“Empire State Building in Rainbow Colors for Pride.” Photographer Anthony Quintano. 28 June 2015. Image: wikimedia commons
Cities have an opportunity to inspire and unite urban denizens in shared values. As Toynbee demonstrated in Cities of Destiny, the metropolis can create a unique cultural climate. Many urban centers possess iconic monuments, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, that may serve as cultural billboards. As the world gathered in Paris for COP21 in 2015, that landmark beamed the message: “1.5” – indicating a shared goal of limiting global warming to that level. Other issues like social justice have illuminated city monuments: San Francisco’s City Hall has often been displayed in rainbow colors.
“City Hall, San Francisco, California, USA.” Photographer Torrenegra. Image: wikimedia
London, England, has many landmarks including the fabled London Bridge and the recent addition to the cityscape: the London Eye. This month, the “Eye,” formally termed the Millennium Wheel when it opened in 2000, displayed rainbow colors to honor Pride, commemorating the 1969 Stonewall turning point for LGBT+ rights.
White House with LGBT+ Rainbow Colors. Image: wikimedia commons.
In June of 2015 when the United States Supreme Court ruled (Obergefell v. Hodges) two people of same sex have the right to marry, the White House celebrated by illuminating the iconic Washington D.C. building in the colors of the rainbow. As we strive to build an equal and sustainable future – environmentally and socially – how can cities Troop the Color?
“Presidential Inauguration 1905.” Library of Congress, image.
Washington, D.C., setting of two distinctly disparate 2021 events on 6 January and 20 January, was designed for public gatherings in wide open spaces. Major Pierre L’Enfant, born in France but an ardent supporter of the American Revolutionary War who volunteered to serve in the Corps of Engineering of the Continental Army, met George Washington and proposed himself as the designer of the country’s new capital. In L’Enfant’s vision, wide avenues would radiate from the house of Congress and the house of the President. L’Enfant sketched 15 open spaces for gatherings and monuments: L’Enfant stated that open spaces were as important as buildings.
Washington Mall, site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech of 1963, and of 200,000 flags heralding the Biden-Harris Inauguration of 2021. Image: “National Mall, Washington, D.C.” wikimedia.
L’Enfant may have been influenced by the design of a renovated Paris, France, by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who enlarged the boulevards for two reasons: better air circulation to lessen the spread of viral disease, and large public gathering spaces. Paris still benefits from these two reasons, as does Washington.
“L’Enfant’s Plan of Washington, D.C., 1887.” National Register of Historic Places: 97000332. Image: Library of Congress.
L’Enfant ‘s grand vision was almost lost. Apparently there was a dispute, and L’Enfant fled the city with the detailed plans. Enter Benjamin Banneker. Bannekar, who had attended a one-room school while studying independently with his grandmother, was known for mathematical brilliance when he came to work with Major Andrew Ellicott as a surveyor to establish the District of Columbia’s official capital borders.
Benjamin Banneker, from Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum. Wikimedia.
Among Banneker’s considerable talents was a photo-perfect memory. L’Enfant’s design was imprinted on the surveyor’s mind and, according to some reports, soon reproduced for completion by Benjamin Banneker.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture site, in Washington, D.C., is within an area now named Benjamin Banneker Park. Banneker also wrote an almanac, with an inaugural publication entitled: Benjamin Banneker’s Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanack and Ephemeris, for the Year of Our Lord 1792. Banneker corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, and published abolitionist material advocating a vision in part realized, in the capital he helped design, with the inauguration of Barack Obama on 20 January 2009, and 20 January 2021, the inauguration day of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Washington, D.C., joins a small group of designed cities in history. Baghdad was created from a drawing of three concentric circles etched by sword in the sand. Abuja, Nigeria’s new capital, was influenced by Haussman’s Paris, as well as Washington, D.C., and Brasília was the first city designed to be seen from the air, and shaped like an airplane when seen from that vantage point. Capital cities are an iconic kind of urban center, embodying ideals of government and national values. In The New Science of Cities (2013), Michael Batty proposed that we see cities as systems of networks and flows. Arnold Toynbee, in Cities of Destiny, stated that cities, led with vision, may become incubators of art, culture, and science.
As Washington, D.C., takes on a new character in 2021, encouraged by inaugural address values of respect and unity, and led by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, how might L’Enfant’s and Banneker’s design give what Lawrence Durrell called the “spirit of place” to a new spirit of nation?
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala D. Harris. inaugurated in Washington, D.C., on 20 January 2021.
Batty, Michael. The New Science of Cities. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2013. ISBN: 9780262019521
Bedini, Silvio A. The Life of Benjamin Banneker. Rancho Cordova, CA: Landmark Enterprises, 1984.
