Category Archives: land use

Google Timelapse

The announcement Google Earth Timelapse has created a bit of a stir, with a number of videos exploring landscape change of natural and urban systems.  From their site:

“Timelapse is a global, zoomable video that lets you see how the Earth has changed over the past 32 years. It is made from 33 cloud-free annual mosaics, one for each year from 1984 to 2016, which are made interactively explorable by Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab’s Time Machine library, a technology for creating and viewing zoomable and pannable timelapses over space and time.”

I’m a bit disappointed with the resolution – as it is not able to zoom in to a district level at a scale that provides appropriate level of detail.  That may be surmountable by using Google Earth Engine and delving into the API and programming tools.

There’s also a series of Datasets that are available from the Google Earth Engine that would be interesting to explore also, including maps for aerial imagery, geophysical data, climate/weather and demographics.

I used the Timelapse Tour Editor to quickly make a few maps of Seattle and Portland – with an eye towards  For Seattle, I wanted to focus on the development of South Lake Union, where Amazon and other development has been most pronounced in the past decade or so.  It shows how much redevelopment has occurred there, as well as throughout the downtown core (mostly visible with white roofs).

These are better by clicking the title and viewing in full size, as the grain for urban areas is pretty bad. 

South Lake Union and Downtown Seattle

For Portland, I wanted to zoom in on the inner Southeast area, around Division Street, which was been subject to a fair amount of density in recent years.  The inability to zoom into that level of detail makes this a bit less instructive, but does show the level of development north of downtown, and across the river the ‘fingers’ of density on transit mixed-use streets (which is what provides for vibrant, walkable urban neighborhoods that make Portland, well… Portland.


Lots of fun exploration planned for this.



TopoView for Historic USGS Maps

The USGS tool TopoView offers access to digitized maps from 1879 to the current day – which is an amazing resource for looking at landscape change over time.  Using an online mapping tool, you can access maps from 250,000 scale down to 24,000 for the entire US , including Alaska and Hawaii.  The maps are downloadable in multiple formats, including JPEG, KMZ, GEOPDF, and GEOTIFF and are full size scans – so render in reasonably high resolution.

A sample of some maps (sized down from the original resolution) from the north section of Portland, ranging from 1897 through 1961 shows the difference in land use and geography – as well as indicates the shifting graphical standards of USGS maps over the years.  I especially like seeing the urbanization patterns, movement of industrial lands into areas like the Columbia Slough and the (d)evolution of Guilds Like in the NW Industrial area.  I hope to add these to the layering of historical mapping that we’ve already developed.

Portland – 1897
Portland – 1905
Portland – 1940
Portland – 1961

There are definitely more maps I wish existed – in different sizes – but as referenced on the site, the maps were created to highlight different features of land use – so it wasn’t fully consistent.  Per the website:

“In 1879, the USGS began to map the Nation’s topography. This mapping was done at different levels of detail, in order to support various land use and other purposes. As the years passed, the USGS produced new map versions of each area. The most current maps are available from The National Map. TopoView shows the many and varied older maps of each area, and so is useful for historical purposes—for example, the names of some natural and cultural features have changed over time, and the ‘old’ names can be found on these historical topographic maps.”

For more info – a short video walks through the usage of the TopoView features.  A resource worth more exploration for sure.

UGB – to grow or not?

A perpetual discussion in Portland revolves around the Urban Growth Boundary and the ability of the Metro region to remain compact while accommodating population growth.  Proponents of density say we have plenty of room to infill without expanding, while others say expansion is the only method for having adequate land for economic development.  Debate ensues.

A recent story on OPB, Report Shows Portland May Already Have Enough Room To Grow discusses a new report from Metro on growth management with and influx of approximately 400,000 residents, with 200,000 housing units and 10,000 acres for jobs.  This can happen within the existing boundary, or become the catalyst
A history of boundary expansions shows how the edges of the original UGB have been added to, most notably the addition of Damascus on the outer east side.  metro1

Commuter trends are another big issue – as regional transportation infrastructure is a key to accommodating growth – and also justify expenditures in transit and other transportation alternatives.  (plus these cool infographics  by Ryan Sullivan from Paste in Place make for a lot more interesting visualization than the typical charts and graphs and gis maps.)


