Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Urban Form

Maybe it's because of all the environmentalists; maybe it's because of skyrocketing refined petroleum (er, gasoline) prices; maybe it's because I'm walk, bike, and drive; but I'm starting to look at the city as one giant mechanism for the distribution of physical resources.

I don't see coffeeshops anymore. I see the retail end of a long supply chain originating somewhere in Central America where farmers raise coffee beans. I don't see sidewalks. I see slabs of concrete stretching on endlessly throughout the metropolitan area. Underneath those slabs of concrete are hollow tubes of metal, bringing in H20 (200 gallons a day per person on average in America), carting away sewage (no stats spring to mind on volume). High above the trees are long-distance power transmission lines, bring energy transformed from kinetic (hydroelectric), nuclear (mine deeper!), coal-fired (gas-powered turbines, essentially) sources into electricity to be turned back into thermal (heating) or kinetic (motors) energy. Not to mention highways for bringing in consumables (as well as shipping them out), FAA-regulated airspace (for shipping people and goods longer distances), humans themselves (consuming oxygen and carbon-based matter, exhaling carbon dioxide and other waste), urban parks (turning that CO2 back into O2), and so on.

Is the city particularly well-suited to the distribution of resources for a population? Indeed it is. Because humans live more densely in a city, the physical distance over which a resource must be transmitted prior to its use is shorter. The overall scale of a city's demands ensures that incoming pipelines for resources are huge (think about those electrical transmission lines again).


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