Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Living City - The Case for Urban Motility

The ability to move is a characteristic of most living things. Single-celled organisms could move using their whip-like appendages. Terrestrial animals move by walking or crawling. Other organisms move by flying, swimming, or burrowing. Movement allows these creatures to gather food more efficiently, to find shelter timely, or escape predators quickly. Thus, one could conlude that movement is necessary for the propagation of species and of life.

In a dynamic world, the ability to move and relocate is a very beneficial skill. This is not irrelevant to cities where multitudes of buildings, vehicles and citizens dwell. In the future where we face a vastly increasing scarcity of resources but ever expanding land area (see Dubai development) a walking and adapting city would prove to be crucial. Hence we ask, for a living city, how do we make it mobile?

Lego Crawler City

Mobile Cities in fiction...

In a city as big as Manila for example, frequent large-scale relocation is a very difficult if not impossible undertaking. Many science fiction stories have proposed elaborate means of moving a city. One search in Wikipedia will give the following results for moving cities from books and video games (1):

The four novels in Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines Quartet (Hungry City Chronicles) include large mobile Traction Cities that travel across the world, devouring each other to gain fuel and other resources. 
A massive city travelling along equatorial rails around the planet Mercury is the setting for a minor part of Blue Mars, the last book in the Mars Trilogy of Kim Stanley Robinson. The city is pushed along by the slight yet powerful expansion of the rails as the close-by sun shines on them (with the city always just staying within the planetary night), moving the city once around the planet every 88 Earth days. The same city appears in Robinson's early novel The Memory of Whiteness.
There is a similar arrangement in Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, where Nomad City avoids Athega's light by continually moving over the surface of Nkllon. 
In Alastair Reynolds's Absolution Gap, vast cities circle the moon of Hela to keep the planet Haldora in view, in case "the Miracle" – the momentary disappearance of Haldora – occurs again. The mobile cities are called Cathedrals and are devoted to worship of the Miracle, which they believe is God's message to humanity. 
In Christopher Priest's novel Inverted World a city on a "hyberbolic" planet is continually moved on rails to keep it at a particular location—which itself moves—where conditions are "normal". 
Greg Bear's novel The Strength of Stones is set in the declining years of a planet of motorized cities that ejected their inhabitants. 
Storm Constantine's novel Calenture takes place in a world of mobile cities that fly, walk or move on wheels, guided and powered by "pilot stones". 
The computer game Starcraft features an interstellar empire of humans that use collections of mobile buildings to assemble ad-hoc cities in space and on land.

...and in real life.

In the same Wikipedia page, we will find that there has been proposals for moving cities in real life.
The Walking City was an idea proposed by British architect Ron Herron in 1964. In an article in avant-garde architecture journal Archigram, Ron Herron proposed building massive mobile robotic structures, with their own intelligence, that could freely roam the world, moving to wherever their resources or manufacturing abilities were needed. Various walking cities could interconnect with each other to form larger 'walking metropolises' when needed, and then disperse when their concentrated power was no longer necessary. Individual buildings or structures could also be mobile, moving wherever their owner wanted or needs dictated.

Following a link in the same page, we learn of the moving fort Gulyay-gorod used in Russia (2).
Gulyay-gorod, also guliai-gorod, gulay-gorod, literally: "wandering town"), was a mobile fortification used by the Russian army between the 15th and the 17th centuries.
A gulyay-gorod was made from large wall-sized prefabricated shields with holes for guns installed on wheels or sleds, a development of the wagon fort concept. The usage of installable shields instead of permanently armoured wagons was cheaper and allowed more possible configurations to be assembled. The gulyay-gorod was designed as a fortification in steppes, whose flat, void landscape provided no natural shelter. An early Western description of the gulyay-gorod was made by Giles Fletcher, the Elder, ambassador to Russia, in his Of the Russe Common Wealth.

One can consider other real life examples like a town that follows a railroad. One could also argue that aircraft carriers or large cruise liners is some form of a floating city. The main argument against these though is that there is no form of autonomous government and social institutions that comprise these moving "cities". There may be captains on a ship but a real city needs to have a city hall, school, hospitals, cemeteries, prisons etc.

Urban Mobility - true form

A common characteristic from the above moving cities is the vehicle for transport. The city does not really move by itself, it is just built above a moving transport vehicle such as a ship, or a railroad etc. 

It may seem too science fictional to mention but real motility would mean that the city should be able to move-- its buildings, its roads, its lands.

