The Steep Streets of San Francisco

 

Many years ago I made it to San Francisco on a trip.  It is an amazing city in terms of stunning architecture, giant bridges, interesting cultural areas and very original scenes.  The geography and topography are unlike any other major city in North America.

San Francisco has very big hills throughout its whole area.  This creates very steep streets.  Driving down these streets is nerve-wracking when one is not used to them.  You come to a cross street and you cannot see the street below.  It is like you are approaching a cliff.

One of the effects of these steep streets is that the sidewalks get very hard to walk up.  So certain streets consist not of sidewalks, but steps.  It was absolutely amazing to see these steps that only the physically fit could, or should tackle.  And that an intoxicated person should avoid at all costs.  

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Distinctive Architecture of Barcelona, Spain

Eixample is a district of the Spanish city of Barcelona, that lies between the old city and the surrounding small towns. The district was built as an extension (hence the name “Eixample”) when Barcelona started to grow during the middle of the 19th century. The 7.5 square km district is characterized by long straight streets, a strict grid pattern crossed by wide avenues, and octagonal city blocks – rectangular blocks with the corners cut off, which are distinctive for Barcelona. This was the visionary, pioneering design by Spanish urban planner Ildefons Cerdà, who considered traffic and transport along with sunlight and ventilation in coming up with his characteristic octagonal blocks.

 

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Cerdà’s central aim was to overcome social problems by using quadrangular blocks of a standard size, with strict building controls to ensure that they were built up on only two sides, to a limited height, leaving a shady square or garden in between. This recreational open space with open sides to the blocks was to guarantee the houses the maximum amount of sun, light and ventilation. The angled corners allowed the streets to broaden at every intersection making for greater visibility, and fluid traffic in all directions. Cerdà had steam trams in mind, and it was its long turning radius which determined the angle of the corners of the buildings. Trams were never installed, and the city planners unfortunately ignored many of his other provisions.

Cerda wanted housing blocks to be orientated NW-SE to ensure all apartments received sunshine during the day. Each district would be of twenty blocks, containing all the community shops and services, and each block were to have at least 800 square meters of gardens. Cerda’s idealized use of urban space was scarcely achieved. The blocks went up to much more than the planned heights, and in practice all the blocks have been enclosed, with very few inner gardens surviving. Most of the inner courtyards today are occupied by car parks, workshops and shopping centers. The streets were narrower – only one of the two diagonal avenues was carried out – the inhabitants were of a higher class than the mixed composition dreamed of by Cerdà. The grid pattern with its distinctive octagonal blocks, however, remains as a hallmark of Barcelona’s Eixample.

Over the past few years the city has begun trying to implement Cerdà’s idea for green public spaces behind the buildings. When a block is vacated because of the relocation of a business, the city takes up the block and redesigns it with parks and open spaces. The ultimate goal is to create one patio-garden for every nine blocks, but its unlikely that so many will become available in the near future.

 

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Pittsburgh, PA.,: A very Hilly City

Being from Winnipeg, one of the flattest cities in the world, hilly cities have always intrigued me. I always thought San Francisco was the U.S. city with the most hills, but I discovered that Pittsburgh is even hillier than the California city.

The city of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, the United States, is located over an unruly terrain of hills, hollows, valleys and three intersecting rivers. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, when Pittsburgh was growing as a coal and steel town, factory workers built houses in the hills rising above the flat riverbanks that were lined with factories. In order to commute to work, city officials and residents built staircases along the hillsides, originally of wood and later with concrete that ran up and down throughout the city.

Revered American journalist Ernie Pyle famously wrote about the city in 1937:

Pittsburgh is undoubtedly the cockeyedest city in the United States. Physically, it is absolutely irrational. It must have been laid out by a mountain goat… I’ve flown over it, and driven all around it, and studied maps of it, and I hardly know one end of Pittsburgh from the other… There’s just one balm — people who live here can’t find their way around, either.

 

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Downtown

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The steps

Many of the city’s neighborhoods are steeply sloped with two-lane roads. More than a quarter of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods make reference to “hills,” “heights,” or other similar indicators by name.

