Biblio (122) Personal income and its distribution in Spain, France and the USA


After publishing the map on inequality in Spain, some comments have led me to think it could be interesting to show a comparative vision:

Spain: Renta personal de los municipios españoles y su distribución, Miriam Hortas Rico & Jorge Onrubia Fernández, FEDEA, 2014. Based on 2007 data

France: Les revenus et le patrimoine des menages, Cédric Houdré & Juliette Ponceau, edition 2014, INSEE. Based on 2011 data

Inequalities among European states, according to the INSEE publication

Inequalities among European states, according to the INSEE publication

USA: State of Disparity, a Project looking at the economic disparity in CT, WSHU radio (A view from Connecticut, but with a nationwide chapter). Based on data from 2006 to 2010.

Inequality is on the rise, but with different flavors in each country.

Biblio (121) Long series for real estate prices in France

biblio121-series longues prix immo- Paris depuis 1200

Here is a set of interesting references on long-term real estate prices in France, for the 1936-2015 period in the whole country and 1200-2015 for Paris. This vision in long-term series reminds me the long series on revenue on which Pikety supports his ideas.

Series from 1200 in Paris are evidently based on various methodologies, with a lesser statistic representatively. They show an erratic journey, but reality can sometimes be so.

Paradoxes and a place in the chain, but which one?

Guadalest reservoir, Alicante, Spain

Guadalest reservoir, Alicante, Spain

I’m currently working on a planning project in a low density rural region which has historically had relevant environmental values, but also a relevant human intervention on the land. During the last century a large number of reservoirs were erected, and in recent years one of the largest in the continent has been completed. On the other side, I follow often French news, so I have seen the controversy around the Sivens reservoir project, in a low density area north of Toulouse.

European societies (those inside the EU) give a complex treatment to the environment. On one side, in the initial moments of the Union a series of directives were enacted according to the experience and philosophy of the founding countries (essentially northern ones); these laws were reinforced and formalized, and codified through European protection of specific zones, and European court rulings. On the other side citizens see the protection of the environment as a good thing; this stems from a direct experience with pollution problems and the loss of spaces and landscapes that were socially perceived as relevant. This citizen perception is by no means scientifically sound, but it is the result of the evolution over time under a favorable view, and especially in the southern countries in which the entry in the Union was seen as an improvement. As a result of the current economic crisis in the southern states some are challenging that status quo, opposing environmental protection and economic development (It is curious how easy is to rant that Brussels is to blame, as it is to say that bureaucrats in Madrid, Paris or Washington are in other scales).

The system creates paradox. On one side the scientific and administrative description of ecosystems tends to portray them as a static balance (the administrative description is the one on the land protection rules); knowing it is loving it, so due to a simple psychological rule, some are prone to think these descriptions are more accurate than current dynamics. This is an attitude I can understand as a result of the general decay of the environmental state of the Union and the fear of the unknown, and is surely at least one of the reasons the demonstrators challenge the Sivens reservoir. On the other side, dams show that sure you destroy previous ecosystems, but new water areas and irrigation of farmland changes the ecological flows and sometimes can favor the location or expansion of some species. I’m not an ecology scientist, but I see dams erected against the opposition of environmental defense group that, as time (and generations of environmental activists) changes, become areas that the same groups defend as biodiversity areas. The question I raise, and to which I have no answer due to the limits of my knowledge, is whether the current situation is better or worse in terms of ecosystems quality. I’m almost sure we’re worse off than in the pre-industrial era, but I’m not so sure when we look at two given moments in the last 50 years.

As a professional, when I have to deal with these matters I follow the advice of the environmental experts I work with. But sometimes I also see doubt in them; sure in areas that have had substantial population for centuries man has conditioned nature, and the pressure on the environment has increased substantially during the last century as a result of technological evolution. I have no doubt on the fact that many of the traditional uses of the land in rural areas produced less impact on the environment than modern approaches. But farmers are no longer the same, and they are now much more urban in approach due to the demands of the society (just remind farmers are economic agents) and their aspirations in such an urban-centric world.

Just an example: in Spain there are spaces that are currently steppes as a result of the cattle expansion policies of the Mesta during the middle ages. What is best for the sustainable development of the land, to conserve a landscape which results from the action of a wood cartel from the XIIIth century or to go back to its precedent forest state?. On the other side, one of the largest current forests in Europe, the Landes de Gascogne, were simply not there just two centuries ago, so the same question is pertinent. When we look at an urban historical core we always think on what to do with a continent as the content is largely changed, and this can also be an approach for territories.

We can think about the need to change our consumerism- driven dynamics, something I can only agree with. But I’m far from sure this alone will be enough, so we should perhaps start seeing ecosystems under a more dynamic perspective. My fear is that there we lack the basic tools, as:

  • In most of the analytic disciplines, at least in the ones concerning land use regulation, the static vision is dominant; this is logical, as a result of how difficult it would be to predict interactions in such complex systems, but it produces the aforementioned paradoxes.
  • The precautionary principle is challenged by some, but even those cannot deny it has a rational foundation. The problem is how to integrate it as an operational tool.
  • The dilemma between thought and action is exemplified by such matters as climate change, and we are far from commonly accepted solutions, i.e., those that could become a part of our common culture, beyond the scientific debate.