The process is complex, and the report is a pretty good primer for anyone looking at how to manage growth, density, and the myriad factors involved in modern urban planning.  The relatively massive size of Portland’s Metro Area (compared to other areas) and low density makes infill and redevelopment a key component of meeting increasing demand.  While there is perhaps not tons of visible vacant lands ready to build, there is lots of potential density as seen in the potential for mixed use in the inner core.  This will, as it has recently, challenge longer time residents who continue to bristle at density (such as development on Division).  It also means that density needs to be done well, and that it also needs to be supported by viable transportation options.


There is also the need to rethink types of development – such as industrial lands – which has typically demanded large parcels (a constant complaint of those saying there is a lack of industrial land).  While some industries do require these larger parcels, there are new models for more decentralized, modular, and mixed use industry that can be woven into (rather than be zoned separate from) adjacent residential and commercial areas.

The need for livability and economic development means living close to work, and also living in communities with access to nature, places for active and passive recreation, and a number of amenities that make a place desirable.  While quality of life in some areas of the country suffer and prices skyrocket, is there possibilities to again, much like the innovative thinking that was the genesis of the urban growth boundary in the first place, for Portland to lead in how to do growth right?   Could density increase and, gasp!, the UGB actually shrink?

The report shows that a significant amount of growth can be accommodated within the existing footprint, so that’s a step in the right direction.

The Death of the Cemetery?

It was interesting to see the multi-author story a few weeks back in the NY Times on “Too Many Bodies, Too Little Space,” which focused on the combination of traditional burial techniques and population booms making for shortage of cemetery real estate.  The following views of Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn show that New Yorkers take density seriously in all facets.



The debate section included a number of interesting voices, such as Christopher Coutts, a professor of urban and regional planning from Florida State University discusses rapid urbanization and the environmental impacts of cemeteries, including some staggering facts:

The resources that go into the ground every year associated with a typical cemetery burial translate into: enough wood to frame over 2,300 single-family homes; sufficient steel to erect almost 15 Eiffel Towers; nearly four times as much concrete as was used to build the Pentagon; and a volume of embalming fluid that would overflow an Olympic swimming pool.

This is predicating changes to our burial options, particularly cremation, stacking plots,  but even a space shot, for you meat puppets out there.  Many folks make reference to the more natural burial techniques, such as Oliver Peacock from the UKs Woodland Burials, who posits that “Instead of Urban Sprawl, Create a Forest” where burials take place in natural areas, and the group “plants a tree at each grave, creating a woodland, a wildlife sanctuary and a nature reserve.”  Charles Morris from the Green Burial Council International. expands this, saying, “Green burial also carries economic and spiritual benefits.”


Our transition from the use of cemeteries as a part of daily life to one that is moved to the margins is something worthy of exploration, as the cemeteries in our cities sometimes save remnant open space and habitat patches, but more often than not are continually overcrowding enclaves with mown grass that offers solace to the loved ones of the dead, but little else to the rest of the world.

Marc Jahr, author of a book i may check out “Deadville” which is about cemeteries around the globe, offers an interesting counterpoint, one that connects us with our mortality and history, and one that would be absent (perhaps?) without the reminders of cemeteries in our daily lives.

We need cemeteries. We could use the land for more profitable pursuits, but cemeteries save us from the fading of memory and history. They urge us to think about the lives that have been lived, in all their richness and mystery, and the lives that we lead. The physical space, the tombstones and mausoleums and stele satisfies a deeper communal need to remember and honor the past and remind us that our life’s moment is provisional and transient.

Many, including myself, can’t imagine Portland, for instance, without the amazing ‘Lone Fir Cemetery‘, (below) an 1850s era pioneer burial ground that does exactly what Jahr mentions above.  Even better – unlike many privatized open spaces, it is open and accessible to the community members, which comes with the occasional idiot vandal but also connects us to our community in new (old) ways.


Scarcity is an interesting thing – and as urban dwellers are asked to chose between the plot in the city (either a new one or protecting the old), or perhaps more density, more parks, more usable spaces – maybe the current residents may be in for relocation? That isn’t to say that we won’t still have urban cemeteries, but the changes will mean more conversations like this – replete with bad titles like ‘Grave Concerns’ and the like.

One idea may just be to reconnect with the use of these areas as viable places to live our lives, not just places to be once we’re gone.  Read the entire range of voices and let me know what you think.


