Taking a look at their website, you’ll find imaginative works. I was particularly intrigued by these abstract illustrations filed under the series “Cities”, “Cities II”, “Cities III” and “Legendary Cities”. While I was looking at these creations, I was listening to Cliff Martinez’ film score for Drive, adding an extra dimension to the experience (highly recommended). 

Filed under art city Olschinsky imagination illustration

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SAIGON’S (DIS)ORDER

Awesome video by Rob Whitworth, which is a beautiful timelapse capturing the ordered chaos in Ho Chi Minh City.

Watching this video brings Henri Lefebvre's rhythmanalysis to mind:

“In order to understand the city, and its ceaseless contrapuntal rhythms, one must situate oneself simultaneously inside and outside of it.”

This is what Lefebvre wrote, sitting on his balcony in Paris and observing the urban rhythm:

“Towards the right, below, a traffic light. On red, cars at a standstill, the pedestrians cross, feeble murmurings, footsteps, confused voices. One does not chatter while crossing a dangerous junction under the threat of wild cats and elephants ready to charge forward, taxis, buses, lorries, various cars. Hence the relative silence in this crowd. A kind of soft murmuring, sometimes a cry, a call.
  Therefore people produce completely different noises when the cars stop: feet and words. From right to left and back again. And on the pavement along the perpendicular street. At the green lights, steps and words stop. A second of silence and then it’s the rush, the starting up of tens of cars, the rhythms of the old bangers speeding up as quickly as possible. At some risk: passersby to the left, buses cutting across, other vehiccles. Whereby a slowing down and restart (state one: starting up - stage two: slowing down for the turn - stage three: brutal restart, foot down, top speed, excluding traffic jams…). The harmony between what one sees and what one hears (from the window) is remarkable.”

In: Restless Cities (2010) edited by Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart.

Filed under order chaos Henri Lefebvre rhythm city time-lapse

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HyperCities: Overlaying the Historical Maps of a City



What History Pin does for historical photographs, HyperCities [ucla.edu] make possible for geographic maps: seamlessly merging the historical representations of the city in their current situation, and thus connecting the digital archives, maps, and stories with the physical world.

A HyperCity is a real city overlaid with a large array of geo-temporal information, ranging from urban cartographies and media representations to family genealogies and the stories of the people and diverse communities who live there. The service now exists for the cities of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Rome, Lima, London (check out John Snow’s cholera map!), Ollantaytambo, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Saigon, Toyko, Shanghai, and Seoul, and will be broadened in the future.

DO visit the HyperCities website. 

Filed under layered historical map media city

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Farming The City: Amsterdam’s online urban agriculture platform



For the past year, CITIES Amsterdam has been working on the extensive research project Farming The City. On March 25th, the online urban agriculture platform FarmingtheCity.net will be launched. 

FarmingtheCity.net is a free online resource featuring and mapping a diverse range of city farming projects across Amsterdam. It is the first online tool to empower and support the creation of a local food system in Amsterdam. 

At the launch event, several tools and initiatives to help everyone get involved with and support city farming will be revealed, including:

  • The results of a detailed investigation into urban agriculture in Amsterdam, focusing on twenty innovative projects. The results, available as reports and videos, outline project practice, aims, opportunities and challenges, along with suggestions for future action
  • Our analysis of the potential for developing a local food system in Amsterdam, plus advice on how to get started 
  • Our report on Amsterdam’s site specific urban infrastructure and city farming potential (which food shall I grow in which type of urban environment, and how can I make best use of the existing infrastructure in the city?
  • Information about how to make a city farming project work: local policies, available spaces, how planning and regulation works, opportunities for engagement in urban farming across Amsterdam, and practical advice on how to get started – what, where and how to get local help and support.
  • Our video on sustainable local food transportation and consumption, supported by Rabobank.


From March 25th until May 7th, a 3D interpretation of the platform’s contents will be shown at ARCAM, Amsterdam’s Centre for Architecture (free entrance).


ARCAM

 

Filed under urban agriculture community Amsterdam city farming farming

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TOKYO’S RHYTHM

Great time lapse by Samuel Cockedey (music by Woob). The best time lapse I’ve seen to date, because I think it beautifully captures the city’s heartbeats.