Durrell, Lawrence. Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on Travel. edited by Alan G. Thomas. Open Road: Integrated Media.
Keene, Louis. “Benjamin Banneker: The Black Tobacco Farmer Who Presidents Couldn’t Ignore.” White House Historical Association.
National Museum of African American History & Culture. “The NMAAHC Museum Site,” https://nmaahc.si.edu/nmaahc-museum-site.
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?
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.
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. http://time.com/3695068/worst-cities-traffic-jams/
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
Seeing earth from space, individual countries fade in the reality that regions may be the true nations. Image: wikimedia.
NAFTA is in the news, but it may soon be history. Now is the time for developing visions for a better, stronger, more sustainable, and kinder, regional alliance. One look from space shows not a troika of nations but a connected region. One aspect that should be added to current negotiations among Canada, Mexico, and the United States: water. The precedent of the Colorado River Compact may help address current considerations of shared water, especially transboundary aquifers? Another eau de vie, education: might scholarly and cultural exchange mingle the waters?
A new capital could signal the vision. It is timely. Recent earthquakes affecting Mexico City reopened conversation about the current capital built on a lakebed, not far from volcanoes. Should Mexico consider moving the DF? A federal district, such as Mexico’s capital or Washington, DC, is by definition its own moveable feast. If Mexico were to move the DF, could the new capital symbolize a regional vision embracing Canada, Mexico and the United States, in honor of shared resources? What architects should design the new city?
What’s in a name? Could TLCAN-ALENA-NAFTA become TAN? Image: wikimedia.
Finally, if Nafta emerges from current talks, it is time to unite nomenclature. How can there be a common vision when, at present, there are three acronyms for the same entity:
The new name might honor a letter from each treaty, resulting in a shared word with meaning in all three languages – TAN. Or initial the countries: cam or mac. But perhaps the alliance that really matters is bigger, representing the land as seen from space. Will these and other issues be debated at the XVII Congressional NAFTA & Border Issues Conference at the Library of Congress in Washington on 26 October 2017?
Eckstein, Gabriel. “Buried Treasure or Buried Hope? The Status of Mexico-U.S. Transboundary Aquifers under International Law.” International Community Law Review 13 (2011), Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
McHugh, James T., editor. Toward a North American Legal System. (2012), Palgrave Macmillan.
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
“B Strong” badge. Courtesy of Boston Red Sox/Major League Baseball. Image: wikimedia commons.
April 15 marks the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, and the power of a city to rise in response. Turning tragedy into actions of peace, Boston inaugurates a new tradition: One Boston Day, honored by acts of what Mayor Walsh termed “resilience and goodness.” Do cities possess inherent power through the good will of citizens? Washington DC was built with open spaces to promote democratic gatherings. Boston may inspire the way to peace: a city strong, through kindness.
“He was Boston,” Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking of Mayor Thomas M. Menino (1942-2014). Image: wikimedia commons.
Thomas M. Menino, Boston’s legendary Mayor (1993-2014), created a legacy of innovation and inclusion. Founding an Innovation District in 2010, Menino and team brought more than 4,000 new jobs and 200 companies to the city. Opening hearts and minds, Mayor Menino also opened the gates of the city to greater inclusion and opportunity, including excellence in public education. Mayors influence success; cities may respond with greater agility to problems and opportunities. What will cities of the future learn, from Tom Menino?
Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, present at 1215 signing of Magna Carta. Image: wikimedia commons.
800 years ago, rights took a leap forward. Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, champion of human rights, is credited with an influential role in the Magna Carta, or Great Charter. The agreement, accepted by “manus” (Latin for hand but meaning legal power, similar to handshaking on a deal) by King John at Runnymede, on June 15, 1215, gave birth to rule of constitutional law in England, and later the world, including the United States’ Constitution. Magna Carta, the Great Charter, along with other landmark documents including the Emancipation Proclamation, and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, visits Massachusetts in October. What are the evolving rights of the future? Will Bolivia lead the way?
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?
Boston’s Greenway. Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Greenways, like the Rose Kennedy Greenway, jewel of the Central Artery in Boston, Massachusetts, offer economic, artistic and public health benefits. An urban equivalent of the Appalachian Trail, such stretches of nature bring fresh air into dense cities including Dalian China, planned to emulate Haussmann’s Paris and the Washington, D.C. of L’Enfant and Banneker. But greenways may provide another aspect of public health: disaster response routes. City centers are prone to blockage; greenways could serve as pathways to safety, and as a means of reaching critical areas. Meanwhile, these ribbons of green keep city dwellers healthy. Sunday bicyclists traversing the Paseo de Reforma, in Mexico City, could use the same route if an earthquake strikes. Might the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters (www.umb.edu/crscad/) lead the way for an expansion of urban greenways in the world’s cities vulnerable to earthquakes?