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The Northern Wild: How to Save New York?

Your perennial Ohio-exiled New Yorker returns, on an urgent mission: To save our beloved New York City.

For decades, somebody or other has been out to destroy New York. From King Kong to The Day after Tomorrow, the aim has proved irresistable--in fiction, and in fact. 9/11 didn't succeed, nor did Hurricane Sandy (although thousands of mice were lost to science.) But what of the inexorable greenhouse-fueled march of sea level?

Since the hurricane, serious people are taking seriously the inevitable and actually talking real solutions. Before we get to that, I'd like to offer my own.

Relocate the city to Ohio.
When Mayor Bloomberg visited Kenyon College to receive his honorary degree (which I presented in Latin--that's me at right, behind), he must have got a good look at our bucolic inland campus. His speech on gun control and gay marriage drew enthusiastic applause. Why can't the mayor return--and bring the rest of the city with him? We'd love to have New York next door, with Indian restaurants and Kinky Boots and all.

After Katrina (Beasts of the Southern Wild), persuasive arguments were advanced against rebuilding New Orleans. It's ecologically unsound, the people are poor, the public schools are a failure. If New Orleans was geographically unsound, what of New York? Been to Battery Park lately? I took extensive notes before The Highest Frontier.

I still favor this option, but for any two New Yorkers you'll have three opinions, so here are alternative scenarios reported by NPR.

Replace streets with wetlands.
This too was a promising recommendation for New Orleans--rebuild the wetlands that act as shock absorbers, scrubbers, and garbage filters. New York, too, is built on landfill, and the Statue of Liberty on what should have been wetland. Let's built streets of absorptive materials that respond flexibly to storms, sponge up the excess water and channel it off. More parks instead of buildings would help too.

Admirable plans, should definitely pursue. But, getting back to that sea level rise, we may be too late to stop with created wetlands.

Build offshore floodwalls.
The Dutch approach; they're expert, it works for them. This approach made it into The Highest Frontier. A SUNY professor envisions a "set of barriers that would span the harbor between New Jersey and Long Island, and another between Queens and the Bronx." This idea is most likely to appeal to the American engineering spirit. A barrier tall enough to keep out anything, and it adds to the skyline.

But can any barrier be tall enough to keep out the rising seas? Or does it just stave off disaster, and make it worse?

Move up, above the floodplain.
Like "the bathtub" in Southern Wild, why not abandon the lower floors? Effectively build on stilts? Eventually steer gondolas down the canals? Some businesses have already chosen this approach, moving "essential equipment" to upper floors. The NYU lab where the mice died won't house mice there again. Maybe Hushpuppy's dad had the right idea. Although it reminds me of that haunting scene of post-human NY at the end of Spielberg's AI.

If you have thoughts, now's the time, probably past time. How shall we save New York? And London, and Shanghai?

117 Comments

1:

Spindizzies!

2:

Yes! The year I lived in Akron, I was shocked at how much Ohioans bad-mouthed the state. I mean, compared with, say, Los Angeles, Ohio's got it great. Few natural disasters, reliable rainfall, fewer crazy people (well, maybe not in the statehouse), yet people persist on fleeing the Erie Riveriera for LaLa land.

I think moving New York City to Ohio is a wonderful idea. I mean, we know the future is in the upper Midwest anyway, why not get a jump on it?

3:

What modern cities seem to have abandoned is the natural solution given us by antiquity: let the garbage accumulate and build on top of it. Also, for some reason fill is forever being inexplicably _removed_ from NYC, making the problem worse. This is, I think, what will have to change. The sober solutions seem to involve offshore walls and bigger pumps and the like so I will take the obvious solution, making the base of the city higher, as just strange enough to live here.

The first thing that has to be filled is the subway: turn the pumps off and find some Rube Goldberg way to inspire reef-growth in the brine. Turn the entire subway system into an aquarium and raise the price at the turnstile. Pipe in old Times-Square billboard ad videos for illumination.

While the limestone sequestration project is running down below, rebuild the subway on top of the street above. Protect the new tracks with the overturned hulls of ferries (Staten Island won't exist any more and Long Island will become more like an exclusive Toothpick Island with its own Very Serious Solutions). Pack the voids with garbage, mix in other unwanted substances like pineapple, then apply the next layer of pavement or wetland as desired.

4:

I'm an Englishman living in New York. My girlfriend came from Ohio to New York to go to college and never left. I have a number of friends from Ohio. I have learned that Ohio is a great place to be _from_; it's definitely not a place to relocate NYC to.

5:

Starting with the streets closest to the water, dump the trash from NY 1 m deep, then pave over it. Continue until all streets have been raised by 1 m, then restart the process adding meter after meter, decade after decade. Periodically, you might have to fill in some bottom stories of buildings and relocate some buried utilities now and again but I am willing to bet that NY piles up trash at least at the rate the sea level is rising. NY eventually becomes a trash atoll of its own making, rising above the waves on top of its own refuse.

6:

Interesting ideas from Andy and Rhyolite.I'm sure future archeologists will appreciate the trash solution.
Any calculations?

7:

While it's certainly time to make practical plans for the (supposed) consequences of global warming, I don't really think the situation of New York, or sea level rise in general (a city densely populated by some of the most powerful and affluent people in the world) warrants much concern.

Rising sea levels may claim land, including the land I live in, but the rise will be fairly gradual, and while it may be emotionally difficult to abandon homes and cities to the sea, it is not something that needs to claim many lives.

Droughts, desertification and a succession of failed harvests are also very realistic consequences of global warming, and famines will be felt hardest in areas that need to import their food ... such as New York.

Finally, comparing this elevetion map of New York with that of the Netherlands suggests to me that the city has some leeway.

8:

Sure...I wrote this tongue and cheek but the numbers actual come out pretty well.

The best reference I can find says that NY produces 14e6 tons of trash per year. Assuming this is compressed to 3000 kg/m^3, a bit more than normal silt and sediment, the volume would be 4.67e6 m^3. The land area of NY is 784 km^2, so the volume of trash spread evenly over the whole surface of NY would add about 6 mm/yr or 60 cm per century. This compares to the rate of sea level rise from 1993 to 209 of 3.3 mm/yr.

Future projections of sea level rise over the next century vary from 60 cm to 200 cm (6 mm/yr to 20 mm/yr) depending on the source. Of course, NY is not flat - it has an average elevation of 10 m. We could still keep up with 20 mm/yr of sea level rise by concentrating our trash burial in the lowest 30% of the city, at least for a couple of centuries.

Still, I love the idea of a city on an island of its own trash.

9:

London has the Thames Barrier ( Google for more info, if not Brit ...).
We know that it will require raising sometime 2040-2055 & low-level planning is already in place. There are associated works, of course - raising downstream flood/sea defences/barriers.
Bothe we & the Netherlanders have learnt a lot since 1953 ... & one vital thing, that the US doesn't seem to have got, is that a huge amount can be done, if you just keep plodding at it ( I nearly said "Plugging", errrr...)
Come to that, we have our own Netherlands-analogue. The fenlands of Lincolnshire & part of Norfolk, hundreds of sq kms at or below sea-level, For a remarkably accurate picture of what life in that area in the inter-war period was like, read (what is probably the best murder/detective story ever written) "The Nine Tailors" by Dorothy L. Sayers.
It wasn't changed too much, even in the mid-50's, either, when I visited my granmother's in Holbeach.

