City Structure

This week in class we discussed urban ecology, how everything in a city is interconnected.   We also talked about the physical structures of cities. In “A Brief History of Urban Form,” Crawford writes about city grids and how they changed over time. City grids can be influenced by social-economic situations such as the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. For examples, such city structure design from the Medieval time period could not handle the traffic of automobiles during the Industrial Revolution.

City structures varies as it adapts to what seems the most functional. In this powerpoint from the University of Milwaukee, Powerpoint Lecture, discusses early colonial period city structures.

In this picture, it shows the early structure of colonial Boston. It does not seem very grid-like as one would think of like it is today. That is because the city structure if unplanned and develops over time meeting functional needs of the community.

In this map of early colonial Philadelphia however, the city structure is planned. It is under “Speculator’s Model,” influenced by London’s west end with the city square in the center.

In “A Bursa-Focused Investigation of the Effects of Socio-Cultural Changed and Transformation on Physical Structures of Cities in Terms of Globalization Process According to the Production and Consumption Relationships,” the author writes about how globalization and socio-cultural changes influenced city structures using the city of Bursa as an example. Bursa lied on the important silk road and was one of the first cities to have globalization activities applied. “The city of Bursa displays a spatial structure of a religious-economic center with residential areas, streets and suburbs located around it as well as a formation of an area where with culture and administration buildings…formed by Khans, bazaar where antiques and valuables are sold.” Such areas of high business and political activity in a city equaled high traffic in this particular part of the city. Therefore, wide roads with the combination of modern structures were built such as, city hall, government halls, theatre, schools, post office, schools, hospitals, banks, shops, etc. The 19th century city planners realized with high traffic volumes meant more people will live in and around this particular region and built buildings necessary to the people living there.

The economic boost from the silk trade gave birth to the modern city. Meanwhile, globalization, the exchange of not only tangible goods, but also ideas, help give birth to this city. Western influences in the new economic relationships brought forth cultural structures like theaters and other entertainment places.

City structures are affected by social, economic, political, and cultural changes. It adapts to the needs of the people and to the ever-changing times. Cities will continue to change as it is shaped by the intentions of society.


Urban Spatial Poverty Traps

In class we discussed economic inequality and it’s causes and effects in urban areas. Financial inequality is a complicated topic that has ties to social, geographic, and economic issues. One way to measure this inequality is the Gini Coefficient of Inquality. The Gini coefficient is measured as the area between the lorenz curve, which shows the income distribution, and the line of equality. A gini coefficient of 0 represents complete equality and 1 represents complete inequality.

A Gini Coefficient is useful to measure economic inequality as it exists but to understand the issue, it’s causes and effects must be investigated. This paper discusses how poverty traps develop in urban environments and how they affect the people who live in them. The paper looks at the problem through social, economic, and geographical lenses to better understand the issue. Commonalities among these areas include lack of access to services, infrastructure, and jobs which leads to the overall degradation of the area. These places are often high density and overcrowded which only adds to competition for work and resources. The situation leads to a culture of low education levels, high unemployment, and high crime rates in the area. People born into these “poverty traps” are unlikely to be able to escape and move to an area with better opportunities. This portion of the population that’s basically being abandoned only adds to the economic inequality of the country and is a waste of social capital that can’t be utilized. Overall, with growing economic inequality, more work needs to be done to understand it’s causes and effects. People born into poverty traps have little hope of getting out of poverty without assistance.


State of the World’s Cities

A large portion of this week’s discussion in class was focused around the idea and implications of urbanization, its effects and the large transition the world is currently undergoing from a rural to urban population. The relationship between the ever increasing global population and the rate at which the urban centers on the globe are spreading is a delicate one, dependent on several key factors such as technology, environment and economy.

According to the US Census in 2000 (which can be found here), 79% of the population resides in what is classified as an “Urban Area”, which according to the report is all areas with a population greater than 50,000. The relationship between this figure and the increasing population should be noted here as there are several links between the percentage of the population that is “urbanized” and the global population. As population has increased the number of people in any given rural town has also increased, and looking at the population growth curve according this website a clear link can be drawn between the exponential population growth rate and the high percentage of the US population that lives in urbanized areas. It is notable though to consider the growing population with the consideration for the percentage of that population residing in developing countries– where urban centers are likely few or relatively small. Regardless though, it is hard to refuse the simple fact that if the global population rising at the same rate, the rate of urbanization will likely reach a relative equivalent.

