Building the World

May 11, 2019
by buildingtheworld

CITIES: Capitals Built in Earthquake Zones

“Kathmandu: A collage,” 2012. Image: wikimedia.

Are capitals “moveable feasts?” Yes. History is filled with examples of capitals moved for new dynasties, new visions, coastal security, and more central political representation. In the future, we may see more relocations of capitals. Here’s three reasons:

EARTHQUAKES AND CAPITAL CITIES: There are other capitals, built on seismic ground, like Kathmandu or Tokyo, that may need to move. Another option, illustrated by Tokyo, might be to build a “spare battery” capital away from shaky ground. Indonesia is also earth-quake prone, located in the volcanic Ring of Fire; choice of a new capital location may require seismic assessment before a site is chosen.

What world capitals are vulnerable to shaky ground? At the time it was built, no one knew that Mexico City was located on ground susceptible to earthquakes. With a population of 20 million, the city is dense. Skyscraper towers can become “unintended object of mass destruction,” according to Michael Floyd of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Loss of a command-and-control center that is a capital city can inhibit and delay disaster response, as seen when on 12 January 2010, Port-au-Prince, Haiti suffered the loss of records, legal documents, land, census data, tax records, and tragic loss of life, during an earthquake that damaged the government building.

RISING SEAS AND COASTAL CAPITALS: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Lagos, Nigeria are former capitals that ceded succession to Brasilia and Abuja. Both Rio and Lagos are ports. Many great capital cities were built as ports, among them Jakarta. Now, Indonesia may move its capital. Rising seas will inundate many capitals that also serve as ports.

NEW CAPITAL, NEW VISION: Moving a capital can mean a shift in demographic clout, inviting political power to more central areas of a nation. Jakarta is considering an area of Borneo. Will Mexico City plan a new Distrito Federal perhaps  also serving as a regional capital for the Americas?

NEXT STEPS FOR CAPITALS IN EARTHQUAKE ZONES: The massive urban centers that are capitals, even if the government center moves, will still remain vulnerable. Earthquakes will continue: what can be done to preserve and protect cities built on shaky ground?


Tokyo, Japan

Mexico City, Mexico

Jakarta, Indonesia

New Delhi, India

Manila, Philippines

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Kathmandu, Nepal

“The 20 Most Earthquake-Vulnerable Cities.” 4 December 2007. Forbes.

Chu, Jennifer. “Seismic gap may be filled by an earthquake near Istanbul.” MIT News. 11 September 2014.

Davidson, Frank P. and Kathleen Lusk Brooke. “Cities in Danger,” Building the Future, 2012. pages 65-97. University of Massachusetts Boston, Healey Library.

Ergintav, S, R.E. Reilinger, R. Cakmak, M. Floyd, Z. Cakir, U. Dogan, et al. “Istanbul’s earthquake hot spots: Geogetic constraints on strain accumulation along faults in the Marmara seismic gap.” Geophysical Research Letters 41, no. 16 (22 August 2014): 5783-5788.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

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May 1, 2019
by buildingtheworld

Jakarta: first capital to move due to sea rise

Rivers and canals of Jakarta, Indonesia. Image: wikimedia.


MOVING THE CAPITAL DUE TO SEA RISE: Jakarta, Indonesia is the fastest sinking city on earth. Sea rise threatens the city, located on land intersected by 13 rivers. A busy port, Jakarta is congested and dense; heavy port buildings weigh down the terrain. As the capital, Jakarta also supports government, industry, and a burgeoning population. Residential and industrial water needs result in considerable pumping from the rivers, further draining the land mass. Another burden of density: traffic – Jakarta’s is among the world’s worst. And then there’s the residential buildings: 10 million people call Jakarta home, making it one of the world’s megacities. Skyscrapers dot the skyline, adding weight. Jakarta has sunk eight feet in the past decade, and the subsidence continues. Half of the city is below sea level.

Baghdad, surrounded by the Tigris River. Image: wikimedia.

NEW CAPITAL, NEW VISION: Changing the capital of a country is not unique in history. Baghdad was founded with a new vision, drawn as three concentric circles with a stroke of the Caliph’s sword marking the new capital. As Baghdad rebuilds, will Frank Lloyd Wright‘s plans and drawings bring Al Mansur’s vision to life as Madinat as-Salam, “City of Peace?” Other times, capitals moved inland from ports: Lagos, a port city, begat Abuja, moving Nigeria’s capital to a central location designed with vision and values including Haussmann’s Paris and L’Enfant’s and Banneker’s Washington, D.C. Rio de Janeiro ceded its position as capital to Brasilia, in part because the city of Ipanema beach became too dense; coastal location also meant vulnerability. The new capital, Brasilia, was central to the diverse country, representing a wider vision. Lucio Costa designed the new capital to be built in the shape of an airplane; Brasilia was the first city built to be seen from the air.

Costa’s Plan for Brasilia, in the shape of an airplane. Image: Library of Congress.

NEW BALANCE OF POWER: Just as Brazil chose an inland location, and Nigeria selected Abuja to relate to the center of the country, so Indonesia’s possible choice of an area of Borneo might represent a wider view. Palangka Raya is in consideration, in part due to a previous proposal by first president (1945-1967) Sukarno.