10:

will you please excuse me for the obvious question, but ... Why should you save an apple that is rotten to the core ?
there are a lot of appleseeds evrywhere on the planet. I don't want to go rural/ecologist/sustainable/etc... but are towns, I mean BIG towns a vision of the future or only a persistance of the past ?

11:

Well, I don't know whether cities are a vision of the future, but certainly a lot of people want to live in them. I get the impression that there's currently a shortage of "city" living spaces on the order of half a billion people.

12:

Indeed, I can't see New York having a lot of problems. A quick joining up of the barrier islands, a lock or two. The biggest problem would be the greenies and the rich people in the hamptons.

In fact, merge the flood defences with some wind & wave power extraction and it's the type of thing they should be doing today anyway.

Levy a tax on wall street.

13:

I don't want to go rural/ecologist/sustainable/etc... but are towns, I mean BIG towns a vision of the future or only a persistance of the past ?

The short answer is yes. There are scaling issues that make large cities more efficient per capita than small towns. (Many Green types choose art over numbers and promote rural settlements instead.) There are very real advantages to dense populations.

This doesn't mean we must save New York, necessarily, but there are bits of it people would miss.

14:

I like the "abandoning the low floor" idea... a XXI century Venice! We'll need it when the old one will be definitely swept away by sea.

You'll hqve to provide a solution for the metro though... maybe a suspended one, like the monorail of the Batman movie?

15:

"I, Phone" by David Wake (Note spellings, available from everyone's favourite large S American river, recommended to fans of either or both of Charlie and Joan) describes a London after a failure of the Thames "barrier", where some areas are wetland, and others have been rebuilt as tunnel systems. That's not really what the book is about, but a couple of plot points hinge on it, and the ideas seem equally applicable to NYNY.

16:

Why not move everyone out and turn it into a prison?
Snake Plisken would approve.

17:

Take the "Escape from New York" idea, build a big friggin' wall around Manhattan and let the rest of the boroughs go hang (that's what they do now, isn't it?).

You could still move Broadway, off-Broadway, the Met, the Guggenheim, et al to Ohio if you wanted to.

18:

Or (being science fictional here) we could take the "Stargate Atlantis" approach and turn Manhattan into a spaceship!

20:

OK, I had no idea what "Spindizzies" referenced.

On a totally off-topic issue, can anyone tell me what setting I need to change in Google+ so that my name shows when I log in? I don't make the technology, I just use it.

21:

The reference is for James Blish's Cities in flight series, which was popular back in the 60's or so. Most recently kind of references in

SPOILER
SPOILER
SPOILER
adsfgjasl'dfngk'afsdnafsdjlkn'lvnllnvln
Ken MAcleod's 'The execution CHannel'.


Actually, why not just do our best to stop global warming by the technologically currently possible 80 or 90% cut in CO2 output, then, by around 2050, assuming we haven't all starved to death and are more technologically advanced, build some sunshades so that the earth is actually cooled. Thus over several decades that would slow and stop one of the main drivers of early sea rise, the expansion of oceans due to the water becoming hotter.

22:

Well, now you do. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cities_in_Flight in which series New York (among many other cities, but specifically NY) is physically uprooted and flies among the stars.

As for the sign-in, you can set up a Movable Type sign-in using the 'Sign Up' option. It's not shared with any other site, so it'll be specific to here.

23:

NYC definitely needs mass transit, but the subway is problematic due to flooding. So ...

... Monorails!

Seriously, you've got that great grid system. Grids mean fewer curves which means you can run the trains closer to one another. And monorails mean you can raise the system if necessary. I'd look to the German schwebebahn system as one option -- it's a suspended overhead monorail and although the Wuppertal system is relatively small, it should be possible to up-size the train sets. Build stations into the upper mezzanine floors of skyscrapers downtown, or on top of buildings higher up on Manhattan; run small trains very frequently on a downtown loop (viz. a 2-4 carriage train every minute) with larger vehicles on commuter runs out to the suburbs.

24:

We need big cities because once you get above a certain critical population density, network effects cut in: the serendipitous effects of people making new connections with each other results in new businesses, research, art movements. Big cities are vastly more productive than the same number of people scattered in smaller communities -- otherwise you might expect Poland (pop. 38M) to be more artistically and scientifically productive than Tokyo.

25:

Re: Cities, here's a relevant recent article on IO9:
http://io9.com/this-incredible-statistic-shows-why-cities-are-the-futu-511461618

To Guthrie @#21: What's the current energy technology that releases the least CO2? Fission power! Let's start cranking those bad boys out again. Closely related, there's Bill Gates' traveling wave reactor:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveling_wave_reactor

Re: Guthrie @#22: Great, yet one more login and password. My little black book used to have names and phone numbers, now it's just logins and passwords.

26:

OK, so I'm no longer https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkqk9-kY6-O2t3H2mZBJLc-IfcBSZMCxqQ

Now you can put an alias to the snark.

27:

I'm sorry Dave, it didn't occur to me that people wouldn't recognise the word "spindizzy". I first read "Cities in Flight" back in 1969, and have a copy of it in one of the re-issued "SF masters" imprints.

28:

Also, if you want the rest of the biosphere to have a chance you want to confine the billions of large rapacious monkeys to their hives.

29:

I'm sad to say I haven't read much Blish beyond his anthology of the original Star Trek episodes, and that (yikes!) forty years ago.

30:

...and wasn't it once called New Amsterdam; sounds like it needs more dykes then! (and then one can drive a Chevy there... :p {chevy/levee} )

31:

As other's have pointed out cities are more efficient than other configurations. They can also be more environmentally friendly as the population density leaves more land space free (IIRC London is 8 times more dense than the UK average).

Aside from this it's also worth noting that since ~2010 over half the world now lives in towns and cities versus rural and that trend is set to continue:
http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WUP2005/urban_rural_graph2.jpg

Long story short the future seems to be one of increasingly dense settlements.

32:

This is an advert for Barclaycard which shows one possibility for above-street-level transport in New York, as part of their promotion of contactless card technology.

There have been reports of this tech detecting and debiting the wrong card. Those apparently-paranoid card wallets with the RF screening are making far too much sense.

Why a UK bank sets its UK advert in New York, I am not sure. Though Barclaycard is an international brand, just not in the USA. If you watch the advert to the end, one of the YouTube links is to a video on how it was made.

33:

Just checking in from my morning run in Seattle. Let's save this city too! Wall around the continent? Trash heap still winning I think.

34:

People keep mentioning the subway and forgetting that ther is a lot of infrastructure underground. Not quite the "Underground City" of TV and movies, but it's there. The Ground Zero memorial is 30 feet below ground level and its museum is 70 ft. below. And you've got all the sewers, electrical tunnels, basements (tall buildings, deep basements). Its all gotta go somewhere.

How much actual 'ground' is under the streets of Manhattan?

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/01/the-secret-underground-world-of-new-york-city/

I'm also wondering if those leaving negative comments have actually spent time there, or they "had a bad experience once" years ago? I've probably spent less than two months altogether there, but I loved it.


Dave P @28: You ought to read Blish's original work, he did the Star Trek stories for the money.

35:

The most fictional part of "National Treasure" is the claim that there's a large enough volume of solid earth under Manhattan to hide a vault complex that size, right?

36:

Monorails in New York?

That's such a cool idea. Seriously.

I've got this great pitch for the US SyFy channel, home of cheesy Saturday afternoon movies:

Hurricane vs. Monorail. W

ouldn't that be a great disaster flick? Imagine the hubris of the train designers who said the trains would run under all conditions, the fun of trains getting blown off rails, D-list actors dangling from cars, the wind howling and throwing hotdog carts at them the whole time? One can even get an idea of what that looks like by reading Mouse Tales and More Mouse Tales, which documents some of the monorail accidents at Disneyland. With pictures, even.

