Feeling safe in public space is somehow related to the perception of not being alone and to the fact that what happens is seen (or can be seen) by those living on or using the street. This has been enunciated by Jane Jacobs and re-used often as “eyes on the street”, with some consequences for retail:
Those (shop) eyes are there just during opening hours; they include those of shopkeepers as well as those of those browsing the showcases or the ones buying. The two latest categories will only flock if the space is perceived as safe, so here we have a vicious/virtuous circle…
When shops are closed, the only eyes on the street are those of homes (if they exist). If showcases are well lit at night, you can however get a better safety feeling, something that shopkeepers are fully aware of as this increases the perception of the street as secure day-long.
The design of showcases influences the number of eyes on the street; the open ones work better.
… or from the shop on the other side… (this is main street Segovia, Spain)
Chances are that what I’m going to disclose is already known by some of the makers of the electronic contraptions I carry ; so here is a map of the routes I use often (blue numbers are distances in meters).
I live in A, work in B and once a week I eat at C. some weeks I go to cinema at D. 1 and 2 are pedestrian daily routes, which are alternative depending on the day (and the hour); the distance between A and B is so reduced that the presence of an expressway in the middle makes these two the shortest pedestrian routes. 3 is mainly a bus route, an explanation for the 90º angle (by foot it could be shorter, but it would take too long). And 4 is a weekend route, to go to the cinema through the urban core (the return trip is often by underground or bus, or, when it is late at night, by cab). The remaining points are supermarkets, cinemas, restaurants and other interest points.
The city I live in is rather good for a pedestrian; but this doesn’t mean that walking routes are necessarily shorter than by other means. On the other side, they are highly predictable when it comes to time: I usually walk at 4 km/h (compared to the average 24 km/h for cars, which is subject to strong variations during daytime). By walking you always have alternatives (but for the case of obstacles such as expressways or rail lines), and as slopes are gentle I can predict my travel times. And yes, sometimes (with not such regular patterns, once or twice a week at most) I move in my car…
I was born on a peninsula, and I like that kind of places. Some people from inland areas are somehow puzzled, as for them a coastal city should have water only in one direction, a far cry from what a peninsula is. These same people have a still harder time when they realize that a peninsular city changes its shape constantly; not that inland cities are different, but here the coastline provides a more apparent limit that makes things clearer.
The best way to find your way on a peninsula is to look for a tall element. A lighthouse, a hill, a chimney… if you have no such elements, you are in trouble, as ships can come from anywhere (thank god, in the Cadiz marshes you have shipyards with large cranes, power towers and a new bridge…).
Some have found a loophole: make city grow so much larger than your peninsula that it will no longer be noticed. But this is somehow cheating…
The Danube near Vienna, as seen from Khalenberg Hill
For those that have followed this blog during the last years, here is the proof it has not disappeared. Just a small fraction of that time was a break (most of it was quite the opposite…), but it was worth it.
During that time I have seen and thought about some interesting things, either on travel or through other means. Here are some, which can be viewed as a thematic layout of future posts:
Vienna: I had never visited Austria. After a recent trip to Germany I was curious to see the other big Germanic country, not so much (or rather no only) for its past as an old empire that imploded almost overnight in 1918, but more as a country in which I thought an interesting version of modernity was happening. The trip has indeed been interesting. My knowledge of German is schematic, and if I told you I have grasped the soul of the country after just a few days you would (for a good reason) think I’m just bragging; but some things have seemed interesting.
The evolution of the idea of sustainable development (or its weakening under some points of view). The quarrels surrounding the ministerial reorganization in France during this summer have made me remember news read during the recent municipal and European elections there. Among the promises made by local candidates of the National Front in many cities were the ones about letting again access the city core by car without restrictions, reversing policies adopted years ago to try to reduce pollution and conserve the old cities qualities. The National Front is a particularity in the French political system, but its rise is fuelled by their ability to grasp subjects that galvanize citizens. They raised that idea in many cities, but not in Paris and Lyon, where things cannot be so simplified. On the other hand, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President, who instituted a Ministry for Durable Development, said in 2011 during a visit to the Agricultural Convention of Paris “the environment, it is becoming a bit too much”. On the other side, the relations between socialists and ecologists in France are far from easy (hence the initial mention to the French politics of this summer). The evolution over time of the UK policies on that matter has also been controversial there. Many in Europe will think that this is just peanuts compared to the American scene, forgetting the fact that there the scene is also mixed, as you just have to compare Republicans in the Congress (denial of climate change) to Schwarzeneger or Bloomberg (climate change policies) to see what I talk about. Are we witnessing the end of sustainable development as a somehow blind faith (believing in something presented as good, even if not understood by many that feel it just brings costs or even nuisance to their way of life) that can be used by politicians and marketers alike, to see a more critical conscience emerge, or else? Therein lies the rump….
