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Thread: Urban Geographic Theory

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    Senior Member Freydis's Avatar
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    Urban Geographic Theory

    This thread will attempt to teach the members of The Althing about urban geography and theories within it as well as to contextualise it into a Germanic framework.

    This first post will serve as an introduction to what exactly defines a city as well as hopefully interesting people in learning about my chosen discipline.

    Also a note, if you want to repost/reproduce or otherwise my work here, please ask me for permission beforehand, even if you think it’s something insignificant, basically credit is owed where credit is due. All text in this article is my own work derived from a list of sources that will be at the end of the post in a list of “Sources Consulted” (except in the case of there being none). Images will also be included in this list unless created or taken by me.

    What is a City?

    It is difficult to define these terms simply. Dictionary definitions obviously are not sufficient, and national governments demographically define them differently. Perhaps then, it is necessary to make a list of characteristics of the city rather than attempt to write a straightforward definition.

    A city is (defined by):

    • Density

    Shinjuku intersection, Tokyo, Japan (freydis)

    o An important factor as to what defines a city.
    o Cities are often considered as crowded or overcrowded, resulting in slum clearance and urban renewal initiatives.

    • (im)Migration/Diversity/Difference/Population


    Chinatown in Toronto, considered to be one of the largest enclaves of ethnic Chinese outside of Asia. (freydis)

    o Cities are often considered as diverse as well as centres or refuges for alternate culture or maligned groups
    o Most migrants go to cities because of their role as economic centres
    o Cities often have a variety of populations (varying primarily in socio-economics and ethnicity) living in close quarters, sometimes in ghettos, enclaves, or citadels.

    • (urban) Form and functions


    Water fountain in Venice, Italy (freydis)




    o The design and aesthetic of the city is how we know it externally, mostly through buildings, and usually they have more modern architecture than the surrounding areas.
    i.e. skyscrapers
    o The city as an environment

    • Social ecology


    Intersection of Toronto (very late/early) during Nuit Blanche 2007. (freydis)

    o City life and its people, this keys into diversity as well as social conflicts over space.
    o Sense of place
    o Social conflicts over land use issues, mixed use versus single use neighbourhoods, spatial segregation and social differences -->how does space create social difference and identity?
    o The city as a social institution


    Questions to consider and discuss

    1. How do you think the residents of this city primarily get around? What impression does it leave on you? What demographics are in this area?


    Hamilton at the intersection of Dundurn St. S and Main St. (freydis)

    2. How do these photos of these two cities easily give away their (at least general) locations? Where are they?


    City 1 (freydis)


    City 2 (freydis)

    3. Do you think a single piece of urban form or architecture can tell the story of a nation? For example, the former Reich Air Ministry is now the Financial Ministry:

    Berlin (freydis)
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    Senior Member Loddfafner's Avatar
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    City 1 looks like Berlin based on the monuments in the distance (is that the Alexanderplatz big-brother-is-watching-you tower and the Berin cathedral?) and the jumbled combination of pre- and post-war architecture. The windows alone place the city in Europe. City 2 looks French to me based on the corner-stones in the medieval tower and the red roof-tiles.

    I take back my guess for city #2 after examining the churches more carefully. They are definitely not French. They could be from just about anywhere in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Laibach, maybe?

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    Senior Member Freydis's Avatar
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    Don't be shy everyone, answer my questions. I'll reveal the answer to the questions that have been discussed (or my answer given an opinion question) tomorrow.
    People turn to poison as quick as lager turns to piss

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    Senior Member Loddfafner's Avatar
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    The question of how a single site can reflect a varied history of the country it is in fascinates me. My favorite example is the fortress in Theriesenstadt/Terezin in northern Bohemia. It was originally a Hapsburg fortification (and early Enlightenment planned community) directed against Prussia. Later it became a prison for political prisoners (Princip's shackles are on display next to a plaque from Yugoslavia). It is best known for its use by the NSDAP. It is less well-known as a camp for executing Germans in the postwar period, and then the Communists took it over for the same purposes. Only in recent years has its function been changed - to that of a tourist attraction.

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    Senior Member Freydis's Avatar
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    Well here are the answers for all (one) of you who decided to discuss this matter.

    2. City 1 is London and definitely not Berlin. (Unforunately I do not have a similar photo of Berlin for comparison, only groundlevel images). Here is what you should have looked for:



    Pay attention to distinctive landmarks in the photograph, as well as the smaller architectures. The visibility is around 8km and taken in the "City of London" towards Camden (BT Tower and "Centre Point").

    However, you were correct in guessing City 2 (the second guess). It is the city of Ljubjana in Slovenia. Good hints were the mountains in the background, the castle it was taken from, the style of housing/building (socialist housing buildings as well as more traditional style), and the style of church.

    3. Your answer is good and interesting. Here is something I wrote for some bonus marks for a class:

    Mohrenstraße is a station on the U2 line of the Berlin U-Bahn. The station was first named Wilhelmplatz prior to 1950, when the East German administration changed its name, as well as the square by it of the same name, to Thälmannplatz. It was named on August 18th, 1950, after a founding member of the German Communist Party. Ernst Thälmann was executed exactly six years prior in 1944 by the national socialists. During the time of the Berlin Wall, it was the last station on the East German part of the U2. The station has a very distinct look, with its red marble cladding. This marble came from the “New Reich Chancellory”, which was a symbol of national socialist rule. The New Reich Chancellory was panelled with expensive marble, and after the war, the Soviets used it on Thälmannplatz station, the Soviet Memorial in Treptower park. As well, some of the marble was sent to Moscow to be used on metro stations there. When Thälmannplatz was built over with a new road, called Otto-Grotewohl-Straße, the station was renamed after the road. Otto Grotewohl was the first Prime Minister of the Council of Ministers of East Germany (German Democratic Republic). After German reunification in 1991, the station was renamed to Mohrenstraße, and was reconnected with the rest of the line U2 in 1993.