I'm happily reading Craig Childs' Apocalyptic Planet (highly recommended--it's a tour of the wilder parts of the planet, as a demonstration of what's in store when different types of disasters hit). One of the things he notes in the chapter "Sea Levels Rise" is that the Mediterranean littoral, among many other places, is littered with drowned cities. Lands have been subsiding and cities have been drowning for thousands of years. Half of old Alexandria is out in the current harbor, for example.

This is not new.

In the long run (and I'm talking a century here), Manhattan will almost certainly be abandoned. It might happen much more quickly, probably if the subways get flooded too many times and businesses lose confidence in their ability to get their workers into and out of the city in a reasonable way. Even in the long run, it will inevitably happen, because buildings have lifespans, and Manhattan has limited space. If, in a few decades, we're still interested in living in dense cities, it will probably be cheaper to build the great buildings elsewhere in the US than it will be to rebuild Manhattan.

That's okay. New building technologies and changing needs will radically alter the design of cities regardless. Rebuilding on the existing street grid won't make a lot of sense. Almost certainly, things like good sun exposure will start to trump road networks meant to handle masses of gas-burning cars, because skyscrapers will be actively or passively solar. Storm codes will have to be updated. Other cities will embody these new design priorities, while the greater New York area goes through a fallow period and reinvents itself again. I doubt it will ever entirely go away.

37:

The most fictional part of "National Treasure" is the claim that there's a large enough volume of solid earth under Manhattan to hide a vault complex that size, right?

And the idea they could have excavated that much, 200 years ago, and kept it secret. I'm not sure I've seen all the first film, but have seen the sequels, the idea of hollowing out Mount Rushmore is pretty ridiculous.

I was thinking that building walls in the streets probably wouldn't be nearly enough. Water is going to seep in underground eventually, and pumps fail.

If you've ever walked around Manhattan you've likely seen the large steel sheets used to cover up where utility work is being done, occasionally you get to see the fairly large spaces underneath. And that's just the level immediately below the street.


Just tried googling for images of NYC utilites work. Didn't find that, but came across this: Ready New York: Flooding Guide.
(Amusingly--to me at least--the link for Hebrew is actually in Yiddish)

38:

Why not float Manhattan?

Seriously: drill holes, insert bladders, pump in concrete to raise the ground level a metre or so? Add a slurry of glass or carbon fibres to bind into the matrix as it sets, providing fibre-reinforced (not pre-stressed, alas) structual integrity?

39:


Why just Manhattan? I know that, as being notoriously none travelling...FLY in A Giant Supersonic Can of Beans filled with people who are incubating all manner of Strange and Exotic Diseases? And this so that I can view buildings and their contents? No Thanks! ...I am unfit to touch the hem of your Travelling Garment of Choice, but...isn’t Novo York made up of more than one Island?

A bit like Venice but without the Gondoliers who sing “Just One Cornetto “to the Tourists?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biL6zAMkOQs

Come to think of it WHY doesn’t New York have Gondoliers?

The New York City: Tourist Board should be asked Awkward Questions on this subject by Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden ..if not They, Then Who? Dunno anyone else in New York.Save for Nero Wolfe and all at West 35th Street of course, of course ..so Good They say it Twice!

40:

Oh, and, P.S. ..Cyndi Lauper came from Queens .. " a gal from Queens could loose the S and become a Queen " ..

http://besthobby.org/index.php/component/relatedvideos/?vid=E3Hru9Gpqog

Jus Saying, Ya Know?

41:

It seems to me NY will do what it can afford. It might erect barriers to prevent the worst of the flooding, but it is a lot more exposed to the Atlantic than London is to the North Sea, making this an potentially very expensive proposition. Would wealthy Manhattanites demand public money to pay for this (the irony?) or just relocate?

If NY is poor, it will end up like Venice. Slowly sinking streets, water transport with possibly elevated walkways and even rails and roads. Rather like KSM's "2312" vision. Like Venice, some creative shoring up/flotation of key buildings will need to be done as the foundations get even wetter.

My guess is that relocation will increasingly occur as the cheapest solution for individuals and business. This will undermine the tax base and NY will become abandoned and decay, a modern Venice (compared to its Renaissance peak). What would be disruptive is the loss of port facilities, so I would guess that they must be salvaged if possible.

Is NY worth saving as a cultural city? Perhaps. Or maybe its vibrancy and culture will move to another existing or new location, rather than disperse. In the C21st, it is hard to see why a coastal location is required for the city, except for its shipping port. Do they have to go together?

42:

My guess is that relocation will increasingly occur as the cheapest solution for individuals and business. This will undermine the tax base and

That's a peculiarly American disease -- the idea that all tax revenue spent in a particular city must be raised there. It results in abominations like the fate of Detroit -- positive feedback loops that empty out cities and turn them into wastelands. But it's not the only way of running things. For example, about 50% of UK local government spending (by cities or districts) comes from central government funds. Which means even badly run down cities don't automatically crater if things go wrong.

Now, I recognize that there are structural political reasons why this doesn't happen in the USA. And there are pros and cons to it; sometimes it's better to move on and build something new instead. But very often, it means abandoning the sunk infrastructure that decades or centuries have created -- a huge waste of resources. And it's hard to see how you'd easily re-create a vast trade metropolis like New York away from the coast that brought it trade.

43:

Seattle is an interesting data point with regards to saving a city from inundation. In an event that would be indicative of all future Seattle city planning, Seattle was surveyed on a tidal flat...at low tide! This would end up causing no end of trouble for the first 40 years of Seattle's history.

Eventually, the Seattle city fathers got fed up and fixed it by raising the level of the streets by 4 to 9 meters. They built walls at the street curb and re-graded the streets in between, then covered over the original sidewalks and moved building entrances up to the second or third story. This was all done with 1890's technology. The original side walks and entry ways can still be seen on the Seattle "underground" tours.

If a timber town on the far end of the world could save itself from inundation in the 1890's by relocating vertically a few meters, one of the richest cities in the world with access to modern technology could do the same thing today. Sea level rise is not going to be an issue for geographically small, economically rich locations like NY. It will be an issue for Florida or Bangladesh, which are large and economically diffuse. Saving NY is basic civil engineering, saving the Everglades is something out of science fiction.

44:

James Blish's idea has merit.

45:

You are making a point about "what should be" rather than my point of "what [IMO] is".

If NYC were to be hugely funded from either state or federal funds, there might well be political outcry over this use of capital. It would certainly look bad if NYC were saved, but not other sinking cities.

But very often, it means abandoning the sunk infrastructure that decades or centuries have created -- a huge waste of resources.

As I teach in my Corporate Finance course, you should never take into account "sunk costs" when making an investment decision. (sorry, I couldn't resist).

I can't think offhand of a single major European city that has been completely lost over the last 2000 years, so losing/abandoning a major historic city is almost unthinkable to us moderns. And yet over the space of less than a millenium, cities have risen and fallen as major commercial centers. Venice is an example, a city that I think of as the Renaissance version of Hong Kong, that faded away and only partly revived with the advent of mass tourism. Detroit, to pick the example you chose, has yet to stem its decline. Suppose NYC went the same way over the next 2 centuries with its banking and cultural businesses relocating to another place? Would it remain a shadow of itself as the largest sea port on the east coast, or would that business relocate elsewhere too (and to where)?

