Dwarf Metropolis

Housing built under a motorway in Argenteuil, north western suburb of Paris. (Source)

I was thinking about cities today. Cities first arose in Mesopotamia. With the rise of agriculture individuals for the first time amass a certain wealth. But it was also ripe for plundering by the more nomadic groups, so walls were built to protect this. And so cities were made. It is interesting, that connection between capital, cities and protection. In Swedish, there’s a word called borg, which means fortress (and not a cybernetic organism :p). This sounds familiar to borgare, bourgeois, though it also sounds similar to Bürger, the German word for an inhabitant of a town. Thinking of capitalism, a mental inner image of a sprawling metropolis appears. The city where the government of a country is located is also called a capital.

Speaking of fortresses, the name of this post is inspired by the game Dwarf Fortress. I’ve only played Dwarf Fortress once, didn’t really find it entertaining. But that didn’t stop me from getting all nerdy about it, reading the wiki and Let’s Plays of it. When a goblin raid comes along, if the dwarves cannot defeat it they’ll have to hide behind the fortress walls and have to sustain themselves on what is inside. I believe that to cope with goblins (environmental issues) we’ll have to rely on fortresses (cities). By that I don’t mean stuff like growing food inside cities, but that with peak oil behind the corner we need to live more densely together.

A most interesting feature of it is the z-dimension, that the fortresses are built underground. For greater density, cities of course need to build into the sky and down into the ground. In the sky we have the tall buildings, floors built upon another (I am quite interested in whether tall buildings made of wood can challenge concrete and steel, or complement them in some way), and in the underground, where the dwarves live, there is also a sprawling world. The subways are attractive to humans, but the sewers less so. I also find the connection with the living of the humans and the living of the dwarves interesting not only due to the subways, but due to the fact that the tall buildings cast large shadows, making days less bright. Inverted during the night, the electrical lamps makes the city bath in light.

Cities are often logistical nightmares for city planners. Especially those in Europe or Japan, owing to their age – building for immediate needs causes troubles later on when the cities grow. Sweden, due to never having had a war fought on Swedish soil, has a lot of medieval cities still standing strong. On the other hand, Sweden initiated an urbanization process after WWII where the agricultural populace was drawn to the cities in a quite orderly fashion. This was possible primarily due to three factors: 1) The country came quite unscathed out of the war, 2) a strong centralized state and 3) close connections with the US.

The above process, along with vast spaces and a certain “frontier romance”, similar to the US and Australia, means that Swedes like cars a bit more than they’d admit. Cars and cities are a terrible combination. They seem to embody the faults with liberalism. Commuting is fairly slow. Cars are a bit faster. So when cities grew, some chose to use cars instead of more collective means of transportation in cities. Travelling by car got a little bit slower, but so did commuting. People living in Stockholm actually seem to be driving more than people living in Norrbotten (the province of the northern north, here be dragons). And so we have cities filled with bubbles of steel, machines dangerous to all who cross roads. Even when they’re not moving they obstruct the city. Think of all parking spots which could have something much more useful on them. A great step towards better cities is thus prioritizing more commuting, or less obtructive means of transportation like bicycles and taxis (taxis don’t need parking spots).

One big problem with cities is of course the anonymosity. In a large city, you can more easily be left out. Though maybe that has more to do with the social mores of the present, which I talked a bit about in my previous post. It is imperative of course to expand the commons (those things which are outside both the private and public sphere), for greater social interconnectedness. I see no reason why the city can’t be as good in the respect as the country-side, if not better! There are so many more cool things in cities. I would be most interested in more communes, and I think it is good especially for senior citizens. Old people dying, without anybody to notice it until weeks or months afterwards, represents a low point in humanity.

To summarize: I think cities should be prioritizing the z-dimension, for example buildings which don’t need windows, like cinemas and shops, should preferably be underground. Tall buildings become crazy inconvenient after reaching a certain number of floors, of course. There should be a greater collectivism in both transportation and social life. Though living like dwarves may not be natural for us, it is imperative for environmental sustainability. Hopefully there will be good ways of making cities greener, in the sense of more flora, that is.

I should add that I live on the countryside, like not the “countryside” which city folks call certain suburbs, but actual countryside with forests all around and a kilometer or so to the nearest bus stop. Cities, though truly impressive, also seem intimidating to me in their vastness. But I believe in human cities.


4 Responses to “Dwarf Metropolis”

  1. Blerd Says:

    I think we do live pretty dense. At least in the US it’s that way ( around 80% of the population is in a city).

    • Blerd Says:

      It cut off my comment!

      Anyway. I don’t think I could do underground, but we do need to work on better planning. We need more green planning. Part of the problem with that is economic though. Efficiency decreases profit. And I think every city should work on perfecting transit.

      • procrastinationembodied Says:

        It’s also interesting that the US has more house owners per capita than most countries in Europe (I tried to look up statistics on it for comparison, but could find any. But I’m fairly sure such is that case). Anyway, I didn’t mean that homes should be built underground, but facilities not so dependent on the surface, like subways, cinemas and shops should preferably be underground when building cities.

  2. F*cking Cars « Procrastination Embodied Says:

    […] As I briefly touched upon in a previous blog entry, car as a mass means of transportation is incredibly bad for cities. While you could travel pretty well in a car if you were the only one driving, when everyone does it, it leads to disaster. The roads in the inner cities (as well as other places) get full, the city gets full of parking spots specifically for these steel bubbles, and it becomes a more dangerous place to live in. Another result of this is so called urban sprawl, which, to quote Wikipedia, is characterized by the following: […]

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