Got History?

Hawthorne & 50th (1936)
Aerial View of Portland (1936)

My fascination with history and place is no secret.  While i am intrigued with urban history in many forms, there’s always a desire for a connection with the place you inhabit.  Typically this fascination comes via maps, which have been well documented, but the timeline of the past 150 years plus of Portland is worth a bit of investment.   For folks on the go, there’s also an app that highlights historical site – prepared by the Architectural Heritage Center.  Also a new site, WhatWasThere, is a crowd-sourced version that allows folks to upload history photos of their places.

In addition, there are a number of other sources that augmented by a number of great resources that are provided by city and other historical society archives.  Each has some overlap but occupies a unique and often personal niche for the blogger and site owner – to scratch their particular history itch, and all make for some great information.

A veritable decoupage of historical imagery awaits at Portland History – a no-frills site that organizes images, postcards, and a few words – sorted into categories like streets, amusement parks,  A good shortcut is to go the site map, which gives some links to the categories – but just randomly moving around the site isn’t a bad idea either.

Council Crest, the Dreamland of Portland, Oregon

Lost Oregon is a great example of an engaging history tour, albeit typically focused on architecture and riddled with some really bad theme ideas like this one.  The site is simple and delves into some more details about some of the areas, buildings, and locations – which augments what is somewhat visually based on other sites.

A spinoff of Lost Oregon writer is PDX: Then/Now which juxtaposes historic and current photos of buildings and places.  Some show destruction or evolution, and some, such as the Union Bank Building in Downtown, are eerily similar over 40 years later.

Vintage Portland is another site ‘exploring portland’s past’, through “…photographs, postcards, illustrations, advertisements, etc. … It’s not a history lesson, it’s not an architectural critique. It’s a forum for displaying photos of the city’s past, to show how we lived, what we’ve lost (for good or bad) through progress and just to enjoy some wonderful camera work.”

I particularly appreciate the ‘mystery’ posts – which show a building, corner, streetscape – with a question to help find where the site is.  Sometimes it’s to fill in a missing link to an archival photo, but other times it becomes more of a game.  The context over time is fascinating evolution – and really highlights the impermanence/permanence of the urban realm.  This shot of MLK @ Ainsworth from the north – replace Texaco with Starbucks (old fuel/new fuel?) and Gilmore with Popeyes (old grease/new grease?).

Cafe Unknown is a new one for me, but author Dan Haneckow pulls you in with compelling history (more text than other sites) along with some good images.  A recent post on Mark Twain in Portland is a good read, and some of the trivial pursuits are great – like Will- vs. Wall- for our fair river (which subsequently ended up ‘Willamette’) are nuggets of pure gold.  Haneckow is a true historical writer – with the requisite head shots of historical figures quoted… along with some really solid writing and research.  These walking tour images were pretty interesting finds – along with the story of a missing sculpture found.  This stuff is priceless – and firmly about our place.

Check all of these resources out – It is true – you will be sucked in for a few hours/days/weeks – and might come out forever changed.   I feel like a landscape or at least urbanism oriented history site wouldn’t be a bad endeavor – if someone is inclined to collaborate – look me up.  But the caveat on these sites, and historical maps, photos, and primary materials – it’s addictive.  Don’t say i didn’t warn you.

Shrinking Cities: Sugrue Part I: Arsenal

Moving along with the Shrinking Cities readings, the first part of ‘Origins of the Urban Crisis’ by Segrue recounts the development of the City of Detroit around WWII as the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ which made it one of the highest paying blue-collar cities in the US.  In the words of Segrue, “Mid-twentieth-century Detroit embodied the melding of human labor and technology that together had made the United States the apotheosis of world capitalism.” (p.19)  This height of Fordist production makes the inevitable fall even more extreme.

::  ‘Criss Crossed Conveyors’ from the Ford River Rouge Plant – Charles Sheeler (1927) image via Art History Archive

As mentioned, the visitors of today’s Detroit marvel at the industrial ruins and disaster porn, but at the time, people flocked to the city to see the massive technologies and industrial might at work, and mostly “they stood rapt as the twentieth century’s premier consumer object, the automobile, rolled off the assembly lines by the dozens an hour.” (p.19)  It is hard to think of the spectacular model of modernity that Detroit once embodied, one that reshaped the city with a new form of ‘industrial geography’ which tied factories to suppliers and workers to homes with unprecedented efficiency.