Does anyone have cost estimate for protecting NYC?


46:

Isn't that an apt description of Tokyo?

The concept of a city is an extremely resilient virus (I suspect that once mankind is gone or no longer recognizable, cities will remain and find other means of reproduction, either by latching onto other intelligent animals or by becoming increasingly automated during the autumn of mankind).

With regards to all the rich people living in NYC, I suspect that in the case of a major disaster (not a 9/11 style memetic emergency, but a major existential threat where some large fraction of the existing buildings are demolished) the top earners will flee to alternate housing elsewhere; everyone else will no longer find it suitable to live there. The concentration of money is already shifting away. Preemptively moving the entire thing inland is more humane; people who can't afford taxi fares aren't left to drown.

47:

Sunk costs, or actual tangible assets? It all depends how you look at it. And, as with many of these social policy issues, whether you spend or walk away depends on precisely what kind of accounting framework you evaluate it with, which in turn is an entirely political decision.

48:

The concept of a city is an extremely resilient virus (I suspect that once mankind is gone or no longer recognizable, cities will remain and find other means of reproduction, either by latching onto other intelligent animals or by becoming increasingly automated during the autumn of mankind).

Damn you, that deserves to be the premise of a novel in the Freyaverse: a robot city that is in search of inhabitants ...

49:

Well, there was the city on Mercury in Saturn's Children. I don't know that you'd want to make that the premise of a novel, but having a character (or group of characters) trapped there by an insane, lonely city is certainly possible...

50:

I though Terry Pratchett had sort of done that already, albeit with shopping malls being predatory upon cities?

I like the idea of a city looking for inhabitants though. What's to stop it creating it's own though?

51:

A huge volume of NYC [ & London & Amsterdam & Hong Kong & .... ]
IS ALREADY "UNDERWATER" i.e.below normal hight-tide levels.
What's the problem?
If you have to follow the Seattle solution, simples - you fill up the ground & 1st floors of buildings, put new entrances in to the UndergrounD stations & maked
damned sure the old lower entrances are sealed up tight.
AND CARRY ON ....
What's more, it can be done relatively gradually & cheaply.

The condemnation of New Orleans to an effective abandonment, is a condemnation of the values & society in the USSA today.
It is a negation of civilised values.

52:

"Does anyone have cost estimate for protecting NYC?"

Under what sea level rise scenario?

53:

There's also the Bradbury story "The City" in The Illustrated Man.

And the Robert Sheckley story "Street of Dreams, Feet of Clay" in the anthology Wandering Stars, about an automated city as Jewish Mother. At least I think that's the story I'm thinking of--don't have my copy handy and may be mis-remembering, but it's in that collection (or its followup.).

54:

Charlie:
... Monorails!

I've been on three monorail systems (nearly on opposite sides of the planet); Seattle, Las Vegas, and Kitakyushu. I was apparently one of the first thousand paying customers on the Vegas monorail system, in fact, which will tell you one of the dates I was in Vegas.

It's not clear that they're actually - as opposed to fanboy-wise - any cheaper, easier to build or maintain, or better in any calcuable way than simply elevated train tracks (like the local SF Bay Area BART trains are in a number of areas).

55:

Charlie:
Why not float Manhattan?

Seriously: drill holes, insert bladders, pump in concrete to raise the ground level a metre or so? Add a slurry of glass or carbon fibres to bind into the matrix as it sets, providing fibre-reinforced (not pre-stressed, alas) structual integrity?

Because it's solid rock, not that far down?

Most of the subway tunnels are hard rock tunnels, the new water tunnels are hard rock tunnels, etc. Schist and marble. Manhattan formation.

I suppose one could slice the whole rock layer through, subsurface somewhere, and jack it up. But that approaches silly...

56:

Charlie:
It results in abominations like the fate of Detroit

Detroit's fate was sealed by the implosion of the manufacturing concentration associated with the car industry.

The resultant population decrease is being particularly unkind due to a mixture of the local taxes problem and some interesting local government dysfunctions, but at its core it's the "the jobs are gone" problem.

57:

For the engineering types out there, I found this a particularly good read. Being an engineer, I always prefer an engineering approach.

http://rps3.com/Pages/Burt_Rutan_on_Climate_Change.htm

As for cities,no thanks, Been there, done that. I prefer my 20 wooded acres out in the middle of nowhere. If New York were to fall into a giant sinkhole tomorrow, I don't think the rest of the state would miss it. Having grown up in the state, it certainly has gone downhill over the years, and demographics don't lie. They did lose two seats in the House of Representatives in 2010. By 2020, with no significant change in policies, they will most likely lose another one or two.

However, it is easy to see the state's politicians remain in a state of denial...

58:

It's not clear that they're actually - as opposed to fanboy-wise - any cheaper, easier to build or maintain, or better in any calcuable way than simply elevated train tracks

You are, alas, probably right. (The Chicago loop is another example of elevated train tracks done right. Or the Docklands Light Railway in London.) My reason for noting the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, specifically, is that it's an old-established tech -- almost dating back to the 19th century -- and for much of its length it runs above a river: The A-frame gantries that support the line are bolted atop concrete posts sunk into the ground. It seems to me that in a semi-inundated city, going with a monorail system designed to coexist with rivers and canals might be a good idea ...

59:

The car industry is manufacturing just fine elsewhere in the USA. I submit that the collapse of Detroit was due to a toxic combination that included the financialization of the indigenous car industry (to the point where GM's auto business was a legacy operation clinging to the side of its finance/insurance/investment arm), union blindness, automation, and corrupt local politics. If Detroit hadn't become a one industry town -- and refused to change -- then it might have pulled through by now.

And I'll also add that there looked, to my eyes, to be some really unpleasant racial politics involved in the mess: other Michigan communities and their representatives not lifting a finger to help.

60:

Floating building by building and re-anchoring them or floating the whole town? I pretty much doubt that the latter is physically possible, and the former is probably more expensive than rebuilding.

61:

And the Robert Sheckley story "Street of Dreams, Feet of Clay" in the anthology Wandering Stars, about an automated city as Jewish Mother. At least I think that's the story I'm thinking of--don't have my copy handy and may be mis-remembering, but it's in that collection (or its followup.).

That sounds like an excerpt from Sheckley's Dimension of Miracles. During the final part of the novel, the protagonist inadvertently explores a variety of alternate Americas as he tries to find his way back to his own version of Earth. Visiting one of these alternates, he lands inside — and eventually flees — an irritatingly over-solicitous artificial city named Bellwether.

62:

The car industry is one of the things which raises questions about the anglo-american style of business management, at the highest levels.

Consider the outfit known as Jaguar Land Rover: they were caught up in the great amalgamation of British Car Companies in the 1960s, were eventually sold to one of the big American companies, and kept struggling.

They're now owned by a large Indian company, the business is booming, and still with the same workers and the same factory-level management.

Round here, we have some elements of the Detroit problem. The Steel Plant at Scunthorpe, and the food industry in Grimsby, have both shrunk. (For Grimsby, it's not just the fishing. There were the companies which produced frozen food. There is a huge patch of post-demolition desolation beside Ladysmith Road.)

Both Grimsby and Scunthorpe are relatively new cities. which sprang up around an industry. Scunthorpe was close to coalmines, and limestone, and iron ore. and the first steelworks was built only 150 years ago. Grimsby was a small coastal settlement until railways arrived in 1848.

63:

Barry Maitland (who is also an architect) wrote a mystery novel which detailed how malls are already predatory entities deliberately designed to swallow people up.