Another interesting factor to consider regarding urbanization technology’s role in allowing, and restricting the possibility of urban development around the globe. In developed countries is seems like technology has been, for the most part, an enabling factor that has led to the progression of positive urban development. Planners are able to better predict the future, architects can design more sustainably and engineers are able to solve issues with fewer limitations. In contrast to this ideal scenario in which technology is a driving force in urbanization, it could be the case that in developing countries the rapid introduction of technology has only increased social stratification and bolded the urban divide. According to a study conducted by Claudia Buchmann and Emily Hannum regarding social stratification in developing countries (found here), they have examined education as a key component to the increase in stratification. It is hard to deny that technology and education share a linear, or maybe exponential relationship. According to the study a combination of national factors, communal factors and family factors shape the potential of one’s education in a developing country and in turn determines the economic outcome of the individual. Conclusively, it is important to note the correlation between technology and social stratification as the two seem to have direct impact on the success of urban development, especially in developing countries.

Solutions to urbanization certainly do have plenty of variety, some of which take stances that would require a massive shift in mindset, especially that of Hank Dittmar, a transport expert and head of the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment. Dittmar calls for “typological” cities instead of unique urban centers with character in a report published by the BBC. He argues that by introducing a level of generic quality to each city, development will be handled more efficiently and the manner in which the world develops will be uniform, sensible and predictable. Of course, this does come at the cost of the unique identity each city currently craves in order to attract more wealth to it– an idea engraved in Western culture that city life is supposedly an “exotic” experience. Though Dittmar’s solution might be culturally costly he does pose an interesting alternative, one that certainly has some validity but does conflict with the irrational human desire for character in the “living” entity known as a city.

–Forrest Bibeau

Sources Used:

Urban Tomography and Security

Tomography is the act of creating an image through cross sectional image, waves, sensors, video, etc. Urban Tomography is the same action except throughout an urban area. There are many ways on accomplishing this, like some of the methods that I have just mentioned. I feel that this form of imaging can be very useful in surveillance and security uses. Due the huge amount of structures and people an urban area has, urban tomography can be very useful in providing security to the city.

Surveillance cameras can be considered to be a form of urban tomography as cities such as New York are starting to provide street level surveillance cameras. However, these can be very limited since the cameras are bounded to the place it has been set up.

About forty-percent of Americans currently smartphones that support 3G, Wi-fi and GPS location. What if the information from all these almost hand-held computers put together and create one image in real time and place that can be analyzed from one single location. It sounds unreal and almost science fiction but research has already begun. At the University of Southern California, a project aimed and appropriately named the Application Development of “Urban Tomography” for Transportation Security at a major Los Angeles Transportation Hub (LATH). The purpose of this research project is to provide the proper technology so that law-enforncement can use it as a tool. The pilot location is the Los Angeles Transportation Hub. Some of the obstacles is providing a program for smartphones in a wide array of operating systems, from Apple to Android. Another obstacle the research crew have to overcome is to find a way the program doesn’t drain all the batteries of the smartphone currently in use since GPS function, audio and video capabilities in smartphones draw a lot of energy. Also, they must find a way so that all the phones have enough signal to send the information. After all the information has been collected, how can it all be made into one single image so it can be analyzed? This kind of technology is still in its very early stages but it is definitely plausible.

On the FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) website, they have already have a program ready to use made possible by the manufacturer, “Urban Tomography.” In the description, it states that it currently supports only Nokia N95-1 and N95-3 but will soon support Android and Window smartphone platforms but no word on Apple IOS. It describes the program to allow the user’s phones to make high quality videos and automatically upload to a server tagged with the time and GPS coordinates the video was taken. This server is a command center that a single location can analyze all the information being collected.

Professor Krieger and his research team has provided a powerpoint in explaining in detail of how his Urban Tomography project. It explains that the program can be ubiquitous among smartphones and the program used is a “set and “forget” meaning that once the program is active no other necessary action is required other than making sure the phone is on. It states the huge amount of videos (5,000+) and geotags from the pilot program. Urban tomography costs much less than surveillance cameras and has more advantages such as the information collected can be customizable and the video collected is by people at the situation point. This can lead to better situation awareness and better decisions can be made.