FUTURE OF COASTAL LOCATIONS IN CLIMATE CHANGE: Jakarta is a case example of the future. Rising seas may inundate some of the greatest cities in the world, many built as ports. As Indonesia begins to move its capital away from Jakarta, it will rebuild the coastal metropolis to defend from sea rise: “By 2050, about 95% of North Jakarta may be submerged,” according to Heri Andreas, Bandung Institute of Technology. Can innovations such as those proposed by Lempérière and Deroo to use canals, and rivers, to combat rising seas, help Jakarta and other port cities build a safer, better future? Will the Belt and Road Initiative build very different kinds of ports, using rivers, canals, and urban harbors to address sea rise?

Afra Sapiie, Marguerite. “Jokowi wants to move capital out of Java.” 29 April 2019. The Jakarta Post.

BBC. “Indonesia’s planning minister announces capital city move,” 29 April 2019.

Lemer, Andrew C. “Foreseeing the Problems of Developing Nigeria’s New Federal Capital.” In Macro-engineering and the Future: A Management Perspective. edited by Frank P. Davidson and C. Lawrence Meador. Boulder,  CO: Westview Press, 1982.

Lempérière, François and Luc Deroo. “Peut on éviter les inondations à Paris?” January 2018. Symposium du DCBR : comité français des barrages et réservoirs.

Litwin, Evan T. “The Climate Diaspora: Indo-Pacific Emigration from Small Island Developing States.” 2011. University of Massachusetts Boston.

Kennedy, Merrit. “Indonesia plans to move its capital out of Jakarta, a city that’s sinking.” 29 April 2019. NPR.

Toppa, Sabrina. “These cities have the worst traffic in the world, says a new index.” 4 February 2016. Jakarta, Istanbul, Mexico City, Surabaya, and St. Petersburg top the world’s cities among 78 surveyed. Time Magazine.

Appreciation and recognition: David Edwards-May, Inland Waterways International, Andrew C. Lemer, Evan Litwin, and Cherie Potts for contributions to this post.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen

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January 14, 2016
by buildingtheworld

Sunny Forecast?

“Sun mask of Apollo” by Johann Melchior Dinglinger. Source: Google Cultural institute, and wikimedia commons.

Solar technology continues to develop, and scientists are once again looking at the Sahara Desert for opportunities to generate, store, and distribute power. African visions are diverse, regarding Desertec (which some term green exploitation) and related initiatives that hold promise. Will other sunny desert areas of the world follow suit? Solar power is the preferred means of providing electricity in space, including celestial habitations such as the International Space Station. Will proposals for global solar power from space be developed in the vision of Glaser, holder of patent US3781647 A? Or might atomic energy developments, including ITER, create sun on earth with nuclear fusion? United Nations Climate Change conference, COP21, set standards for a balanced environment. What advances in energy are needed to build a better world?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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April 27, 2015
by buildingtheworld

Rebuilding Nepal

Flag of Nepal. Image: wikimedia

Before seismic science advanced, great cities were built at crossroads that became centers of population and government. Capital cities in earthquake zones include Tokyo, Mexico City, Jakarta, New Delhi, Manila, Port au Prince, and Kathmandu. Tokyo is planning a “spare-battery” capital to preserve government operations during disaster. Earthquake-prone areas might consider relocating capitals, following examples of Brazil and Nigeria where new centers encouraged new visions. Can the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters lead the way to a better future? Meanwhile, we can offer relief aid.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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April 7, 2014
by buildingtheworld

Capital Idea

Will North America create a Cap City? Image: wikimedia

What is the nature and role of a capital? Washington, DC is among those capital cities located in a separate district. Mexico’s DF (Distrito Federal) was also established to be located by Congress, according to Section XXVIII of Article 50, Constitucion Federal de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos de 1824. The DF’s population of 8 million is smaller than that of Greater Mexico City, population 21 million, where the Federal District is located. Like Hemingway’s engagingly-titled novel, perhaps a capital city can be a “moveable feast.” New capitals have been founded throughout history: Canberra, Australia; Brasilia, Brazil; and Abuja, Nigeria were each purpose-created new seats of government. In the future, capitals may expand to what Doxiadis termed “regional conurbations.” Should Canada, Mexico and the United States utilize Nafta precedent to create a Cap City to manage los bienes comunes including water, energy, public health, education? At the center of such a Cap City might be a great university, where all students learn English, French, Navajo (Dine Bizaad), and Spanish, whose mission is development of a new generation of transnational leaders. What should the Cap City of North America be named? Where located?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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September 25, 2013
by buildingtheworld

New Cities, New Visions: Abuja, Nigeria

Nigeria — Lagos and Abuja. Image: Library of Congress.

Abuja became the new capital of Nigeria, replacing Lagos, in 1991. Reasons were similar to factors that led Brazil to leave popular coastal Rio to the tourists and samba dancers (not to mention soccer players and Olympians) and build a new center of government, Brasilia. Nigeria’s new capital was named after a nearby emirate founded in 1828 by Abu Ja, Zarian ruler of some renown (the old town also got a new name: Suleja). Nigeria is 50% Muslim and 40% Christian, and the new capital also had to honor the Gbagyi people who had been in the area for over 40,000 years. What is the significance of building a new capital? How can diversity become a part of the patriotic vision?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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November 20, 2012
by zoequinn001

Abuja Carnival 2012

Celebrants at the 2012 Abuja Carnival, from Business Day at

Abuja is hosting its carnival between November 24 and 27, with this year’s theme being that of peace and harmony. Nations, government officials, heads of tourism, and locals are all joining forces to foster a sense of community in a time when security changes are causing unrest in Nigeria. The carnival events for this year have nearly doubled in number and kind and has attracted artists from around the world.

For more information on the 2012 carnival and the importance citizens of Abuja are placing on it, pleasae see:

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Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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