64:

The idea of jacking up the entire city of New York appeals to my 1950s "engineering can do anything" upbringing, but I think Charlie and others upthread are right that it's just not feasible. Raising NY just 1 meter would require on the order of a billion tons of concrete. That's not impossible, IIRC the Hoover Dam took about that much, but the logistics of getting it into place all over the city would be monumental (I can see a fleet of thousands of concrete trucks pushing the taxis off the streets for years).

But we need some sort of solution for existing cities. New Orleans is a cautionary tale of what happens when the elite classes decide to use storm damage and economic pressure as tools of slum clearance. I've been there twice since Katrina, and the state of the housing in the city is truly deplorable. Large areas have been gentrified, and the rest left to rot (quite literally), or been demolished, with a fraction of the value going to the homeowner. The population is half what it was pre-Katrina, but the lives and finances of those pushed out have been badly effected, and the pressure continues on the lower classes that are left as services they need are cut. I would expect the same scenario to play out in any city where the cost of keeping out the water was higher than the elite classes were willing to pay.

65:

Yep that's it. 'Wandering Stars" doesn't mention the book, so perhaps it's a fix-up or it was a serial. I'll have to look for it, I've been meaning to read more Sheckley.

66:

Under what sea level rise scenario?

2 scenarios:

1. A likely worst case 1 meter rise in sea level this century. So some low lying flooding, and storm flooding needs to be mitigated.

2. A 10 meter rise that could come in the further future.

67:

We're currently in line for the upper ranges of the carbon release, which suggests we could get up to 75 meters of sea level rise. This will occur over centuries.

Unfortunately for coastal cities, it will have two modes:
1. Ocean expansion: water expands as it warms. Warmth from the atmosphere is currently slowly diffusing through the ocean. The oceans simply aren't a uniform body of water, and different bits heat at different rates.It will take 500-1000 years to warm the great mass of the deepest waters. This is where we get the 1 meter per century rise.

2. Ice sheet collapse: absent the 1% getting a clue and making serious efforts to help the rest of us sequester titanic amounts of carbon, we're in the midst of shifting biosphere modes between icehouse and hothouse on this planet (or rather, shifting between a glaciated icehouse world and a glacier-free hothouse world). Glaciers can fall apart very suddenly. The scenario from Robinson's Green Mars (where an Antarctic volcano releases the West Antarctic ice sheet into the ocean overnight) is a real fear of climatologists and glaciologists. This would lead to 6-10 m of sea level rise, worldwide, over a few weeks. That's enough time to evacuate everyone under threat, but not much more.

Want to predict when those west Antarctic volcanoes will erupt? So does everyone else. We might get a few months of warning if someone's watching, but I don't think any country in the world will evacuate its entire coastal population unless the west sheet is in process of falling apart. This is, incidentally, a very good reason to maintain a scientific presence in Antarctica, although AFAIK, McMurdo Station will be destroyed if the West Antarctic Ice sheet fails catastrophically.

Any bets one when cities will build 15 meter tall sea walls and flood gate to protect against icefall? No, me neither.

Should I point out that there other things (large earthquakes, or the heat signal currently creeping through the Antarctic ice) can also cause the West Antarctic sheet to fail? Yeah, I thought not.

68:

Hm, tell Mayor Bloomberg.
What do you think of the flood plans he announced today?

69:

heteromeles:
Any bets one when cities will build 15 meter tall sea walls and flood gate to protect against icefall? No, me neither.

It's remotely possible that, given enough warning, the San Francisco Bay Area would be able to accomplish this. We have a singular 1-mile-wide entrance to our main estuary (the Golden Gate, between San Francisco and Marin county, under the Golden Gate Bridge). Technically, you'd most likely dam out a mile or so (Pt Bonita on the Marin headlands to Mile Rock and thence onshore); it's far shallower out there than under the bridge itself.

This is quite possibly the only location where geography would support doing that... And I doubt a several-billion dollar dam will get put in on contingency.

70:

They need someone like this Japanese mayor who built an oversized protective wall which turned out to be just large enough to protect the town from the recent tsunami

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/13/fudai-japan-tsunami-_n_861534.html

Then again 40 year tenures give you time to do a lot of things...

71:

For example, about 50% of UK local government spending (by cities or districts) comes from central government funds. Which means even badly run down cities don't automatically crater if things go wrong.


This is the LGA model of funding Minnesota (tries) to use, giving money to local communities from the state coffers. It has been a political football for years for reasons that are obvious and not germane to the issue at hand.

But, yes, more even funding models would help prevent Detroits, definitely.

72:

I don't remember the name for the plan, but back in the 1960s, there was, in fact, a plan to dam the entire San Francisco Bay to make a freshwater reservoir. Given the amount of crap in the bottom of SF Bay, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to use it as a reservoir. Perhaps I'm a little squeamish about Hunter's Point and so forth.

The easiest harbor to enclose on the west coast would actually be Long Beach, because most of the LA/Long Beach harbor is already enclosed by a breakwater. Building the wall up from that would theoretically be simpler than building off the Golden Gate, which has notoriously strong currents.

Of course without a truly titanic lock and/or lighter system, any active harbor would die due to lack of shipping, which would be, um, bad.

Maybe the suggestion to do away with term limits in the Japanese style isn't a bad thing?

The one thing that gives me a wonderful feeling of schadenfreude is how many are at risk from sea level rise. Sea level rise is not without its minor compensations.

73:

I think that if we get the 10's of meters sea level rise (and I'm increasingly worried that we will given the deliberate inaction of our major nations), we'll be more concerned with other hothouse effects, like huge disruption in our agriculture. The breakdown will sap our collective ability to do much, and US society at least will become increasingly focused on individual survival.

74:

And today they're reporting a 29% drop in the area of wheat being grown in the UK, with little effect on prices. Most of the world has had far better weather.

The LIFFE futures for this time next year have dropped. The USDA is expecting a global surplus.

75:

That's worth worrying about, certainly. Kind of scary to think that we'd have to switch away from a wheat-based society, given how much it's woven into our religion and so forth (there's a little hint that "he is risen indeed" doesn't work so well in a maize-based society).

As for red-handed individualism, it doesn't really work that way. I'd suggest googling "Paradise Built in Hell," or various recent interviews with Rebecca Solnit, the author. She's coined this lovely term "elite panic."

In disasters (and I've been through a couple), people tend to pull together, rather than apart. Yes there can be a few looters and malcontents, but generally people look after each other if given the chance. Disasters are wonderful at cutting the BS and letting people live together, at least in the short term.

The real chaos comes when the government comes blasting in to restore order. That's when someone who's breaking in to a closed shop to find food for her family gets shot as a looter, when she fully intended to pay the shopowner back when she could find him. Stuff like that happens more commonly than we might like.

Solnit coined this great term: "elite panic." Granted she's out on the anarchic fringe, but she makes an important point: in major disasters, the reality tends to be people helping each other in small, often ad hoc communities. The official narrative is chaos and lawlessness. Tragedies happen when police, national guard, etc., get sent in under the rubric of panic and start trying to forcibly impose order on a situation that wasn't violent until they arrived. Solnit does a good job of showing this happening in places like post-Katrina New Orleans.

While Solnit is an ideologue, she is making a worthwhile point for everyone, no matter where you are on the political spectrum. It's not worth fearing other townsfolk during such times of massive change. It is, conversely, definitely worth worrying about how the government is going to crack down to "restore order" during an elite panic.

