A cabinet of urban curiosities and creatures.

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We are currently on hiatus from posting but plan to come back with a bang soon! Stay tuned
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We are currently on hiatus from posting but plan to come back with a bang soon! Stay tuned

xoxo The CuriosCity

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David Ryan Robinson’s Fantasy Map of London

David Ryan Robinson doesn’t want to be known just as the map guy. Which is kind of difficult when you spend six months of your life drawing a huge A2 (that’s 23-and-a-half by 16-and-a-half inches) map of London.

It was fall 2011, and Robinson had just arrived in London. Like many young professionals, Robinson realised that the UK capital was the place to establish a firm career path. Robinson had always been into drawing, and he never got out of it. He graduated from university in June, taking a degree in art, and he knew that to advance in the creative industries he ought to move to London. “I’d only been a couple of times before,” he points out, on day trips and vacations.

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A Curios… Nightmare

Hi! Did you have a nice weekend? Relaxing? 

Well, it wasn’t for a whole lot of cold, unhappy Russians. There was a weekend-long traffic jam between St. Petersburg and Moscow yesterday. Not too surprisingly, heavy snowfall (3 feet!) was mostly to blame. 

Our favorite part of this story is this:

 In addition to hot food and warming stations, the RIA Novosti report noted the Emergencies Ministry was making psychological support available to those having trouble coping with the days-long traffic nightmare.

Surely anyone who has been in traffic for even an hour can speak to the need for therapy! 

by Allison Beatrice, Global Photo Columnist

Even before my freshman year of college I had decided to study abroad junior year in Florence. I dropped Spanish after seven years and took up Italian in hopes of learning enough to get by. Fast forward three years later and I was literally flying solo to Italy. I did not know anyone in the country with the exception of one of my best friends who was in a completely different program. I. Was. Petrified. I knew that I was in desperate need to have a big adventure and change up my life but it was still scary (as any big jump into adulthood is). 

I arrived in Italy completely sleep deprived (I’m cursed with not being able to sleep on airplanes) and delirious from excitement and nerves.  I had been to Europe before but not alone and was not sure how to settle in. However, it was my homeland, it was filled with art and I spoke the language…I figured I’d get out alive at the very least.

I couldn’t have predicted that the experience would be the single best thing I could have done for myself. Yes, it was difficult and I was homesick at times, especially for the first few weeks. But every time I left my host family’s apartment and turned a corner into some unexplored part of the city, I would see a work of art or architecture that I had studied. This to me was like seeing a celebrity (I was an art history major) and my perceptions of the city shifted with every new art sighting. I quickly became a sympathetic Florentine in regards to tourists - so much so that I would get asked directions in Italian rather than English.

While living in Florence I worked at the conservation center that had restored all the artwork from the 1966 flooding of the Arno. My supervisor was Roberto, the head underwater archaeologist at the lab. He spoke very little English, which I appreciated since I wanted to keep improving my Italian. He called me “New Yorker” with his Florentine accent and asked me if I had family from Naples as I spoke with crazy hand gestures (he was right though he never guessed I also had family from Northern Italy. Guess I’m doing my paternal grandfather proud by showing off my true Neapolitan heritage). I left Italy after six months feeling not quite like the “New Yorker” I was often called, and yet not entirely like the Florentine I had tried to become. During the transition back to my “real life” I often felt like I was having an identity crisis.

This was an experience that changed me deeply, forcing me to rely on myself in a country where colloquialisms were tricky and the rules were confusing. I came home a different person, but have never been able to explain how so - aside from my newfound snobbery towards pasta, gelato and wine.


Another one via The Atlantic Cities: “5 Reasons Germans Ride 5 Times More Mass Transit Than Americans”:

When it comes to car use, there are a number of similarities between Germany and the United States. Both have high levels of vehicle ownership and saw motorization increase during postwar suburbanization. Both have extensive highway networks (Eisenhower later credited Germany’s autobahn with his desire to create the Interstate Highway System). Both countries have recently recognized that young people seem to be driving much less than their parents.

