I thought this was pretty funny (and ridiculous) when first heard on NPR, then seen in multiple locations. The story centers on the layouts of these planned Sudanese cities, shaped like indigenous animals and even fruit from the region. This has been all over the place lately in media snippets, with a reaction of surprise, outrage, skepticism but mostly downright amusement. Ideas include the rhinoceros (seen below), as well a giraffe which form the urban outlines for these cities to be filled with a mix of uses fueled by southern Sudan’s oil profits.
:: image via New Sudan Vision
:: image via BBC
While the form of the cities are getting the most attention, it’s interesting to see how the debate has become one of appropriateness of any large-scale urban endeavor in a country with so much instability. The geo-politics of Sudan come to bear when you consider that the country is on the verge of a split – cleaving the oil-rich south into potentially a new country (and leaving many parts of both the old and new in poverty). Does that mean those less fortunate get the butt-end of these new urban areas? Probably, as these are planning these animal-cracker cities in the rich south, but it means those less fortunate don’t get to live in these spots at all.
:: image via Blast magazine
Politics aside, why is it so strange to use formal shapes (ala Dubai’s Palm Islands or the more abstract Ciudad Evita) to delineate our spaces, if the alternative is placeless suburban sprawl. While we can debate the appropriate urban form and spatial arrangement, nothing says that can’t be a hippo versus a human profile versus a new urbanist community layout. They are all constructs, no? Think of the wayfinding possibilities with living ‘near the ass’ or ‘in left rear legpit’… or in the case of Evita – ‘on the outskirts of the nostril’… the street naming could be equally fun.
:: Ciudad Evita – image via Taringa!
As a formal exercise, perhaps there is some merit in the biomimicry or animism (or whatever it is) fueling these proposals, as they potentially offer opportunities for form-making that is based on something biological that could be a basis for sustainable communities. For instance, in one giraffe-shaped proposal, it was noted that “”the sewage treatment plant is appropriately placed under the giraffe’s tail” – making it a fine analog for outputs – and potentially a framework for a self-sustaining organism as city? Does food enter the city through the mouth, or is that a bit too literal?
:: image via Buy Cheap Toy
The plans however look more like traditional layouts fitted within the chosen shape, making them more form over function. But, as we seem to debate the gridded versus organic forms of urban areas, we really don’t have a clear delineation of a right answer – and it varies widely based on context and culture, among myriad other variables. All urbanism is contrived to a degree either in whole-cloth, through zoning and land use, or through time, accretion and evolution. And for the most part, all of these more or less decontextualized as they are forced upon a topography that is far from flat in both physical and social terms.
Plus, like cloud-spotting, animal forms can be derived from a number of constructed abstractions – or is it just me that sees a distinct elephant in this new urbanist community?
:: Providence Creek – image via Felts and Kilpatrick
Are any of these human-made forms more or less authentic – or can a giraffe-shaped city have all the elements we seek in good urbanity? Is an elephant shaped burb less intriguing or useful than one with more random curvilinear forms of streets and open space?