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 19, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Cities as Destiny

Cities may rebuild the world. Image: “Cirrus sky panorama.” Image: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

We started talking about all these things that we could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge,” said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Alphabet. Sidewalk Labs, subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, won a public competition to design a part of Toronto’s waterfront. Some of the proposed winning ideas:

Sidewalk Toronto:

  • heated pedestrian lanes to melt snow;
  • self-driving bus system;
  • taxi-bots and van-bots for shuttles;
  • transit and bike-shares;
  • street side parks and public spaces;
  • tunnels for utilities, making grids easier to reach and repair.

Throughout history, cities have espoused new visions. Baghdad was drawn in three concentric circles during a vision. Singapore was the spontaneous agreement for an economic and cultural nexus, celebrating diversity. Brasilia was the first urban design built to be seen from the air. Will Toronto take the next step to realizing a new vision, if chosen as Amazon’s HQ2? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau termed the project an “innovation hub.” Some question sensors and data collection, also planned, challenging Sidewalk Labs’ claim: “privacy can be baked into the design.”

Which 20 cities made the short-list for Amazon’s HQ?. Image: München Tram 20. Wikimedia commons.

Toronto, along with Boston, made the short-list for Amazon’s second headquarters. Boston’s note: “We would like to move Boston forward in the process so we can continue to learn more about your community, your talent, and potential real estate options.”  Holly Sullivan, Amazon. While 19 cities in the United States made the list, one Canadian city joined the elite twenty: Toronto. Toynbee, in Cities of Destiny, explored cities that shaped history. What are your ideas for the future of the city?

Wingfield, Nick. “Amazon Chooses 20 Finalists for Second Headquarters.” 18 January 2018. The New York Times.

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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July 21, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Forest Cities

We emerged from the forest; will forest cities return us to our natural state? Image: Shennongjia Forest, Hubei, China. Image: wikimedia commons.

China’s plans for a “Forest City” may establish a vision for a better urban future. New cities have often marked turning points in history. In the year 145 (or A.D. 762), the new Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty decided to move the capital to create a fresh vision. Setting off on horseback, Al-Mansur saw an auspicious spot, leapt from his steed, drew his sword, and carved three concentric circles upon the land. The new city? The Caliph named it Medinat as-Salam, “City of Peace.” Today, it is called Baghdad.

Liuzhou Forest City will not only be attractively leafy, it will literally eat smog. Commissioned by Liuzhou Municipality Urban Planning, Stefano Boeri Architetti designed the green vision:

Hosting 40,000 trees;

Growing 1 million plants of 100 species;

Absorbing 10,000 tons of CO2;

Eating 57 tons of fine dust and pollutants;

Producing 900 tons of fresh Oxygen.

Liuzhou, famous place on the Silk Road, builds upon the vision of Vertical Forests, as seen in Milan, Italy, or the Meir Lobaton & Kristjan Donaldson Torre Cuajimalpa in Mexico. Comparisons might also be made to Rhode Island’s tree-planting project designed by the School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation of Roger Williams University.

No room to plant trees? Answer: CityTree, a green “wall” of plants with as much air-purifying power as 275 trees. Co-founder Zhengliang Wu of Green City Solutions recommends moss cultures because of their larger leaf surface areas.

Green Wall at Caixa Forum, Paseo del Prado, Madrid. Photographer: Mike Dixon. Image: wikimedia.

Cities around the world are seeking resilient responses to climate change. Energy, water, and transport systems are among the areas experiencing innovation. Sea level rise threatens many coastal cities including San Francisco and Silicon Valley, studied by system dynamics experts Christiansen and Libby. And it is not a moment too soon: by 2050, 75% of all the people in the world will live in cities. Will Liuzhou Forest City mark a point in history turning toward sustainability?

For Liuzhou Forest City video:

“Changing Cities in a Changing Climate,” Alexander F. Christiansen and Bradd Libby, DNV GL Group Technology and Research, Climate Action Programme.

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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May 24, 2016
by buildingtheworld

City as Art

Singing’ in the Rain” with Gene Kelly. Will Boston’s “Raining Poetry” set a new style for the City as Art? Image: wikimedia commons.

Baghdad was designed in three concentric circles drawn in the sand by founder Caliph al-Mansur, who named the new capital “Madinat as-Salam” or “City of Peace.” As Toynbee observed in Cities of Destiny, urban centers possess cultural magnetism. Boston is showering the city in art: poetry appears in the rain. A collaboration of Boston City Hall, the Mayor’s Mural Crew, and Mass Poetry, the project echoes public art along the Greenway. Chicago’s Millennium Park brings public art to a new gathering green downtown. Beijing also uses urban life to uplift: riders on the metro’s Line 4 can access Chinese poetry and philosophy through barcodes posted in passenger cars. China’s Grand Canal standardized written language, facilitating government, and cultural, exchange. Boston’s poems, however, are ephemeral; disappearing ink lasts just a few weeks. But words are, as Roman poet Horace stated, “monumentum aere perennius” – “a monument more lasting than bronze” or as Langston Hughes, whose poem graces Dudley Square, might observe: “Still Here.”