The city has some 712 sets of outdoor pedestrian stairs with 44,645 treads and 24,090 vertical feet including hundreds of paper streets composed entirely of stairs and many other steep streets with stairs for sidewalks. Many provide vistas of the Pittsburgh area while attracting hikers and fitness walkers.

 

Population (2013)
 • City 305,841
 • Rank US: 62nd
 • Density 5,540/sq mi (2,140/km2)
 • Urban 1,733,853 (US: 27th)
 • Metro 2,360,867 (US: 22nd)
 • CSA 2,659,937 (US: 20th)
 • GMP $131.3 billion (23rd)

 

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New York City Changing Skyline

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The changing skyline. The Hudson Yards development will add 5 huge new skyscrapers to the skyline. The main tower will be 30 Hudson Yard. It will have one of the most spectacular outdoor observation decks in the world. The building is scheduled for completion in 2019.

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Heights don’t scare some people. Is that guy wearing yoga pants?

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Akademgorodok: Siberia’s Silicon Valley

Tucked away in a remote forest of birch and pine in the heart of Siberia, 3,000 km away from Moscow, at a place where winters are six months long with temperatures dropping to minus 40 degree Celsius and summers are swaddled with mosquitos, is a city built for scientists and researchers. This frozen wasteland is more suited for polar bears than scientific endeavors, but Nikita Khrushchev felt the distance from Moscow was necessary so that the country’s sharpest scientific minds could work together on fundamental research away from the prying eyes of bureaucracy. This is Akademgorodok, or “Academic Town”—the Soviet Union’s answer to America’s Silicon Valley.

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Akademgorodok is situated in the middle of a forest 30 km south of Novosibirsk city. It is one of several Akademgorodoks built between the late 1950s and mid-1970s in Siberia; the Akademgorodok outside Novosibirsk is the most successful one. Located within Akademgorodok is Novosibirsk State University, 35 research institutes, a medical academy, apartment buildings and houses, and a variety of community amenities including stores, hotels, hospitals, restaurants and cafes, cinemas, clubs and libraries. Less than two kilometer away is an artificial beach created by dumping hundreds of tons of sand along the edge of the Ob reservoir.

At its peak, Akademgorodok was home to 65,000 scientists and their families. It was a privilege to live there, and many scholars in the 60s escaped to the frozen hinterland as a sort of voluntary exile in order to be far from the totalitarian rule of the Soviet capital, and lured by the promise of new housing and professional advancement.

Residents enjoyed great levels of freedom and indulged in activities unheard of in any other corner of the Soviet empire. They discussed the foundations of Marxist theory and about economic reforms, read books, listen to poets and singers not approved by the regime. Scientific research in areas dismissed as dangerous pseudoscience in Moscow, such as cybernetics and genetics, flourished.

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Nikita Khrushchev, foreground center, visits Akademgorodok during construction in the 1950s.

Living standards in Akademgorodok were also higher than in the rest of the country. Shops were stocked with subsidized foodstuffs not easily obtainable elsewhere, and apartments were well-furnished. Those who obtained a doctorate were given a special food delivery service, which provided them a wider selection of groceries than the general population could avail. Members of the Academy of Sciences had access to even higher level of services and were allotted single-family residences rather than apartments.

But the utopian vision of no bureaucratic interference proved impossible in the Soviet Union. Freedoms got severely curtailed in the 1970s during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev. Then when the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, many of the former communist nation’s best minds fled to the west. But economic reforms brought about by the end of communism saw the beginning of private investment and venture funding in Akademgorodok. From USD 10 million in 1997, this rose to USD 1 billion by 2015. There are some 300 companies operating at Akademgorodok today dabbling on everything from nano-ceramics to motion graphics for the American entertainment industry. Its current population stands at over 100,000.

While the figures pale in comparison to that of other countries and even elsewhere in Russia—Skolkovo, an emerging tech hub on the outskirts of Moscow, for example, has over 1,100 startups generating over USD 1 billion in revenue alone at the end of 2014—Akademgorodok will remain as Russia’s original Silicon Valley.

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