Ultimately, when the dust settles, the elites do have the most to worry about. One can only be rich or powerful if one has a huge number of people generating a surplus to skim. If those people are no longer generating a surplus, the rich and powerful are toast. Under productive times, these elites can be useful, because they provide order that allows large groups of people to more-or-less get along with each other. In poor times, they've got to prove their worth, using whatever dwindling wealth, influence, or raw talent that they have.

76:

I've heard it handwaved that increasing coldness encourages people to live closer together. Is the converse true? Or do you have a Mad Max scenario of no more than, say, ten preppers per square mile?

77:

>How shall we save New York? And
>London, and Shanghai?

In all seriousness, do we really need to?

Cities were a solution for maintaining a culture in pre-technological times. Modern transportation and communications eliminate almost all of the justifications for cities to exist.

Meanwhile, the rates of crime, mental illness, and physical illness say that cities are unhealthy places to live.

78:

I don't think there's a good answer for that. Certainly, we've learned how to live cheek-by-jowl with people we don't know, without either hurting each other or getting to know each other. This is the famous urban anonymity, and it works in some settings.

Did I note that this is learned behavior? This is actually true for most human habitats. With humans, evolutionary psychology, to the point where it's valid at all (personal opinion) is more about likes than must-haves. In humans, learning is an essential part of survival. Largely by happenstance, many people in American cities live largely isolated lives. A century ago, in the time of crowded tenements, that wasn't the case, and it's certainly not the case in every city on the globe, much less outside cities.

As for crowding, it depends on things like homesites, social norms, and how much food there is. Certainly, people living on small islands live in each others' pockets. Other traditional groups (and I'm avoiding pioneers here) were much more spread out. I don't think there's one answer for what works.

Also, note that it's not about Mad Max. A place like an Australian sheep station is enormous not because it warehouses a bunch of chronic sociopaths, but because the grazing is so crappy that you need such an enormous spread to make anything resembling a decent living by societal standards. That's ecology making life different for the station owners, not Mad Max.

79:

TRX @ 77
Why, then are people still flocking into cities?
Oh, & Meanwhile, the rates of crime, mental illness, and physical illness say that cities are unhealthy places to live. Really?
And what are the actual crime rates in other places & life expecatncies?
You are falling for the "noble savage" tripe I'm afraid, & it's codswallop.

80:

Not exactly - you are assuming that we'll continue to have easy cheap access to cars and the like, as well as the erroneous idea that email and videoconferencing is the same as meeting and interacting with someone in real life.

Besides, in the USA, are they not already seeing suburbia in some areas die off because it is too expensive and far from anywhere?

81:

I tend to agree, although I dearly love the idea of cities being pre-technological. That implies someone who's so post-nano-futurist-singulitarianist that we're in the same class as the dudes chopping sailing ships out of driftwood with shell adzes. What a perspective. I mean, 200,000 years of pre-technological hunters and gatherers living in cities, ready with the aid of modern technology to burst out into nature and live as they were evolved to live. Oh yeah.

Incidentally, Craig Childs, in Apocalyptic Planet has a neat statement about the noble savage meme. In one chapter, he visited a disappearing island in the Bering Sea, to talk to the local Yupik and see what it's like watching one's island drown. The quote: "They spoke of so much change, from shorelines to hunting to winter ice pack, that you'd think the world was being re-formed. But no one seemed especially alarmed, their statements relegated to Native nonchalance often mistaken for nobility. It was just the way people were, shrugging at the circumstances, wondering what could be done to change it." Right now, that's my favorite take on Noble Savagery, not that these people are in any way savage. Bad-ass, yes (you hunt a walrus with a harpoon). Savage? Not so much.

82:

@79:
Why, then are people still flocking into cities?
---
Given the numbers, I don't think there's any notable demographic moving TO the cities. Certainly, the urbanites wail enough about the hated suburbanites. It looks more like the increase is mostly due to the city dwellers breeding like rabbits.

83:

Say what?

Here's what reality says ( http://www.who.int/gho/urban_health/situation_trends/urban_population_growth_text/en/ )

"Urbanization, the demographic transition from rural to urban, is associated with shifts from an agriculture-based economy to mass industry, technology, and service. For the first time ever, the majority of the world's population lives in a city, and this proportion continues to grow. One hundred years ago, 2 out of every 10 people lived in an urban area. By 1990, less than 40% of the global population lived in a city, but as of 2010, more than half of all people live in an urban area. By 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will live in a city, and by 2050, this proportion will increase to 7 out of 10 people. Currently, around half of all urban dwellers live in cities with between 100 000 - 500 000 people, and fewer than 10% of urban dwellers live in megacities (defined by UN HABITAT as a city with a population of more than 10 million)."

Is it urbanites breeding like rabbits? Not at least in China ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12288643 ): "Differences in urban and rural populations in China stem from rural to urban migration and differences in the distribution of births in urban and rural areas. Differential fertility has been evident over the past 40 years. There has been a consistently higher rural fertility rate, even though urban population has been expanding."

In this case SoV is quite right to be skeptical of your claims, and I agree with him.

84:

Given the numbers, I don't think there's any notable demographic moving TO the cities. Certainly, the urbanites wail enough about the hated suburbanites. It looks more like the increase is mostly due to the city dwellers breeding like rabbits.

The world's population is increasingly urbanised, and that ain't slowing up. Mostly, it's rural folk deserting the countryside and flooding to where work is.

As for city folk outbreeding rural ones, historically that just isn't so, and I see no reason why it'd be any different now. As an example, in India today the rural household tends to be larger than the city one, with excess population leaving the land and migrating citywards.

(In the 16th century, London's death rate was higher than its birth rate. It was only the inward migration that caused the city to explode in size - without it, London had a negative growth. Horribly unhealthy place, in those days.)

85:

Re. London - also in the first half of the 19th century - at one point the number of people who died was greater than the population, in one year. (Okay, I haven't fact checked that). All down to immigration into slums with rampant cholera.

86:

TRX @ 82
It looks more like the increase is mostly due to the city dwellers breeding like rabbits.
Utter rubbish, total codswallop.
Where do you claim that this has any solid basis in reality, or are you just spouting?
Ah ... heteromeles @ 83 has shown that you are, if not deliberately lying, at the very least, seriously misinformed.
Oops, as the saying goes.

guthrie
Something screwed with your derived/acquired numbers ... yes immigration to London was required to overcome the death-rate, but it wasn't that bad!

87:

Damn. I was gonna suggest that. Mind 43rd St., it needs retuning.

88:

Savage? Not so much.

I seem to recall one study of a hunter-gatherer society in which about 17% of the males died violently. By contrast, Washington D.C.'s murder rate in 2009 was 0.024%. Living close to nature can be very insecure, and desperation brings out the worst in humanity.

89:

Well, for the group described in that particular paragraph as cited, from 1983-1987, the recorded homicide rate was 0.0% and an overall felony rate of 0.9-3.2%, primarily for assault and burglary. While the Yup'ik experience the usual stressors of Indian tribes in the US (poverty, alcoholism, loss of traditional ways of life), they are pretty normal US citizens when it comes to crime, I suspect.

In the bigger picture, there's a lot of variability. Some tribes are reported to be murderous, some are not.

For example, our tribes (well, nation-states) typically don't report war deaths or judicial killings as homicides, although anthropologists might, on the theory that inter-tribal combat isn't war or legal justice. Comparisons (especially with Washington DC, where those who order the deaths of others are seldom charged) really do get a bit trickier than mere numbers indicate.