So the question on our role (as humans) in the ecological chain is central, not just to guarantee our survival as a species (any species would like to survive), but also to know the limits of our intervention on the environment. I’m not implying that planning should allow everything everywhere, but that the debate must be more open.

Maps 2015 (6) A mind map


… of some of the last posts and a part of the ones to follow shortly. As I stated before in Starters of urban change (1), my interest its, beyond the appeal of the current state of the cities, in what makes the cities change. Moreover, as I had previously stated, the grain of the city is relevant, so there is also a scale issue. I accept suggestions.

A programme for 2015: the grain of cities

A place I happen to know well, as seen from Landsat

A place I happen to know well, as seen from Landsat

The physical base, first scale "grain" element

The physical base, first scale “grain” element

Defining a programme helps make easier what Is complex. The UN have declared 2015 as the international year for light and light related technologies, and international year of soils. At first glance, these seem better starting points than in 2016 (international year for pulses and camelids), but you never know… Nevertheless I think it’s better to choose a subject more focused on the built environment. And specifically, to focus on an issue that is overarching to most of the interesting works I read recently, and that so seems central: the grain of the city.

Beware, I’m not talking about grain in the crop sense, but about the different qualities that scales can render when talking about the city or the broader land in which it sits. Mandelbrot did translate a close idea it into the fractal theory, as the presence of visual qualities (although he was a mathematician, he seems to have favoured visual representations of abstract concepts, as structures in data in this case) that seem similar at different scales.

The grain of buildings, as described by cadastral data

The grain of buildings, as described by cadastral data

The grain of the city can be physical (an historical area can be much more detailed in so many senses) or immaterial and related to flows and socioeconomic links; the most interesting spaces are those where both detail qualities converge.

The grain raises two issues:

  • The ability of our representation instruments to represent the city or the land and convey a given complexity
  • The presence (or absence) of complexities on the land, be it in one sense or the other.

This will be the base for the blog during this year, alongside more circumstantial issues. As ever, I’m open to your suggestions.

Architectural grain

Architectural grain

... and the grain of things set to become something else...

… and the grain of things set to become something else…

Maps 2015 (1) The American plain

This first example of 2015 is not really a map, but rather a rendering of an idea that has received an award in a competition for students held by the American Society of Landscape Architects. Its author, Reid Fellenbaum, proposes a strategy for the evolution of the central US plains, threatened by the gradual depletion of the aquifers that water its cereal crops. He summarizes the project as an evolution from the current Jeffersonian grid towards a more fine-grained arrangement in a land which is more fragile than it seems. I’m not talking about feasibility (which would be complex to judge in its entirety), even if it is clear that traditional cultivation techniques probably could provide some useful tricks, but rather about the graphical quality of the presentation, which is quite good.

Besides, this project addresses an issue, the “grain” of the land, on which I will soon write… widely.

Maps 2014 (44) The history of cartography according to the Universtiy of Chicago

Venus as the Morning Star in the Codex Borgia, an ancient celestial map from the pre-hispanic Mexico (volume 2, book 3 of the History)

Venus as the Morning Star in the Codex Borgia, an ancient celestial map from the pre-hispanic Mexico (volume 2, book 3 of the History)

As this moment of the year has come, the place in which I live has gained a festive momentum, in which presents are exchanged. I could not possibly give what I don’t own, but I can share with those that like me enjoy maps a link to an extraordinary resource: the History of Cartography edited by the University of Chicago, which encompasses examples from prehistoric times to the European Renaissance. The volumes are not limited to the “western” world, as they include examples from other cultures.

The website allows downloads by volume and chapter. Happy reading!

Biblio (111) A visual history of the future

Biblio 111- A visual history of the future

Foresight, the British government long-term research organisation that provides evidence for public policies, has begun a program on the future of cities. In this context they have produced a volume related to the evolution for more than a century of the images concerning the future of cities, using many sources going from plain urban planning literature to cinema. Sure, A clockwork orange is by no means an urban planning text, but there is a message on how the urban space can be used…

An interesting compilation of images that illustrate the evolution of the visions about the future of cities, mainly in the western world (including Japan, see figure 38 in the document), going from hippies (figure 42) to academics (figure 56), and from art (figure 51) to dismay (figure 39).

foresight-urban futures- image 51

This is the closest thing I’ve seen to the mountain in “Encounters of the third kind”, and here it would materialize in Berlin. Sure, chances for this to happen are from slim to none, but it is a powerful image.

Biblio (109) Green infrastructures

Biblio 109

Green infrastructure is one of these ecology-based complex concepts… and an interesting one. The traditional concept of infrastructure (“gray infrastructure”, as it is called these days as green ones have appeared) is that of any kind of contraption that allows you to use the laws of physics or any other science to adapt the current environment to our needs as a species; it is usually based on active elements that somehow require high amounts of ressources and some kind of maintenance. Green infraestructure is presented as an approach in which the man-made intervention is less visible, with an aim to get a good level of environmental services (yes, she is still the client…) by working in a more symbiotic way with ecosystems; understanding how nature works helps achieve a higher efficiency in some aspects with less pollution and environmental damage (not that previous engineers were brutes, but they worked from a different paradigm). The European Environmental Agency booklet conveys that idea in a more ellaborate way.