:: Ford Assembly Line – image via Wikipedia

:: image via wunderground

The traces of grand boulevards from Woodward’s L’Enfant-inspired plan of 1807 remained – fanning out in a radial pattern of wide avenues from the city center, which added to the idea of speed and efficiency that has characterized Detroit, and the automobile industry for decades.   Much like Los Angeles being the embodiment of the auto-centric city, Detroit is the perfect model of Fordist urbanism at work – not just in the factories – driven by mass-production along with high union wages, and the accessibility of the blue-collar worker to live in a single-family house of their own – with a dearth of any sort of apartment of multi-family housing to accommodate lower-income or those not wealthy enough, or white enough, to buy houses.

:: image via urban places and spaces

The focus on single-family houses led to perpetual housing shortages – particularly when combined with a history of official and unofficial policies that prevented blacks from obtaining housing.  Unlike many of the eastern cities where the geography was a patchwork of ethnic enclaves, Detroit was much more literally black and white, as Segrue mentions, “class and race became more important that ethnicity as a guide to the city’s residential geography.” (p.22)  While it was understood as a “City of Homes” for most, the influx of black workers from the South, who came in the ‘Great Migration’, were met with a consistent range of discrimination and violence, as existing residents perceived in-migration as a threat to their community, starting in the 1920s and continuing all the way through the 1970s.  As mentioned in Segrue:

“White neighborhoods, especially enclaves of working-class homeowners, interpreted the influx of blacks as a threat and began to defend themselves against the newcomers, first by refusing to see to blacks, then by using force and threats of violence, and finally establishing restrictive covenants to assure the homogeneity of neighborhoods.”  (p.24)

There were some inroads to employment in good jobs around WWII, driven by a tightening labor market, the coalitions of unions and civil rights groups, and some federal policies, which made sure that “blacks made significant gains in Detroit’s industrial economy during the war.” (p.27)  There was still an undercurrent of racial tension, which played out in housing and employment, a continual topic that Segrue alludes to being a ‘structural’ racism that played out in Detroit, and were displayed in significant riots and other violence throughout the years, but that this didn’t stop the influx of blacks coming into the city, leaving the Jim Crow south for something better.  It’s debatable if Detroit was much better.

The Time Bomb

The availability and quality of housing was poor for blacks – driven by a number of social and policy factors.  While the New Deal had instilled a new ideology of opportunity for blacks – it had also instilled an ideology for current residents that the government would protect their property and the status quo.  Thus the competing ideals of opportunity and protection played out in Detroit, and although, as seen previously, some gains were made – the majority of the wins came in maintenance of the status quo and protection from the new waves of poor, black residents.

As seen in the map below, there were very specific segregated neighborhoods that were predominately populated by blacks – in particularly the original Paradise Valley and West Side Neighborhoods (which had been an areas for wealthy blacks that had deteriorated), along with the wealthier blacks in Conant Gardens and the more distant Eight Mile-Wyoming area, where they had land for gardens to grow food, which became for some pioneering blacks, “their one opportunity, as they saw it, to own their own homes and rear their families.” (p.39)

:: image via city-data

The geography of race was perpetuated by the real estate community as well, who were actively involved in the exclusion of blacks from housing.  Another aspect was construction, with new houses rarely being built for blacks or in a price range that was suitable.  As Segrue mentions, in “1951, on 1.15 percent of the new homes constructed in the metropolitan Detroit area were available to blacks.” (p.43).  Another major issue that shaped this geography in Detroit, and many other cities around the United States, was the concept of redlining.  Maps were produced by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, informed by local real estate brokers and lenders, to rate the neighborhoods in cities according to a scale from A (green) to D (red).  While ostensibly a methodology for determining investment risk, the process became a de facto method for exclusion, disenfranchisement, and continued disinvestment in the minority areas.