A new rise in the social demand for rules, not as a defence of some economic interests, but of other matters lied to the idea of common good. These days there have been demonstrations in Barcelona against the growing presence of tourists renting apartments in an informal way in the Barceloneta area; they use what to some is a reduced booze price and a perceived image of Spain as a permissive country to behave in ways that perhaps could be subject to prosecution in their own countries. Sure, hotel owners have used that to talk about unlawful competition (a bit like taxi drivers revolts against Uber), but the neighbours asked here for quite simple things: the right to sleep without noise, or to move around their city without seeing gross scenes. I have read on today’s Washington Post a quite similar news concerning Ocean City, Maryland. The fear of squadrons of youth looking for booze and party, ruining the calm of a neighbourhood by renting homes piecemeal has also surfaced, and is also criticized by those saying that as the city lives from tourism, this must be endured. So Barceloneta (a popular neighbourhood with high density) is on the same wavelength as Ocean City (apparently a richer, lower density area). Some will present this as a case of NIMBY (Not In My BackYard), a resistance to accept externalities related to the inherent complexity of cities. But this seems something more, a symptom of a general evolution of the idea of what can be or not accepted in a society.
The Retiro park appears as a peripheral hunting ground (not unlike other parks in many European royal capitals), east of the Prado creek, by then the urban limit of Madrid.
The Texeira map shows that garden as related to an essential part of its ensemble, the Palacio del Buen Retiro, now disappeared (not unlike what happens in Paris with the Tuileries garden and the palace that disappeared during the Commune). The Palace was on the natural ramp ensuring a clear link to the city; nowadays the Jeronimos neighbourhood and the Prado Museums compound have substituted it.
South of the park the urban limit is much less clear; the Observatory sits atop a cliff facing Atocha, while north of Reina Victoria street the urban fabric is confuse. The south section of Menéndez Pelayo shows clearly the differences in level, but along the northern section and Alcalá and Alfonso XII the park is at street level. The park is not a flat platform, as the Palacio de Cristal shows, but the elevation variations are reasonably integrated in the design.
The area as seen from north. The Palace is the mass under the dome of La Almudena, on the left.
The Royal Palace of Madrid stands on a platform 55 m higher than the Manzanares bank. I once heard that the initial plan submited by Filippo Juvara, the architect, was for a building with four main courts, but that it had to be reduced to just one as there was such a steep slope (contour lines were still in the distant future, so such projects were not necesarily easy when made from a distance.
The level difference between the Palace and the river is solved through garden platforms; a new project now being built, the Royal Collections Museum, just adapts to that gap. Just south of the platform on which the Palace and the Almudena Cathedral are is the Viaduct, an urban bridge which has been for years a choice spot for… suicide, taking advantage of the difference in level.
A 1 m interval contour map with a 100 m grid. The river area is not acurrate, as the source data was probably collected during a recent works period
Any large city can have a complex setting, altough it is not compulsory (just think of the Randstat, Shanghai or New Orleans). Madrid has a certain terrain complexity, defined by the Manzanares (a quite tamed river), and the Abroñigal and Castellana creeks; Abroñigal is nowadays a corridor for the eastern M30 beltway and Castellana is the main north-south spine. The historical city began on the steep slopes of the eastern shore of the Manzanares, to later grow towards the east.
Cities are 3d realities, even in the flat Netherlands. So where you are is not just a matter of planar coordinates, as the landscape changes according to the relative height of every element: trees, buildings and the ground itself. This is our next subject in Madrid, a city that has a certain “altimetric diversity”.
– Housing: 19.867.607 sq m (some 195.600 homes, that could house about half a million people)
– Industrial: 11.383.048 sq m
– Tertiary (what for most of our American friends would be commercial): 7.874.561 sq m
So there is still a large amount of potential job for everyone involved in city building; but where are the people that will populate that, work in new factories or office cubicles, or buy in new retail spaces? therein lies the rub… This capacity can be seen as an asset for the future, which is unpredictable in itself. But it seems a long term future.