When it comes to transit, however, the countries have gone in very different directions in the past fifty-some years. Today, transit use in the United States is much, much higher in cities than it is in rural areas. In Germany the disparity isn’t nearly as great. In small metro areas, Germans ride at 18 times the rate of Americans (a 7 percent share to .4 percent.) In major cities the difference remains high: transit use is nearly six times greater for Germans.

In a recent issue of the journal Transport Reviews, the (insanely prolific) research duo Ralph Buehler and John Pucher calculate that, all told, Germans are five times more likely than Americans to travel by mass transport [full PDF]. That’s after controlling for gender, age, employment, car ownership, population density, metro area size, and probably David Hasselhoff. 

The 5 reasons, via Buehler & Pucher’s abstract—click thru to the Atlantic Cities post for more discussion, in particular of #4:

(1) more and better service,

(2) attractive fares and convenient ticketing,

(3) full multimodal and regional integration,

(4) high taxes and restrictions on car use, and

(5) land-use policies that promote compact, mixed-use developments

(The unfancy chart above gets the point across—the long terms trends in public transit use in Germany vs America. The data is millions of total public transport trips per year in each country (scale on left y-axis), and public transport trips per capita in each country (scale on right y-axis).

The jumps seen in the Germany data circa 1990-1991 must no doubt correspond to unification, when the data presumably started incorporating millions of former East Germans, and all of their public tranit trips. Unclear what the smaller set of jumps about 10 years corresponds to.)


Plan, Mannheim, Germany, 1799


The Ludic City. Exploring the Potential of Public Spaces

By Quentin Stevens

This international and illustrated work challenges current writings focussing on the problems of urban public space to present a more nuanced and dialectical conception of urban life.

Detailed and extensive international urban case studies show how urban open spaces are used for play, which is defined and discussed using Caillois’ four-part definition – competition, chance, simulation and vertigo. Stevens explores and analyzes these case studies according to locations where play has been observed: paths, intersections, thresholds, boundaries and props.

Applicable to a wide-range of countries and city forms, The Ludic City is a fascinating and stimulating read for all who are involved or interested in the design of urban spaces.


The New Topographics: Photographs of Man-altered Landscapes

Taking a step or two back (and often slightly elevated) from Frank and the street, urban landscape photography seems to take a welcomed cat-nap from the the hectic, intimate spontaneity of city life, gaining a more reflective and meditative view of urban existence.

The photographers associated with The New Topographics challenged traditional conventions of urban (and rural) landscape photography - both the candid, snap shot street-style aesthetic of Frank et al and the idealised romanticized view of city life pursued by the photographic elite such as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand.

Instead they brought a more balanced and objective view to the genre, focusing on humanities role in creating, shaping and continually developing the urban and rural landscape in which they lived. Human activity is central to their work, but is often inferred rather than direct.

Photographers such as Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams and Frank Gohlke focused their attention on the ruthless banality of suburban existence and its never-ending monotonous expansion and encroachment on to the rural landscape of the US; the generic buildings of home, commerce and industry converging human culture into one rather large yawning chasm of sameness; documenting the gradual shift within the US from urban-industry to a service-orientated economy (Rohrbach, 2010).

For the ‘negotiating the city’ project, I’m interested in how technology is changing the landscape and culture within ‘the city’, not directly in terms of the physical distribution of buildings and people who inhabit urban spaces, but indirectly in terms of technology replacing or providing access to many of the functions traditionally associated with the city, fulfilling many fundamental human needs such as employment, entertainment, social interaction etc.

From this perspective the boundaries of cities no longer exist, since the services they provide can be accessed anywhere in the world at any time. As a consequence technology is re-defining and changing the concept of city and the urban landscape and culture associated with ‘the city’. If I am to negotiate the city I really want to understand what I am negotiating first.

Keeping to the vernacular approach adopted by the New Topographic photographers, I aim to try and understand the changing concept of the city on the landscape where I live, which is not  ‘the city’ or the USA, but rural Derbyshire, England.

Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now. Expanded Edition. London: Thames & Hudson

Clarke, G (1997) The Photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Rohrbach, J. et al (2010) Reframing the new topographics. University of Chicago Press

The future if cities? Mais qui! 


Biron, Paris futur, 1910