:: redlining Detroit – image via RG25

Black neighborhoods, even those with a small percentage of black residents, were given a rating of ‘D’, which was deemed hazardous and colored red (as seen in the unfortunately fuzzy map above, which shows significant portions of the downtown). I haven’t been able to track down maps from Detroit – although they do exist for a number of cities – and tell as pretty sad tale of federally aided racism. The ratings kept out new loans for new construction or home repairs, furthering a cycle of disinvestment, as outlined by Segrue:

“Residents in areas rate ‘C’ and ‘D’ were unlikely to qualify for mortgages and home loans.  Builders and developers, likewise, could expect little or no financial backing if they chose to building in such risky neighborhoods.” (p.44)

When you factor in restrictive covenants (the actual and implied), and the work of redlining along with real-estate industry maintenance of status quo, it equated to an impossible position for the largest growing population of residents in Detroit to get adequate housing, which further fueled tensions.  For a bit more context, here’s a video about the Race Riots from Detroit 2020 offers a concise history on the topic:

The final element of the oppression of poor minority residents in Detroit came, as it did in many areas, through the disguise of urban renewal, in particular the construction of highways through ‘slums’ that cleared out substandard housing without replacing it with enough to handle what was lost, much less house the large numbers of new residents.  From Segrue:  “The most obvious problem with slum clearance was that it forced the households with the least resources to move at a time when the city’s tight housing market could not accommodate them.” (p.50)

This was exacerbated with landlords charging more rent (up to 35% more) for blacks for less housing, which, coupled with the lower wages and job opportunities, forced many to live in great numbers, and not have anything left over for maintenance.  This further degraded already deteriorating stock, which further declined, and continued the narrative that some whites believed – that blacks would destroy neighborhoods. The cycle continued.  Unlike some areas that built robust (if often misguided) public housing, the next chapter showed that Detroit, city of ‘homes’ had some similar issues with density, and a new-found Nimbyism which led to a slow provision of subsidized housing, which may have aided in softening some of the myriad impacts of the 1950s and 1960s.

Public Housing

The promise of the New Deal, in post-WWII era, was predicated on government intervention to solve the problems of the city.  One of those things was to provide adequate housing for the poor, whether this be true building of community and opportunity, or the more commonly wielded tool of ‘social engineering’ to make better citizens.  Through a number of acts, the US developed policy and funding for many types of affordable housing, complementing the already robust subsidies of single family home construction and highway building.

The trend toward ‘modernist’ totalitarian schemes emerged from this process of social engineering, embodied by the work of a group of professionals called the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Council (CPHC), which took a mission of “improvement of the environmental conditions of Detroit’s slums through the elimination of crowded, dirty, and substandard housing, and the construction of sanitary, well-lit, and well-ventilated public housing in its place.” (p.61)  This type of rhetoric smacks of much of public housing projects of the era, which provides housing, as Segrue mentions, that has “ameliorative effects on living conditions and would modify the behavior and character of urban residents… Public housing would also uplift the ‘morale’ of urban dwellers,” which could happen through “social and individual improvement through orderly planning and urban redevelopment.” (p.62)

The problem in Detroit, was that nobody seemed to want public housing, as it was fought almost everywhere by both whites, unions, real estate agents, developers and even some established black residents.  The adjacency of even some black areas was problematic, and developers had to make deals with the FHA, such as the 1 foot thick, 6 foot high wall that separated the new development from the old – remnants of which still exist.  This sort of approach reinforced the FHA’s official policy, not of true equality, but as mentioned by Segrue, even with some of the more enlightened bureaucrats, “a separate but equal philosophy.” (p.67)

 :: Wall Separating Black from White – remnant – image via Detroit Fly

The official ideology of racial segregation couched in urban renewal also bled into the policies of the City Plan Commission (CPC), which continued the rhetoric of “an emerging program to create a totally planned metropolis, combining public housing with strictly regulated private development…”  and the group began using zoning to start “composing a master plan to guide city and regional growth… for the ‘reconstruction of Detroit’s ‘blighted’ neighborhoods’…” (p.68)  The use of condemnation and slum removal, and strategic placement of black neighborhoods aimed to ‘clean up’ areas and protect others from deterioration, but more often than not led to housing shortages for those most in need.