90:

For example, our tribes (well, nation-states) typically don't report war deaths or judicial killings as homicides, although anthropologists might, on the theory that inter-tribal combat isn't war or legal justice. Comparisons (especially with Washington DC, where those who order the deaths of others are seldom charged) really do get a bit trickier than mere numbers indicate.

I was shocked to discover this only a few months ago, reading Wikipedia's "List of countries by intentional homicide rate." I saw that Syria and Iraq have lower intentional homicide rates than Taiwan or Luxembourg, and thought someone had made an error in transcribing the source data. No. That's how it was originally reported. I don't know what people call "the rate of human beings dying at the hand of other human beings, including murder, war, sectarian massacres, and legal executions" but it's not called the intentional homicide rate.

You also raise a good point about the location of the homicide rate when a nation is killing people outside its own borders. When the US was secretly bombing Cambodia, did the killings properly increase the US homicide rate or the Cambodian homicide rate? It seems that one allocation describes how dangerous the inhabitants of a nation are, and the other how much danger they are in.

91:

Hunter-gatherers in the "wild" are a rather different thing from American Indians on a reservation.

17% of the US population is about 50 million. Even including military and judicial killings, we're almost 50 million short.

92:

@59:
the collapse of Detroit
---
You might find the story of Gary, Indiana interesting. Gary was wealthy, fast-growing, and cosmopolitan... then it collapsed with the fall of the US steel industry since, basically, it was a company town.

Gary had grown so rapidly that few of the people who lived there in its heyday were actually *from* there. Consequently, it was often used for the "legend" or cover identity of Soviet agents operating in the USA.

Gary's decline was so rapid that it missed some of the troubles Detroit had.

Russia is littered with cities similar to Gary or Detroit, established by the Soviets as, basically, single-purpose company towns.

93:

No-one speaks of it much, but Merthyr Tydfil in S. Wales is much like that .. a zombie town. However, being here, there ars some attempts at state support, and similar, to try to bring employment back. They've finally decided to electrify all the "Welsh Valley" railway lines in the next 2-3 years, which will make a big difference, too.
But, it was really bad, when the coal/iron industries collapsed there.
Here's a quote: By 1932, more than 80% of men in Dowlais were unemployed; Merthyr experienced an out-migration of 27,000 people in the 1920s and 1930s, ... from the longer wiki article - not good.

94:

Brother-in-law is an engineer at Jaguar Land Rover; your analysis cuts bits out.

Why should JLR succeed when much if the rest of the former British Leyland fail? BAe bought it too cheaply, and learned from the Honda partnership (Triumph Acclaim etc). BMW poured billions into Rover Group after buying it from BAe, then gave up (although the BMW X-5 apparently got a lot of help from Land Rover design engineers, and they kept the Mini).

Ford poured in more money, and reaped the benefit. Then they decided to sell off their Premier Automotive Group, and JLR went to Tata (while Volvo went to SAIC). Brother-in-Law is obviously made cynical by Ford, because his observation was that they'd been sold to a firm that were actually enthusiastic about making cars...

Your summary would be that Swedish, UK, German, and US corporate management models are not as successful as Indian. Another interpretation might be that there was overcapacity in car manufacture, even before a global recession, and that car manufacturers were in a market that enjoys State support for "national flagships". Yet another might be that the successful Indian firms are young, and led by capable creators with drive and focus, rather than being older, having finished growing and undergone a corporate succession. What's interesting is that India (as a technical centre) is losing its glow, as costs rise and the effects of high staff turnover start to hit. IMHO, I'd suggest that US and Indian management styles are closer to each other than the UK's.

95:

"I prefer my 20 wooded acres out in the middle of nowhere."

That's nice, but you're very privileged to be able to have that. The US as a whole has only 7.5 acres of land per person, and that's including the Plains and Alaska. The world has 5 acres per person, and that's including the Sahara and Antarctica.

"If New York were to fall into a giant sinkhole tomorrow, I don't think the rest of the state would miss it"

They'd miss all the tax revenue and jobs NYC provides. I think NYC would miss the rest of the state much less -- at least the people; do need the water.

96:

"Cities were a solution for maintaining a culture in pre-technological times. Modern transportation and communications eliminate almost all of the justifications for cities to exist."

Modern cities are more energy efficient, more economically productive, and more innovative. That transportation and communication (and energy) infrastructure is a lot cheaper when shared among lots of people.

"Meanwhile, the rates of crime, mental illness, and physical illness say that cities are unhealthy places to live."

Cities with clean water and pollution controls aren't unhealthy, and it's better to have hospitals nearby than an hour away like in rural areas. Cities probably attract better doctors, too.

Cities *do* produce somewhat higher crime rates along with their productivity, but the idea of cities as violent hellholes is an out of date artifact of the 1960-1990 period, probably caused by lead pollution from leaded gasoline.

97:

"Rising sea levels may claim land, including the land I live in, but the rise will be fairly gradual, and while it may be emotionally difficult to abandon homes and cities to the sea, it is not something that needs to claim many lives."

Bollards.

Sea level rise in NYC will show up most prominently when a hurricane hits at the wrong time and results in a tidal surge up the river. Sandy didn't (quite) get its timing right for that.

This is typical globally: it's not the rise in sea level on a nice day that's going to be the big hint that a city is in the wrong-place, it's going to the be 20-year storm.

But protecting downtown NYC isn't the problem because you can affordably spend tens of billions (over a few decades) to protect it. It's the vast long expanse of suburbs and townships along the rest of the coast that you can't afford to protect. Adios, Florida.

98:

At least in the US, first ring suburbs have been turning into lower-class ghettos, often racially-divided, over the last 30 years. That's certainly true here in Portland, where most gang activity has moved to Beaverton (west-side suburb) and Gresham (east-side). And we're starting to see the same changes in the second ring suburbs.

99:

Oh, and also in the US, crime rates in general and murder rates in particular have been going down steadily for more than two decades, and are now at long-term lows. That's why the prison-industrial complex has been so eager to find new and innovative ways to sentence people to prison here.

100:

Myself @37: Just tried googling for images of NYC utilites work. Didn't find that

These will do: http://jalopnik.com/these-photos-of-nycs-subway-project-are-astonishing-513446087

101:

Even better: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtaphotos/sets/
This did not show up when I googled.

102:

At least in the US, first ring suburbs have been turning into lower-class ghettos, often racially-divided, over the last 30 years. That's certainly true here in Portland, where most gang activity has moved to Beaverton (west-side suburb) and Gresham (east-side). And we're starting to see the same changes in the second ring suburbs.

Although it's not as simple as that may sound. Twenty years ago, pretty much every black person in the city lived in north Portland; this is no longer true. It's still a very pale city; while we get plenty of Asian and Mexican immigrants, we're a long way from the parts of the US with larger black populations.

We're just inland enough to not have any sea level plans, while still being on two major rivers and having lots of ship traffic. Fifteen meters above sea level is plenty, right?

Why there are so many Portlanders active on a Scottish author's blog I couldn't tell you. *grin*

103:

On the general subject of "our cities are getting more populous", is this really true?

I'm defining "the city" as the area inside $metropolis_city_limits. "The conurbation" is the distance you have to drive from one side of the suburbs around $metropolis_city_limits to the other.

