City building is a messy business. Most started as a collection of self-sufficient neighbourhoods or villages. Mobility was limited so people lived, worked, farmed, and entertained themselves in compact, densely-populated, self-sufficient neighbourhoods. Everything was accessible by foot.
I always think of London, England when I consider cities as a collection of neighbourhoods. Two thousand years ago it was just another outpost of the Roman empire and a backwater trading port. It took 1800 years for its population to grow to one million people. In the 1800s the population increased five fold, and now over nine million people live in London, a city of just over 1600 square kilometres.
In the growth process, London has gobbled up thousands of villages, hamlets, and settlements. Bloomsbury, Notting Hill, Islington, Hampstead, Poplar, and Spitalfields have all been woven into the cosmopolitan fabric that is modern London. Many other villages such as Barnes, Primrose Hill, and East Dulwich retain some of their rural charm and original character.
London’s many urban villages and its 1600 square kilometres are connected by efficient public transit all managed by Transport for London (“TfL”). The underground or “Tube” has eleven lines, over 400 kilometres of track, and 270 stations. There are over 9300 buses servicing 675 routes. The TfL also manages the London Overground rail system, Docklands Light Rail, a Tram system, and active transportation networks. The transit system is the glue that keeps London connected.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic caused many prognosticators to forecast the demise of the city but London and other cities around the world will continue to grow. Following the most recent comparable event, the great Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 to 1920, cities continued to flourish. Naples, Italy has suffered numerous plagues and lives with the constant threat of a catastrophic volcanic eruption. Yet, Naples’ metropolitan population has grown by 700,000 people since 1950. The future shape of cities may be unknown but their survival and growth is a certainty. Consider these facts:
There will be challenges but, the challenges are not new. They include providing shelter, sustenance, employment, connectivity, and safety. It will not be easy – city building is a messy business.
I know! I am going to sound like a grumpy old man. Maybe that is because I am. I have been scratching my head in wonderment at the Taylor Swift phenomena. Is she an Incredible song writer, composer, and performer? I really don’t know! A discussion for another time? But probably not. At my age […]
Don’t build it! At least, Not In My Back Yard ! I acted as an advisor in the sale of a beautifully natural, 14-acre urban waterfront estate. Existing zoning allowed for the development of 30 to 35 single-family homes, which after road dedication would leave very little green space. I did not think that was […]
We were visiting Glasgow (literally that Dear Green Place in Gaelic) to see where my father was born, grew up, and went to University. Fortunately for me, my cousin John from Australia had just visited and had met with historians, Bruce Downie and Norry Wilson. So, we too arranged to meet them in the Govanhill […]
Vienna on top again. This week both Monocle Magazine and The Economist unveiled their quality of life / most liveable city indexes. There are differences in the way each publication sets its index. So it is even more impressive that once again, Vienna tops both lists. I am a bit lazy today so rather than […]
Many Viennese went from hot bedding to superblocks overnight. Could they even imagine an apartment complex 1000 metres long built along two streets with even more massive landscaped courtyards? Could they conceive of 1400 apartment units built to house 5000 people on 56,000 square metres or 38 acres of land. Or a vertical build-out that […]
Vienna had been a poor city even before the First World War. “Normal” housing arrangements meant six to eight people sharing one room and a kitchen. Then, in early 1919, just after the Armistice, the cost of living tripled in two months. Bed lodgers could no longer afford their 8-hours a day in a shared […]