The contention over public housing locations was intense, with everyone agreeing that there was a chronic shortage, but no area wanting to be the location for housing to be built.  It is understandable, as the inclusion of black neighborhoods, even those Federally-funded, would place these areas in danger of redlining, meaning that value for those living nearby would degrade, and their access to money for improvements and new construction would be significantly decreased. Many planned projects, such as the Sojourner-Truth housing project in Northeast Detroit, which was a planned 200 unit development opposed by whites as well as existing, establish blacks.  The overt racism was sometimes couched in a patriotic fervor, “couched in the language of Americanism,” as seen in the flags atop the blatant message below but also came with a hint of threatened violence, all with an aim, in the words of existing homeowners, to “preserve the racial and architectural homogeneity of their neighborhood.” (p.78)

::  We Want Whites –  image via Detroit 20/20

:: Sojourner Truth Housing – image via Feministe 

The Federal government flip-flopped multiple times on location and type of housing – at one point within a two week period switching from black to white, and back to black.  The New Deal dichotomy of rights vs. existing protection was at play in many of these conversations as well, as mentioned by Segrue, while:  “Acknowledging the ‘moral and legal right’ of blacks to adequate housing...” existing residents countered that they “had established a prior right to a neighborhood which we have built up through the years – a neighborhood which is entirely white and which we want kept white.” (p.80)  The government, with pressure from residents, unions, and other groups, implied redlining from real-estate agents, and continued white flight to the suburbs, often acquiesced to these demands, further creating a tension of high rent and little opportunity that continued to flare up in violence.

The venue of public housing debate became a political touchstone as well – with mayoral elections being decided not by the traditional means of party affiliation and union membership, but by black and white, specifically a candidates views of public housing.  This conflict, as Segrue mentions, of “politics of home” versus the “politics of the workplace” was another interesting institutional element that made Detroit a large city with very little public housing compared to many other US cities.

As we shall see in subsequent chapters, the racial and social strife had already taken a toll on Detroit, even before deindustrialization, and that loss of industrial might that made the city the Arsenal of Democracy, will continue to play out in racial division, housing, and employment.

Shrinking Cities – Readings

A class this term at Portland State involves a reading and conference on ‘Shrinking Cities’. Led by professor Ellen Bassett, a group of a dozen students from PhD and Masters in Urban Studies and Urban and Regional Planning reading and discussing four diverse texts, along with a range of other writings on the subject. 

  :: Detroit Race Riots – 1967 –  image via Brittanica

Our first book is “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit” by Thomas Segrue.  Originally published in 1996, this book has won a number of awards for history, and continues to provide an overview of the connections between racial and economic inequality as played out in the post-WWII urban landscape of Detroit.

Other books include Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City by Colin Gordon, Camden After the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City by Howard Gillette, Jr. and Small, Gritty and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World by Catherine Tumber.

This is By no means a comprehensive overview of the subject, but the aim of the group is to discuss the social, economic, political, and spatial phenomena at work in a number of US Shrinking Cities, to better understand this issue.  Stay tuned for some thoughts over coming weeks, and if you have suggested readings to include, that would be very welcome.

Siftings 01.06.12

Another round of Siftings from the past couple of days.  Starting off with a couple of Occupy-related posts, including a great article from Saskia Sassen and Hans Haacke from Artforum entitled ‘Imminent Domain‘.  The first sentence – “OCCUPYING IS NOT THE SAME as demonstrating…” points out a recent and annoying trend of calling any sort of protest an occupation.  It diminishes the act of occupying to do so.  Worth reading, but a snippet I will include:

“To occupy is to remake, even if temporarily, territory’s embedded and often deeply undemocratic logics of power, and to redefine the role of citizens, mostly weakened and fatigued after decades of growing inequality and injustice. Indeed, the occupations have revealed to what extent the reality of territory goes beyond its dominant meaning throughout the twentieth century, when the term was flattened to denote national sovereign territory.”

The National discusses a competition for Egypt’s Tahrir Square, particularly to provide a monument that is a “memorial competition to commemorate the actions of the revolution.”  Particularly, the article mentions, is to remember the estimated 846 people who died in the protests (yes, that was a real occupation).  It points out also, that while in the US, we can claim public space, and also claim a measure of shared atrocity with the liberal use of baton and pepper spray to disperse crowds, we’re still along way from bullets and grenades as a typical strategy, as is found in many parts of the world. 

On a different note, Richard Florida, if anyone is still listening to him, has an article in the Atlantic on ‘How the Crash Will Reshape America’ which is worth a read, along with an interesting exploration on ‘The Case for Congestion‘ – which argues for some slow-ness, but perhaps not to the degree of the scenarios that imagined a “City Without Its Public Transportation” and what that would mean for automobile gridlock. 