Urban Tomography is still in its infancy but this technology has much potential. It can possibly prevent a major disaster in a populous area and save lives.



By William Kwan

Cities in Cinema

In class last week we discussed how films can affect peoples impressions of urban environments. Films can be especially influential when they depict a city the viewer has never visited by providing them with their first impression of the place. For a person from a rural area urban depictions in film can make them glad they live in a quieter and safer area, or make them desire the excitement and unpredictability of urban life. People living in urban areas may share experiences with the urban lifestyle shown in films or disagree with it. Either way when a film is set in an urban environment, it’s leaving the viewer with an impression of that city. This got me thinking about movies I’ve seen that showed urban life in a particular city.

Some examples I came up with showed life in the past such as the depiction of New York in the 1860’s in Gangs of New York.  The city is still relatively undeveloped and uncontrolled but modern New York is taking form. Other movies like Gladiator and Troy showed urban life in ancient times. Movies like Taxi Driver and the Godfather series give you a look into New York throughout the 1900’s. This Link leads to the first of a series that depicts how New York was depicted in the 1970’s compared to how the city is today.  Sherlock Holmes depicts life in London in the 1800’s. All of these films leave the viewer with a look into how urban life has changed and remained the same throughout various time periods.

Many recent films have also dealt with urban life in the present. One of the better examples I thought of is Crash. Crash shows life in Los Angeles from many points of view that gives the viewer a full spectrum of different experiences living in the city. This Link leads to a discussion on whether Crash gives a true depiction of life in Los Angeles and how residents felt about it’s depiction of race relations in the city. Movies like Training Day and the Friday series also depict life in Los Angeles and may make people think LA is a dangerous place. Wall Street shows the more upper class urban lifestyle but still may make city life seem intimidating. The Town is another example of present day urban life with it’s depiction of life in Boston. Overall, many movies set in cities show the darker side because it’s more interesting but they don’t show the whole story of urban life.

Films can also depict what possibilities lay ahead in movies that depict city life in the future. Some movies depict a dark future where cities are destroyed, war torn, or abandoned. Examples of this include Escape from New York, Children of Men, Mad Max, and I Am Legend. Other movies show an advanced future where technology has completely changed urban life. I Robot, Demolition Man, Minority Report, Blade Runner and A.I. all show how technological advancements could change city life. This Link discusses how Children of Men and Blade Runner depict urban life in the future.There is no question that city life will continue to evolve. As technology improves, it will be further integrated into the urban landscape which could result in cities like those depicted in Sci-Fi Films.

Overall I never really considered how films can leave an impression of the places depicted in them, especially places I had never been. My experiences with places like LA, Chicago, London, and many other cities are limited to what I’ve seen in movies which means my impression of these places is probably skewed. It’s important to remember that when watching a movie that’s depicting an urban environment that it’s not showing the whole story of the city and how urban life really is for everyone.


Week 1 — Brief History of Cities

As part of the discussion in class on the development of early cities, the issue of class and social hierarchy was addressed and although in modern society it is thought that these lines between classes have been more or less blurred, there are still some vague remnants. The linked article examines American society and the remaining characteristics of what was thought to be an almost extinct idea; social hierarchy.

With the advances in technology that have shaped modern society as we see it today, the availability of goods, education and an opportunity to further oneself is so widespread it makes distinguishing Americans of different class somewhat difficult, or at least this is what most would like to believe. Though there are still the rich and the poor in society, supposedly what matters and makes American society unique is the belief that one has the freedom to move up or down in the social hierarchy– an idea that defeats the validity of class barriers. In contrast with this idealistic take , the article argues that mobility up and down the American hierarchal ladder has slowed or possibly even declined in recent years. One’s success in his or her education is closely linked to their respective position in the hierarchy, and those fortunate enough to be at the top gain momentum up the ladder as they gain access to better healthcare and lifestyles, thereby widening the gap between the rich and the poor even more. Though from a moral standpoint it is disheartening to see a bolding of the lines between different classes in society, it does bring for the question of how essential a social hierarchy is to the development of urban centers and what may come of the possible development in the future.