I found this advertisement for Volkswagen Tiguan created by the DDB Milano, Italy Advertising Agency where a city dynamically moves its pavements and buildings to accomodate the citizens (3). One could see the roads realigning to adapt to pedestrians crossing. The buildings opening up a road for the car to pass through.

This may be impossible to achieve at present since it would require a large amount of moving gears, belts, chains and such. It woud also require a very smart central processing unit to calculate the changes needed to accomodate and adapt to the citizens' activities.

But such concept can be simplified to support just the movement the city from one place to another-- relocation. This feat can be done using the idea of urban sprawl and blight.

Sprawl versus Blight

Sprawl is defined as the "the spreading out of a city and its suburbs over more and more rural land at the periphery of an urban area. This involves the conversion of open space (rural land) into built-up, developed land over time" (4).  Comparing this with a living cell, (of a tree for example) a sprawl is that part of the tree where new cells are created as the tree grows i.e. the budding parts.

In some urban studies,  sprawl is sometimes construed to have negative effects on a city as it has many negative effects on the environment or on the vitality of the city itself.

Blight on the other hand refers to the deterioration and decay of buildings and older areas of large cities, due to neglect, crime, or lack of economic support. If sprawl signifies growth, blight signifies decay and rot.

What about it?

Imagine a typical city. Let's make this city very consistent and homogenous. Let's put a constant sprawl rate on its north border. By itself we would have an ever expanding city to its northern lands , expanding to some extent until the city is not able to support itself anymore and it just disintegrates.

Now make it so that blight will be on the southern edge with rate of decay that match the rate of sprawl. We would then have a city that maintains it's status quo because of the opposing forces of blight and sprawl. Which in effect would move the city into the direction of the sprawl leaving a trail of derelict buildings on its path of blight.

We thus have created a moving city devouring everything in its predatory sprawl and excreting rotten buildings in its blight. We can then structure this city based on this fact. Build the residences, entermainment centers, leisure parks in the sprawl area. Put the government buildings at the center. Put the cemeteries, prisons, garbage dumps on the blight zone. Decaying objects are left behind, while new ones are created up front.

The mayor acts as the pilot; determines the direction of movement. All hands on deck. Full speed ahead!



Monday, April 16, 2012

Living City - The Search for the Urban Genome

Chinese artist Lu Xinjian displayed some amazing art pieces in his ongoing project entitled “City DNA” (1). In the art series, Xinjian creates art based on the aerial views of various cities in Google Maps-- from bustling Beijing to sophisticated Paris. Beautiful as they look, they offer some thoughtful insights on the subject of urban structure and design.


Xinjian's art represents not the blueprint (as these are merely floor areas) but the genome of the cities that he references. Just as how the DNA of a human being dictates almost every biological trait that a person can be (it's diseases, it's physical attributes, its mental states) the urban genome could also tell every potential traits of any city. It could indicate at what age or era of the city's existence would it suffer from pollution, or overpopulation or traffic congestion. Or how much contribution to the city's growth are effects of the sprawls, or to the city's decay from the blight.

The concept treats the city as a living organism, with wheels flowing through its veined roads and pedestrians staggering its neural pathways. Every building forms the body of the city, with some serving as the the skeleton while some serve as the muscular framework. The city lives and breathes and grows as long as it's citizens remain dynamic just as single-celled organisms would flourish in a food-rich environment. The city endures the battle between eternal birthing of sprawls against the ever-dying blights the way a human body suffers when the immune system battles an infection.

New York

The group of editor-curator Joseph Grima and artist-architect Pedro Reyes has devoted a project for this exact concept but not as an art endeavor but as an actual academic pursuit (2). They call it the Urban Genome Project. Though instead of simply finding that ultimate code on how a city would grow, the project's primary intent is "to map the code on which cities are written, thereby assembling an index of tools for improving the urban environment, with a specific focus on political processes."

The project aims to understand this code so that they can create new and improved genomes that societies can utilize in facing a fast-paced era. They gather best practices, conduct dialogues, do case studies from various cities and collate them into a repository which can be used as tools for urban hyperdevelopment.  I urge the reader to check these for themselves on their website.

Perhaps the only critic that one can see from this project is how tame they are in their stand. The only outcome that the project is aiming for is the establishment of an online archive of all their materials, the publication of their findings in the form of a book and an exhibition.


A more rigorous and much more ambitious approach on this topic was presented by university professor Jonathan Fink in the National Academy of Engineering. In his paper published in the Spring Issue of The Bridge on Urban Sustainability entitled "The Case for an Urban Genome Project: A Shortcut to Global Sustainability?" (3), Fink discusses the similarity between the human genome and the urban genome and how the methods applied to the human genome could as well be applied on a larger scale to a whole city.