An article from the NY Times ‘Taking Parking Lots Seriously, as Public Spaces‘ includes some study from Eran Ben-Joseph, including some startling stats, such as that there are: “…500 million parking spaces in the country, occupying some 3,590 square miles, or an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.” 

The article and slideshow (thanks NY Times for not allowing pic downloads!!!) – also yielded a gem from Lewis Mumford, which has definitely made the rounds on Twitter and Facebook:

““As the critic Lewis Mumford wrote half a century ago, ‘The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is the right to destroy the city.’”

 And finally, from ‘Growing Your Greens’, an interesting Incredible Edible Public Garden in Irvine, California (with apologies for the host yelling all the time)… The title is a bit misleading, as it would be quite a feat to feed 200k of people with 7.5 acres.  Enjoy.

THINK.urban: Introducing Megapolitanism

A recent article from John King at the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned the concept of using the Megalopolitan scale for planning purposes. The article references the new book by Arthur C. Nelson and Robert E. Lang entitled ‘Megapolitan America: A New Vision for Understanding America’s Metropolitan Geography‘ (APA, 2011).

As an example, King mentions the Sierra Pacific Megapolitan Area, seen below as a large geographical area that extends from the San Francisco Bay area all the way into Western Nevada, around Reno. The region includes 27 counties and includes over 12.4 million people, and its expected to grow substantially in the next 30 years.


As mentioned in the article, the significance of the concept of megapolitan areas is to look more broadly at a larger scale, King, quoting Nelson, mentions that “regions can be more proactive in everything from transportation planning to economic strategies… to have people look at things a little differently, the whole rather than the parts.” While explicitly not a model for mega-regional government, there are some possibilities of what this might mean for regions by looking at larger areas. As mentioned by King, “It’s too early to say whether the concept of megapolitan areas will catch on as a framework for government policy, much less in terms of how regular people define where they live.” The significant of megapolitan areas, thus is undetermined.

The overall ambiguity of the defining characteristics of a ‘city’ has led to a lot of questions related to city centers, sprawl, and other hybrid urban agglomerations like edge cities, exurbs, and the shift from urban area to metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). This leads to a lot of diversity in definition (outlined in the SF Gate article) – including the largest megapolitan area (NY-Phil 33.9 million people) to the smallest, fastest growing (Las Vegas 2.4 million). While Vegas booms, the Steel Corridor of wester PA is creeping along slowly. In terms of diversity, not surprisingly, the Southern California region has the largest percentage of minorities (62.7%) and the Twin-Cities are the least diverse with 15.5% of minorities. The terms megaregion, megalopolis, megapolitan area, while similar in nature, are somewhat different historically, spatially, and statistically, so it is worth a look at some of the designations. A map of megaregions shows the eleven areas in the United States as determined by the Regional Plan Association.


This differs somewhat from a more recent version of Megapolitan areas from a recent essay by Lang and Nelson on Places from Design Observer) They identify 10 megapolitan clusters that exist in 23 megapolitan areas that are similar but slightly different from those above.


The different terms, definitions, and geographical extents makes the concepts a bit difficult to parse, but in general terms, the areas are defined by a population of more than 10 million people that exist within a ‘clustered network of cities’ typically delineated through transportation corridors. The new interpretation of Megapolitan area builds on earlier concepts to describe a more general ‘transmetropolitan geography’ which is typically thought of more commonly in larger, global areas such as China, Japan, Brazil – which include megaregions of 120 million (Hong Kong, Shenzen-Guangzhou), 60 million (Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe) and 43 million (Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo). While the concepts are similar, the scale of these new global areas are immense in comparison to the US.

Interestingly enough, the term has been used since the 1820s, and the conceptual usage of the concept of Megalopolis as a grouping of urban areas within a region dates back almost 100 years. This includes references by Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West (1918) and Lewis Mumford in The Culture of Cities (1938). The most popularized recent usage was from 1950s and 60s, in the book on the Northeast United States by Jean Gottmann entitled ‘Megalopolis’ (1961).


More on this in subsequent posts, specifically additional information on Lang and Nelson’s longer essay in Places, and a closer look at the book. Stay tuned.

[Originally Posted:  12/02/11 from THINK.urban – by Jason King]