Letters of Note: The Empire State Building

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Early-1932, after seeing a photograph in the New York Times of the great Helen Keller at the top of the newly-opened Empire State Building, Dr. John Finley wrote to her and asked what she really "saw" from that height. Keller — famously both deaf and blind from a very early age — responded with the incredible letter seen below, within which lies one of the greatest, most evocative descriptions of the skyscraper and its surroundings ever to have been written.

A truly beautiful letter.

[Link to Letters of Note: The Empire State Building]

The Bold Urban Future Starts Now

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America doesn’t do big projects anymore — we’re too broke, no one can agree on our priorities, that era of bold thinking is over.

That canard has been repeated so many times that it’s now accepted as gospel. Except it’s not true. In cities in every region of the country, pie-in-the-sky ideas are moving from brainstorm to blueprint to groundbreaking — and 2012 will prove it.

[Link to The Bold Urban Future Starts Now]

A clean, well-lighted place

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The Visitors’ Centre derives from a modernist tradition of pavilion-building that channels the Glass Boxes of Mies and Johnson. It employs many syntactical elements- a raised plinth, deep roofs on both sides to provide shade; the overhead plane held up by slim shining supports used sparingly, a sheltered glass enclosure of indeterminate function. The architecture gains significance by not kowtowing to the visual fakery that is the bane of most buildings that come up in the vicinity of important older structures.

[Link to A clean, well-lighted place]

Density is Natural

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The benefits of living close to other people are evident even to hunter-gatherers. Though their societies have changed over the millennia, studying characteristics of present-day hunter-gatherers can let us peer into the past. That’s what was done by three anthropologists—Marcus Hamilton, Bruce Milne, and Robert Walker—and one ecologist—Jim Brown. In the process, they seem to have discovered a fundamental law that drives human agglomeration. Though their survey of 339 present-day hunter-gatherer societies doesn’t explicitly mention cities, it does show that as populations grow, people tend to live closer together—much closer together. For every doubling of population, the home ranges of hunter-gatherer groups increased by only 70 percent.

[Link to Density is Natural]

Fresh Thrust to Urbanization

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India’s Census 2011 shows that one in every three Indians now lives in an urban habitat and that the move towards towns and cities has happened mostly in south India, contiguously from Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu.

According to the latest census, 31.2% of the total population lives in urban centres compared with 27.8% in 2001 and 25.5% in 1991. Of the 1.21 billion population, 833 million live in rural India while the remaining 377 million reside in urban India.



The fact that India has more than 1.21 billion people makes any percentage shift, let alone from 25% to 31% in two decades, for interesting times in the near future. Watch this space.

[Link to Fresh Thrust to Urbanization]

Liveable vs Lovable

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I spoke to Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development, and asked him about these surveys. “I’ve been to Copenhagen,” (Monocle’s Number 2) he tells me “and it’s cute. But frankly, on the second day, I was wondering what to do.” So, if the results aren’t to his liking, what does he suggest? “We need to ask, what makes a city great? If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that’s fine. You can go live in a gated community. These kinds of cities are what is called ‘productive resorts’. Descartes, writing about 17th-century Amsterdam, said that a great city should be ‘an inventory of the possible’. I like that description.”

[Link to Liveable vs Lovable]

India’s Urban Slum Population

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As per estimates of the Committee set up by Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation under the Chairmanship of Dr. Pranob Sen, Principal Adviser, Planning Commission (former Secretary, Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation, and Chief Statistician, Government of India) the slum population in the country is expected to touch 93.06 million by 2011.



India too conducts its census every ten years and the sheer size of numbers blows away your mind; Uttar Pradesh, one of the states in northern India now has a population of 200 million – almost two-thirds that of the entire U.S. Although 93.06 million in slums sounds like abject poverty, in reality its not exactly true. Some 'slums' in Mumbai are hotbeds of grassrooots entrepreneurship and although living conditions could be better, not all hope is lost.

[Link to India's Urban Slum Population]

The 5 Best Rooftop Gardens in New York

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In their new book, Rooftop Gardens, authors Denise LeFrak Calicchio and Roberta Model Amon showcase more than two dozen of the best private outdoor spaces in New York City. Now, exclusively for Curbed NY, the authors have done the impossible: They've narrowed the list down to the five most unique secret spaces.



With rooftop gardens like these, who wouldn't love to live in the Big Apple?

[Link to The 5 Best Rooftop Gardens in New York]

How Skyscrapers Can Save the City

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Besides making cities more affordable and architecturally interesting, tall buildings are greener than sprawl, and they foster social capital and creativity. Yet some urban planners and preservationists seem to have a misplaced fear of heights that yields damaging restrictions on how tall a building can be. From New York to Paris to Mumbai, there’s a powerful case for building up, not out.

[Link to How Skyscrapers Can Save the City]