    Through its evolution, this station has reflected the history of modern Berlin and Germany: from the imperial era in the early 20th century; through the Weimar Republic; through National Socialism and its collapse; and the division and eventual reunification of Germany.

    References
    Donath, Matthias. Architecture in Berlin 1933-1945. 1st (English). Berlin: Lukas Verlag für Kunst- und Geitesgeschichte, 2006.

    "Ernst Thalmann." Spartacus Educational. Spartacus Educational. 23 Oct 2007 <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERthalmann.htm>.

    "History." Berlin U-Bahn. 2005. Spiritus-Temporis.com . 23 Oct 2007 <http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/berlin-u-bahn/history.html>.

    "U-Bahnhof Mohrenstrasse." Chezmoistrasse. 12 Oct 2007. Chezmoistrasse. 23 Oct 2007 <http://chezmoistrasse.wordpress.com/2007/10/12/u-bahnhof-mohrenstrasse/>.

    Ward, Simon. "'Station to Station': Circulation in the 'New' Berlin." 2003. University of Aberdeen. 23 Oct 2007 <http://www.gfl-journal.de/1-2003/ward.html>.
    People turn to poison as quick as lager turns to piss

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    Senior Member Loddfafner's Avatar
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    I will have to go back to Europe for a refresher. I have not been to London in well over a decade. I visited Ljubljana/Laibach more recently and had low expectations: the guidebooks promised very little, and I saw it only as a place to stop between Croatia and Austria. I was pleasantly surprised, and felt like I was back in civiilization. But as I absent-mindedly brought the pages for Slovakia instead of Slovenia - not having seriously planned on visiting it - I had to figure everything out - currency, hotels, food - from scratch.

    Yes, the way the castle overlooks the river, and the mix of baroque and early XX structures, with socialist monstrosities close by, give it away.

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    Senior Member Loddfafner's Avatar
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    Freydis (or anyone?), what is your take on the approaches to city planning one finds in the work of Jane Jacobs or Richard Florida as opposed to, say, Mumford or le Corbusier?
    The sitters in the hall seldom know
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    -- The Havamal, #133 (trans. Auden and Taylor)

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    Senior Member Freydis's Avatar
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    Jacobs: I like her support of neighbourhood over expressway. Obviously she's written one of the most influential books (The Life and Death of Great American Cities) in theory/planning and it has been read by nearly every urban geographer (and others) to this day. I like her advocacy of density (an important element in a city) and mixed-use neighbourhoods. The mixed use neighbourhood, I think, reduces the need of an expressway as everything that is needed by the inhabitants is usually already there. (i.e. Duany and Plater-Zyberk's "5 minute walk", from Suburban Nation). To be honest I didn't find her work on cities as engines of the economy to be as interesting, but that's probably because I don't really enjoy economics as much ^^. However, sometimes Jacobs is not really grounded in the realities of city planning in her suggestions (i.e. "good practises" cannot be done all the time due to different interests).

    Florida: Mixed feelings on him. I shouldn't say anything bad because he's a prof at my university and I could have him in the future? ._. Anyways, I like his idea of the "creative class" and its influence on urban regeneration (i.e. reverse filtering). I don't really think you can compare him to Jacobs, per se, because she's more of an "activist", he has the idea of creative classes/high bohemians' locations correlating to areas of higher economic growth and that cities should try to keep such classes in the city. It may not necessarily correlate to reality because these bohemians usually are forced to move on by rising rent prices due to "filtering up" of housing to the higher economic classes until the neighbourhood is gentrified completely.

    Mumford: Well he wasn't an urban theorist per se as he was a historian but in his "The City in History" he puts forth very interesting ideas. He talked more about what one could call the "social ecology" of the city. He stated that planners should try to emphasise the organic relationship between people and their living spaces, rather than thinking of them as separate, things which didn't display any interdependence. The ideal city for Mumford was the medieval city rather than the Roman city. Mumford feared that the way that modern cities were going would foster metropolitanisation, alienation, and a number of things because they were not conduisive enough to local community culture.

    Le Corbusier: An urban designer and architect really... his Radiant City was interesting enough, but I don't think it would have worked due to the cheapness of builders...



    One of the only ones to be built with generous proportions and parkland surrounding it. Heavily criticised by Mumford due to his excess. However, many of his theories were adopted into public housing projects which one can see today. The city plan of Brasilia was heavily influenced by him.

    Comparisons: In general, mostly the same, though Le Corbusier sticks out like a sore thumb due to his ideal urban designs being tall, excessive skyscrapers set apart by vast parklands (notably many of Le Corbusier-influenced designs have been called pedestrian unfriendly). Jacobs is more of a community activist than the rest, having been blocking or attempting to block planning projects that are seen to be neighbourhood-unfriendly. This focus on neighbourhood is shared closely by Mumford, though Mumford was more of a pessimist. Florida mostly, at least to me, modified the theory of succession (put forth in Burgess' "What is a City?" (1925)). Really if you want to compare all of them, Mumford, Florida and Jacobs' ideas all fit together rather well and Le Corbusier's don't really, except for his anticipation of the auto-dominance of today, and even then, Jacobs prefers public transit over cars (see her opposition to municipal expressways). ._. I could go on forever. Sorry! I hope it helps. >< Some of them I haven't read for quite a bit of time so if it's a bit vague, I apologise.
    People turn to poison as quick as lager turns to piss

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