Nicolas Magand on the internet

Comments about tech, media, nature, &c.

My name is Nicolas Magand and I live in Paris, France. I work as a social media and engagement editor at the Global Editors Network, a non-profit aimed at promoting innovation and sustainability in the news industry. Here I blog mostly about tech and media, but many other topics can face my enthusiasm.

Filtering by Tag: urbanism

In the Mojave Desert, the dream city that was never built

Diana Budds, on Curbed, telling the story of California City, a small town which was originally planned to be the pinnacle of urbanism in the seventies, now a strange, arid, and hollow place:

Mendelsohn—a Czech emigre, a sociologist who studied the structure of towns and villages, and a Columbia University professor—was eager to get in on the postwar development boom. In 1958, he bought 82,000 acres of land—about 125 square miles—in the Mojave Desert and dreamed of transforming it into a thriving city composed of neighborhoods for medicine, commerce, industry, and academia.

And it was meant to be a place where families could thrive: A three-bedroom house, purchased on spec, started at $8,700 and Mendelsohn built amenities to sweeten the deal, like a golf course, a 20-acre lake, a swimming pool, and recreation fields. He also carved out a street grid and installed water and power infrastructure, readying the land for buildings that never came.

This article reads like the pitch for a new TV show, I just wish it featured a lot more pictures of the town.*

Like Budds writes, the city "speaks to an enduring and elusive ambition: the search for a perfect place."


* Beautiful photographs from Chang Kim, who has more on a dedicated website.↩︎

When politicians try to sell you congestion and traffic as part of your identity

Arthur Neslen, on The Guardian:

Madrid may be about to become the first European city to scrap a major urban low-emissions zone after regional polls left a rightwing politician who views 3am traffic jams as part of the city’s cultural identity on the cusp of power.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who is expected to become the new Popular party (PP) president of the Madrid region, believes night-time congestion makes the city special and has pledged to reverse a project known as Madrid Central, which has dramatically cut urban pollution.

This has to be one of the most ridiculous excuses ever given by a politician, and that's a pretty high bar to reach.

Saying a problem is part of your city's identity as a way to earn votes from unhappy car drivers is not only hypocritical, but imagine if the same reasoning was applied to the London situation in the 20th century : "The London fog is part of our identity. Yes, it is mostly toxic smokes and poisonous gas causing thousands of deaths but is also part of our identity so we shall keep using coal and save the Smog."

Sidenote, still from the same article:

An estimated 30,000 Spaniards die each year due to air pollution, according to the European Environment Agency.

Whatever you think about low-emissions zone, I would think that politicians in favour of scrapping them can find better ways to justify it, like "We want to put all the money possible into social services, " or even "Traffic is the best way to convince the new generations not to buy a car in Madrid."

Moving a whole city a few kilometres away in order to keep it alive

A fascinating story by Chris Michael, on the fate of the northern Swedish city of Kiruna, which is threatened by the collapse of the iron ore mines underneath it. By law, the mining company has to keep the city from being swallowed into the ground, since it is responsible for this unusual situation. In that case, it means moving the city a few kilometres away.

The scale of the project is unprecedented. Several dozen buildings will be moved by a specially assembled team of experts who have become so good at their jobs that Cars claims it’s now usually cheaper to move a home than to demolish and rebuild. The huge wooden church will be hoisted and moved; other buildings, such as the current city hall and the railway station, will be stripped of aesthetic elements, including lampposts and iron railings, to be incorporated into new structures.

Piece of cake.

Video of outer-Shanghai shows an infinity of buildings

Last week I came accross this video posted on Twitter by James O'Malley, showing what the outskirts of Shanghai looked like between two train stations. As O'Malley describes it:

If you've ever wondered how China has room for 1.3bn people… this is how.

You have to watch it to believe it, but is it both fascinating and kind of shocking. Shocking in the sense that I know we are only seeing the tip of an iceberg here, and the scale of this city landscape is just remarkable.

Improving traffic in New York City

Jason Kottke linked to a very interesting article on The New York Times, about how some European cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam can insprire new traffic patterns designs. The author of this article, architect and urban designer John Massengale, has a few ideas for New York City:

  1. Decrease the number of Manhattan streets that function as transportation corridors primarily devoted to moving machines through the city.

  2. Design and build Slow Zones where people actually drive slowly.

  3. Make the transportation corridors that remain better urban places, with a better balance between city life and moving cars.

All great ideas, and I think Paris could really use one or two to improve the mess that is car traffic here.

There is surprinsigly no mention of the promises of autonomous cars: reduced number of cars on the roads in the long run, radically different traffic patterns, improved safety, etc. This article on Slate explains this very well.

There is also no mention of electric vehicles, and their undeniable positive impacts on air pollution and city noise.