As an excerpt, he asks,

What if we could classify the myriad attributes of a city into a finite set of characteristics, and these categories could in turn point urban policy makers toward the best options for alleviating poverty, stabilizing climate, and achieving energy independence? Is this just a utopian fantasy?
Perhaps not. Think, for example, of the Human Genome Project (HGP), one of the most celebrated scientific accomplishments of the late 20th century. The major public- and private-sector investments in HGP were justified on the grounds that all people share a common genetic framework, which when fully deciphered could point the way to cures for human diseases. Might we apply the same logic to cities, using a classification system for all urban traits—an Urban Genome Project (UGP)—to suggest the way(s) to metropolitan health?
Could such a typology inform computer-based models that can map alternative futures for individual cities and for the urbanized world as a whole? What new kinds of data would we have to collect? And how should the contributions of governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), companies, and their academic partners be funded, coordinated, and applied?

Just as how the human genome enabled us to determine possible diseases a person could be afflicted even at birth, then the urban genome could in principle enable us to know all problems the city may encounter in the future right there from the moment the first brick is laid.

The author goes on to discuss the methods on how to measure and classify the cities using various indicators and use these figures as catalysts for mathematical models of urban progress.

Physical attributes of cities, such as air quality, water flow, traffic patterns, building materials, and land use, can be tracked directly. Socio-economic properties, such as jobs, housing, and health outcomes, must be inferred from financial, demographic, occupational or service records maintained mostly by governments.

These are just a few of the myriad variables that can serve as indicators of a cities future. Hence, a properly simulated path of growth could 'predict' future events and ultimately the society could better prepare for any circumstances which may come. There comes the mitigation of disasters through construction of passageways years in advance, as a simple example.

Los Angeles

Although the Urban Genome Project could not in itself be used to change the city into a better equipped one, it would serve as the starting point of any and all progressive endeavors. It could serve as the input for various tools to achieve that purpose. The author discusses some of the useful computational tools for simulating how each variable affect every other aspects of urban living.

One point I gather from the article is it's emphasis on the utilization and implementation of Urban Genome into the real world. It cites various existing software programs and previous organizational efforts regarding urban development that could act as pillars for the Urban Genome Project. This idea is real and it is very achievable as long as the best efforts are put in by key players.

I was reminded by the comic book series written by Scott Snyder titled Batman: The Black Mirror. In his story, he characterizes Gotham City as a  living, breathing character. A character with her own personality, secrets and appetites. In the series, it is the city that molds the lives of her citizens. It is the city,  Snyder implies, that created Batman. It is the city that put the lives of its citizens into salvation or into damnation. And as the city grows, lives grow with her as well. And if the city suffers and dies, her citizens suffer and die with her.

This brings a new meaning to the saying: "The city never sleeps."



Saturday, April 14, 2012

Zombie Survival Map

We all know about that that failed rocket test launch of North Korea. And we also know that it was just supposed to be for launching a satellite into space and not for intercontinental nuclear warhead delivery purposes (at least that's what the NoKor government said). We can assume that that everything is fine, for now.

However, what if in an alternate world, a different scenario happened? Let's say NoKor developed the missile and tested it succesfully. And they also developed an airborne toxic chemical that turns humans into zombies once inhaled.

I believe it's best to be prepared for these types of worst case scenarios.

With that forced introduction, let me just share this amazing Google Map mod called Map of the Dead. It is a map that shows some important places where you could stock up on supplies, medicine, food, water, gas, guns and ammo. All those stuff. It also shows you which areas are likely to be overrun with zombies and which areas could be safe hiding places.

I searched my neighborhood just in case the zombiepocalypse arrives here soon enough. It seems there are just a few places to get supplies from. It's best to be ready.

You can check the map here:

Be prepared.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

8-bit Map of North Korean Missile Rocket Fall Estimate

The government is preparing measures to address the possible impact of North Korea’s rocket launch this month, even as President Aquino continued to call on North Korea to stop the launch.North Korea is scheduled to launch the rocket sometime between 7 a.m. to noon (Philippine time) from April 12 to 16...
...The rocket is expected to fly 190 nautical miles northeast of Northern Luzon in Sta. Ana, Cagayan and 150 nautical miles east of Polilio Island in Quezon, he added. (Link)

Here's an illustration showing the estimated area of the second stage rocket fall near Philippines.

Everything seems like fun and games in 8-bit (and rainbows).

Image courtesy of the Google 8-bit map-- Google's April Fool's Day prank.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...