Thanks to Chak Ngamtippan for suggesting featuring Boston’s “Raining Poetry.”

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 18, 2015
by buildingtheworld

Water of Life

Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water. – Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. Water Act! may lead the way. Image:

Water is life, some would state. Water resources determined success of some of the world’s greatest cities: Baghdad, London, Rome, Singapore.  Environmental consequences of climate change can be observed in water resources: floods devastate; drought strangles. Earth, the water planet, may be running out of water. Will “Water Act!” convened in Paris by the Fulbright Association produce consensus and action regarding world water?

As water becomes more scarce on earth, the element begins to be discovered in space. Earth’s solar system contains 23 oceans. Europa, Jupiter’s moon, may house a sub-surface ocean “vigorously convecting” with Hadley cells and ice plumes 124 miles high. Water movement on Europa may mean life; circulating from equator to poles, as evidenced by plumes, moving water may create the fertile environment for life. Findings of Krista Soderlund of University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and colleagues may indicate it is more likely to find life in Europa’s ocean than its land surface: water is a life-giving medium. Planetary Resources is aiming to harvest minerals, and water, from asteroids. Finding water in space may bode well for building a better future; perhaps Gerard K. O’Neill’s vision will be realized, guided in part by the United Nations Outer Space Treaty and Unispace.

Meanwhile, on earth, the world seeks to protect and preserve what water we still have. California continues to address change; citizens successfully met Governor Edmund G. Brown’s challenge to reduce water usage 25%. Differentiating water utilization for people, agriculture, building, industry, and technology might be the way of the future, as suggested by Régine Engström, Executive Director of Eau de Paris, proposing “non-potable water systems may help build tomorrow’s sustainable city.” The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference convening in France will seek goals of ambition, fairness, post-2020 financing, and pre-2020 actions regarding climate change and environment. What should COP21 recommend regarding water?

Special appreciation to Cherie E. Potts for Solar System Water references and suggestions.

On Europa:

Wenz, John. “Jupiter’s Moon Europa is Bursting with Icy Geysers.” Popular Mechanics, 12 December 2013. deep-space/a9830/jupiters-moon-europa-is-bursting-with-icy-geysers-16260205/

On Water in 23 Places in our Solar System:

Wenz, John. “23 Places We’ve Found Water in Our Solar System.” Popular Mechanics, 16 March 2015.

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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December 23, 2013
by buildingtheworld

Baghdad: Madinat-as-Salam

Peace Symbol. Courtesy: wikimedia commons.

Riding a white horse, Caliph al-Mansur lept from his steed, unsheathed his sword, and drew three concentric circles in the sands of the land shining before him, proclaiming: “Here we will build the City of Peace, Madinat-as-Salam.” Calendar year 145 (or A.D. 762) proved auspicious; the Caliph had indeed found advantageous terrain. On the Tigris River, a trade nexus was born, at one time the wealthiest in the world and one of the most beautiful. Since then, the world has known that city under a different name: Baghdad. It is a place now rebuilding: new infrastructure, new water and energy systems, and perhaps a new vision. New Baghdad has an opportunity to claim its destiny of Madinat-as-Salam, City of Peace.

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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January 22, 2013
by zoequinn001

Hospitality in a Time of Rebuilding

The Republican Palace in Baghdad’s Green Zone, one of the buildings hosting the 2013 conferences, by Jim Gordon.

Rebuilding a city after a disaster, be it natural or man made, is a task that requires the cooperation of government and civilian alike. There is often a great deal of pride involved in attempting to reach a former level of success and beauty. Baghdad is no exception. In the midst of reconstructing the city and government however, Baghdad is demonstrating that it is still a city worthy of international awe by hosting a number of 2013’s international conferences, including the Gulf Energy Forum and an Arab League conference on Palestine. Like with London and the 2012 Summer Olympics, the need to house the international players while presenting the city of Baghdad as a global leader has led to a great deal of improvement within the city.

For more informaiton on the city’s improvements and the conferences being held there, please see:

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May 9, 2012
by zoequinn001

Rebuilding Eden

Result of the draining, from

Baghdad is not the only important settlement on the Tigris and the Euphrates. The wetlands of southern Iraq lay claim to being the Eden of Christian faith. Located on the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, these marshes were home to a large wildlife population and supported whole human villages. Sadly they were drained in the 1990s under Saddam Hussein, an action that quickly destroyed the ecosystem and local communities. Since the fall of Hussein there has been a move to restore the marshes and the ancient way of life with some success. For the whole story please visit:

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