Case study - May be familiar to those who live on the West side of Glasgow, particularly in Clydebank, Old Kilpatrick, Bowling or Dumbarton.

http://www.bing.com/maps/?FORM=MMREDR#Y3A9NTEuMjg5MDAxfi0wLjc3NDAwMCZsdmw9NiZzdHk9ciZlbz0wJnE9U2t5ZSUyNTIwQ3Jlc2NlbnQlMjUyQyUyNTIwT2xkJTI1MjBLaWxwYXRyaWNr shows a case in point, where "Western Isles Road" and the roads leading off it are in an old MoD tank farm which was also used as rough pasture when I moved to Dumbarton. Now that they're housing, the "Clydeside conurbation" has moved its Western edge about 2 miles West using the A814 and the "mile of farmland with at most 1 residential street parallel to the main road" test.

104:

I'm defining "the city" as the area inside $metropolis_city_limits

Such limits are often way out of date and not terribly useful in this context. As an extreme, consider London. London is 1.2 square miles, if you go by the actual border of the City of London, rather than those for Greater London.

(And there'll always be some cities that are contracting.)

Basically it's the conurbation, the economic unit as a whole, that matters in this. Historical contingency may mean that some bits aren't part of a particular present day city. If you're in Tokyo, for example, Yokohama thinks itself a separate city. But actually look, and you'll see that there is continuous building from the centre of Tokyo out far beyond it. It's all really one huge city, 35 million people in one lump.

105:

Do you think there will ever be "virtual cities"? If someday we can upload our brains into the cloud, why not a city? Could we map all the connections of a Tokyo or New York into a virtual cityspace?

106:

I'd suggest that could be even less helpful because Edinburgh and Glasgow will positively insist that they are 2 separate cities but they are connected by 2 separate rail routes (3 if we include Inter-city services from Glasgow Central that go to Waverley via Carstairs Junction), and indeed my Mum can get a direct train from Dumbarton to Waverley via Glasgow every 30 minutes and be there faster than a direct train East-West across Greater London from one side of the M25 to the other would make it.

107:

Computery stuff:-

Quite possibly, given sufficient memory and processor power. See anything on "the rapture of the nerds" (lower case advisedly, sorry Charlie and Cory), "I, Phone" already cited up-thread since large bits of it work on virtualisation of London...

108:

Why is that 'less helpful'? If you've got a single conurbation that stretches from one side of the Central Belt to the other, why don't you want to recognise it as all city?

If you're going to define large areas of building as something other than city, then give us a name for that, and we can substitute it into the 'our cities are getting more populous' statement.

Me, I'm a country lad. Tens of thousands of houses or flats all together, I call city.

109:

Er, because it isn't a conurbation (a purely physical geographic concept formed by the merger of towns (actually a political geographic concept) by urban sprawl.

The last time I did the relevant train trip, it spent at least as long in open farmland as in towns or cities, and the main road (M8 and accepted that it was designed to actively avoid urban areas) is in open farmland for over 1/2 of its length (was more, but industrial estates are encroaching at Livingstone).

110:

So you don't have a single conurbation. In which case, I'm not sure what your point was.

In the case of the train from Tokyo Central to Yokohama, it's built up all the way, with what is, by UK standards, city centre density pretty much for all of it. And that's a half hour on an express train.

(Tokyo 'city centre' density is Blade Runner territory. Look out from a high building in the centre at night and you see high rises to the horizon.)

111:

err ... paws @ 106
Queen Street - Waverley via Falkirk (NBR)
Queen St LL - Waverley via Airdrie/Bathgate (NBR)
Central - Waverley via Shotts (mostly CR)
Central - Waverley via Carstairs (CR)
makes FOUR routes by my book, all with regular services.

112:

Do you think there will ever be "virtual cities"? If someday we can upload our brains into the cloud, why not a city? Could we map all the connections of a Tokyo or New York into a virtual cityspace?

We could model cityscapes - but the virtual reality spaces so far tend to be small, even if the decor bears the motif of an urban area. (You can drop in on Second Life at your convenience.) There are two reasons for this, as I see it. In reality we can't yet teleport, so transportation and logistics questions aren't just a matter of popping in whatever we need, while in simulations easy teleportation is almost universal. On the other hand, cities also efficiently use scarce land, while in VR it's rarely any trouble to conjure up more describable volume out of nothingness; there's much less reason to bother efficiently using space.

Of course, there are more exotic points. For example, a VR apartment building might hold as many people as want to live there - you go in the door and into your home. Everyone goes into their own home; when used by you the door opens into your space, but your neighbors have their own instances. From the outside it might look like a small house just to be obvious that it's a place where people live.

Assuming an upload society, I'd expect virtual societies - maybe like a Greg Egan polis - but they needn't look much like a turn-of-the-millenium city to the inhabitants. Somebody might model New York for artistic reasons, of course...

113:

Yup.

Leith and Edinburgh used to be separate cities (Leith being the port, Edinburgh being the inland capital) but they formally merged around 1905, acknowledging that what had been open countryside in 1805 was now wall-to-wall tenements and warehouses.

Again, Leeds and Bradford are separate cities, but you can drive (or walk -- they're only 10 miles apart, center to center) from one to the other and never even see open countryside.

Actually, the whole M62 corridor from Liverpool through to Hull is dangerously close to going that way -- IIRC five of the ten largest cities in the UK are dotted somewhere along that route, and the only major obstruction to suburbanization, apart from the green belt planning restrictions, is the ridge of the Pennines and the boggy moorland on their slopes (betwixt the edges of the Leeds/Bradford/Huddersfield West Yorkshire sprawl and the suburbs of Manchester).

114:

If we ever do get to that point, I think we're still going to see physically compact, dense, cities: network latency and bandwidth is limited by the speed of light and the density with which we can physically build circuits. You can see that today in stock exchanges, with dealer firms and market makers desperately trying to buy the equipment rack closest to the market's core routers in the data centre where trading takes place, just to shave a millisecond off their trading time -- or even a few microseconds ...

115:

On the other hand, an off-peak second class day return from EDI to GLA (any station) costs almost £10 at walk-up prices. Compare to the maximum ~£6 fare for a daily travelcard in London, and it imposes quite a bottleneck: what we have isn't an integrated commuter transport system but a short-range inter-city connection, and the net effect is to isolate the populations of the two cities from routinely crossing over. (Except for commuters with season tickets.)

116:

Ahem: ~£16 should you wish to include zones 1 to 6.

Me, I have an Oystercard which I tend to use only for Cockfosters <-> Oxford Circus off-peak returns: that is £6 and is a reasonable comparison with your EDI <-> GLA link.

117:

I think there's another one developing: Baletchinton. That's the Baldock/Letchworth/Hitchin/Luton/Dunstable mass running along the A505. There's still a decent gap between Luton and Hitchin — all 5 miles of it, with but a small village in it — but current development plans are to infill between them. Apart from that, there's about half a mile between the outskirts of Hitchin and Letchworth.

Oh yeah, you could use another 2 miles of infill to link Stevenage into that mass from the south.

It ain't a city yet, but I think it's going that way. It's got an international airport already. What it really needs is a better road than the A505, which is great from here (happily ten miles away to the north east) to Baldock, but lousy from there on through. I've had route-finding software suggest I use it to get to the M1, and have laughed hollowly. (That same software then wanted me to follow the A5 from there to Holyhead. Riiight. The A5 through Wales.)

And a rail line from Hitchin down to Dunstable - you can get from Stevenage through to Baldock, but not westwards from Hitchin. Build that as a East Coast Mainline to West Coast Mainline link, which a sensible national network would have anyway.

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This page contains a single entry by Joan Slonczewski published on June 11, 2013 1:00 AM.

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