Saturday, December 6, 2008

research_the human mosaic

During this process of researching precedents of water and architecture, and flooding conditions, I began to ponder an obvious question. Why are so many cities founded on water? I looked to a geography book, The Human Mosaic by Jordan, for the answers. In the book, Jordan states:

"The tendency to live on or near the seacoast exists, for a variety of reasons. The continents of Eurasia, Australia and South America resemble hollow shells, with the majority of the population clustered around the rim of each continent. In Australia, half the total population lives in just five port cities, and most of the remainder is spread out over nearby coasts. This preference for living by the sea stems partly from the trade and fishing opportunities the sea offers. At the same time, continental interiors tend to be regions of climatic extremes. For example, Australians speak of the "dead heart" of their continent, an interior land of excessive dryness and heat. People also seek places where fresh water is available. In desert regions, population clusters reflect the locations of scattered oases and occasional rivers, such as the Nile, that rise from outside the desert."

Talking to Robert Lemon, a graduate student at UC Berkeley currently in the landscape program who studied geography for his previous degree, he explicitly stated that there are four basic reasons:
1. Natural resource (drinking)
2. Protection (Rivers fortification)
3. Production (Rivers: Mills to power generation)
4. Trade (Rivers and Bays as transit points)

The diagrams above are also found from the book The Human Mosaic. They show different water cities that are either serve defensive or trade-route purposes.

On page 331 of the book, it states:
"Imagine the 2 million years that humankind has spent on the Earth as a 24-hour day. In this framework, settlements of more than a hundred people came about only in the last half-hour. Towns and cities emerged only a few minutes ago, and large-scale urbanization began less than 60 seconds ago. Yet it is during these "minutes" that we see the rise of civilization."
In this description, cities seem young, suggesting to me that the conventions with which we urbanize can be reconsidered.

How can I take the knowledge of why cities settle where they do and deploy it for change? How many of those four factors are still relevant? They all still seem valid. Can I use them as way to generate a new solution? It may just be valuable to be aware of these conditions.

(thanks, Robert!)

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