Henri Lefebvre's rhythmanalysis comes to mind:

"In order to understand the city, and its ceaseless contrapuntal rhythms, one must situate oneself simultaneously inside and outside of it."

This is what Lefebvre wrote, sitting on his balcony in Paris and observing the urban rhythm:

"Towards the right, below, a traffic light. On red, cars at a standstill, the pedestrians cross, feeble murmurings, footsteps, confused voices. One does not chatter while crossing a dangerous junction under the threat of wild cats and elephants ready to charge forward, taxis, buses, lorries, various cars. Hence the relative silence in this crowd. A kind of soft murmuring, sometimes a cry, a call.
  Therefore people produce completely different noises when the cars stop: feet and words. From right to left and back again. And on the pavement along the perpendicular street. At the green lights, steps and words stop. A second of silence and then it’s the rush, the starting up of tens of cars, the rhythms of the old bangers speeding up as quickly as possible. At some risk: passersby to the left, buses cutting across, other vehiccles. Whereby a slowing down and restart (state one: starting up - stage two: slowing down for the turn - stage three: brutal restart, foot down, top speed, excluding traffic jams…). The harmony between what one sees and what one hears (from the window) is remarkable.”

In: Restless Cities (2010) edited by Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart.

Filed under Tokyo time-lapse Henri Lefebvre rhythm city

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The Mathematical City (A Physicist Solves the City)



Great read in The New York Times featuring Geoffrey West, a theoretical physicist. West wants to gain a fundamental understanding of cities. He is tired of urban theory; he wants to invent urban science.

West already reduced the problem of understanding every single city to a number of equations. 

Look, we all know that every city is unique. That’s all we talk about when we talk about cities, those things that make New York different from L.A., or Tokyo different from Albuquerque. But focusing on those differences misses the point. Sure, there are differences, but different from what? We’ve found the what.”

Professor West has quantified the value of human interactions, something Jane Jacobs anticipated on half a century ago. According to West’s findings, whenever a city doubles in size, every measure of economic activity increases by approximately 15 percent per capita. So people do 15 percent more of what can be measured when you move them to a city twice as big.
West says that cities can also be uncomfortable. He argues that it is important to minimize the distress, while maximizing interactions. The densely located, mixed building types and mixed-use zoning that Jacobs advocated can be perfect for this, according to West.

Similar findings occur for suburbia, but in a negative way. Cheap suburban comforts are not sustainable. Trading away public spaces for affordable single-family homes is associated with below-average levels of income and innovation.

But, economic growth brings externalities. Negative variables like crime and disease also increase by approximately 15 percent when a city doubles in size. 


Professor West

Cities (and humans in general) are constantly balancing between growth and scarcity. To circumvent a certain scarcity, humans innovate. But in order to keep on growing, the cycle of innovations has to constantly accelerate. “We used to get a big revolution every few thousand years. And then it took us a century to go from the steam engine to the internal-combustion engine. Now we’re down to about 15 years between big innovations. What this means is that, for the first time ever, people are living through multiple revolutions. And this all comes from cities. Once we started to urbanize, we put ourselves on this treadmill. We traded away stability for growth. And growth requires change.”

The comprehensive article ends with an interesting quote from West, who says that cities are unruly places, largely immune to the desires of politicians and planners:

“Think about how powerless a mayor is. They can’t tell people where to live or what to do or who to talk to. Cities can’t be managed, and that’s what keeps them so vibrant. They’re just these insane masses of people, bumping into each other and maybe sharing an idea or two. It’s the freedom of the city that keeps it alive.”

 

Filed under Geoffrey West Jane Jacobs City Data Understanding

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A Tribe Called Quest and the portable city


”(..) A Tribe Called Quest were our tour guides through a new type of city: the psychosomatic megapolis.The psychosomatic megapolis is a city, an urban landscape that is housed in the mind and the body instead of existing as asphalt, concrete and smog saturated constructs. In Tribe’s vision, you could carry this city with you no matter where you went, and your individual take on the city was how you oriented yourself in any new situation. It was this idea - the idea of the urban environment, the city, being portable and individually adaptable - that caused many non-blacks to be able to vibe with the album and cause several of the songs to be staples of college radio stations (..)”

In: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm by Shawn Taylor, p14-15, 2007. 

Filed under music city ATCQ