Tag Archives: USA

REVIEW | Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

BOOK REVIEW | Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall
Review by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

… and you should have learned about in high school in the first place.

(Book blurb begins) Maps have a mysterious hold over us. Whether ancient, crumbling parchments or generated by Google, maps tell us things we want to know, not only about our current location or where we are going but about the world in general. And yet, when it comes to geo-politics, much of what we are told is generated by analysts and other experts who have neglected to refer to a map of the place in question. All leaders of nations are constrained by geography. Now updated to include 2016 geopolitical developments, journalist Tim Marshall examines Russia, China, the US, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Japan, Korea, and Greenland and the Arctic—their weather, seas, mountains, rivers, deserts, and borders—to provide a context often missing from our political reportage: how the physical characteristics of these countries affect their strengths and vulnerabilities and the decisions made by their leaders (Book blurb ends).

I have to admit to judging Prisoners of Geography by its cover… and it does have a great cover designed by David Wardle (see above). However, I should have paid much closer attention to the Tim Marshall’s author biography on the inside of the backcover when I purchased this book. He is only a BBC/Sky news reporter. I began reading with expectations for in-depth analysis about an issue with profound and widespread implications around the world. Instead, what I got was a high school geography lesson; presumably written for people who didn’t bother to listen the first time around in their high school geography class. On these terms, Prisoners of Geography is fine. However, if you are looking for something with more intellectual breadth and depth, then the shallow nature of Prisoners of Geography will be a disappointment. Mark’s Grade:

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall
Paperback, 320 pages, English
Scribner; Reprint edition (October 11, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1501121472
ISBN-13: 978-1501121470

You can purchase Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall on Amazon here.

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Urban Patterns | Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas USA

“We’ll be standin’ on the corner of 12th in line
With our Kansas City baby and our bottle of Kansas City wine.”
Kansas City, Little Richard

Urban Patterns | Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Kansas City, Missouri is the largest city in the state and the sixth largest city in the American Midwest. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city had an estimated population of 481,420 in 2016, making it the 37th largest city by population in the United States. It is the anchor city of the Kansas City metropolitan area, which straddles the Kansas–Missouri border. Kansas City was founded in the 1830s as a Missouri River port at its confluence with the Kansas River. On June 1, 1850, the town of Kansas was incorporated; shortly after came the establishment of the Kansas Territory. Confusion between the two ensued and the name Kansas City was assigned to distinguish them soon thereafter. Kansas City, Kansas is the third-largest city in that state and the third-largest city (after Kansas City, Missouri and Overland Park, Kansas) of the Kansas City metropolitan area. The Kansas City metropolitan area is a 15-county metropolitan area that straddles the border between Missouri and Kansas. With a population of about 2,340,000, it ranks as the second largest metropolitan area in Missouri (after Greater St. Louis). Kansas City, Kansas is abbreviated as KCK to differentiate it from Kansas City, Missouri. As of the 2010 census, Kansas City, Kansas had a population of 145,786 residents. (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view, 15 km, Kansas City,Missouri-Kansas USA, Google Earth
Satellite view from 15 km of Kansas City Missouri-Kansas USA (Source: Google Earth).

There are two distinctive characteristics to the urban pattern of Kansas City at different scales of the city. The first is the series of large building footprints and urban blocks composing a series of small-scale (in relative terms) offset grids adjacent to the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. This is most apparent in the close-up satellite view from 15 km of Kansas City (see above). This is a direct result of its historical origins in water transportation, which remains important to this day for the city; namely, the laying out of street networks to ensure a rectangular shape to the plots on the most valuable land immediately adjacent to the rivers.

Satellite view, 30 km, Kansas City,Missouri-Kansas USA, Google Earth
Satellite view from 30 km of Kansas City Missouri-Kansas USA (Source: Google Earth).

When examining the Kansas City urban pattern at the large-scale (see satellite view from 30 km above), the second distinctive characteristic becomes much more apparent; namely, a strong north-south and east-west structure in the street network of Kansas City. Initially, some people might think this occurred due to the stereotypical view about the ‘flatness’ of the American prairie. However, the topography in and around Kansas City is composed of gentle, rolling hills and river bluffs. Instead, this is evidence of the emergent pattern of the Jeffersonian grid in the 1785 Land Ordinance.

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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PHOTO ESSAY | Dana-Thomas House | Frank Lloyd Wright

Dana-Thomas House located on East Lawrence Avenue in Springfield, Illinois is one of the earliest examples of the Modernist Prairie Style of architecture designed by its leading advocate, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, circa 1902-04. The State of Illinois bought the house in 1981 and it became a historic site under the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which led a restoration effort in 1987-1990 to refit the house to its appearance in 1910. It is believed to contain one of the most intact Frank Lloyd Wright architectural interiors in the United States (Source: Wikipedia).

There is an interesting, contradictory dynamic at work in the scale of the house in the horizontal and vertical dimension. Simply put, this house has a gigantic footprint! The house is 12,600 square feet, with thirty-five rooms and sixteen major spaces (Source: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency). This square footage is so far over-the-top that the top “is a dot to you” and me. This is the equivalent of five houses for the average American homeowner today! The horizontal emphasis in the designed elevations of the house (especially adjacent to busiest, public streets) allows this house to somewhat sit comfortably in the Springfield neighborhood in the vertical dimension of the elevation of the houses. However, the footprint of the house is equal to the size of four lots either immediately across the street or adjacent to the house. I suppose it is a testament to horizontal emphasis in Wright’s elevation designs that the house fooled me into thinking it was (only) around 6,000 square feet; itself, a extremely large house (and perhaps the footprint of only the first floor without the accessory structure/courtyard to the rear is around this number). The more you move around the house, the more conscious you become of how out-of-scale the Dana-Thomas House is to the surrounding urban context in the horizontal dimension of the plan.

First floor plan for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois, USA (Source: Wikipedia).
Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois from 4th Street (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois from sideyard (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois from interior courtyard (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois from interior courtyard (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois from interior courtyard (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois from interior courtyard (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois from East Lawrence Avenue looking toward 4th Street (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Detail of Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois side entrance from East Lawrence Avenue (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois from corner of 4th Street and East Lawrence Avenue at side elevation of the house (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois from corner of 4th Street and East Lawrence Avenue at front elevation of the house (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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We the People… are not ready | COMMENT | A World Without Trash Cans | Atlantic Cities

We the People… are not ready

by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

I have been waiting for the appropriate time and place to ask a question. I wrote a tweet asking this question on the afternoon of the Boston Marathon bombing. However, I deleted the tweet without posting because 140 characters seemed woefully inadequate for any context to this question. I was also worried about prematurely discussing the implications before people had time to process Monday’s events. I wrote a slightly longer status update (about 40 words) for my personal Facebook page later that evening. I thought I could ask my friends this question. They know me and would willingly forgive any awkwardness arising from brevity. However, again, it seemed both premature and insufficient. I deleted the status update without posting. Thanks to the Amanda Erickson’s April 16th article, “A World Without Trash Cans?”, for Atlantic Cities (a link to her article is available below), I feel as if I have found the right venue to express something that has been bothering me… literally, for years. I ask this question and write this article with the disclaimer I am not a security expert. I am only a concerned citizen.

Here is the question: why didn’t anyone notice?

I lived in London from 1992-2000. During this time, like many Londoners, I had my fair share of close calls with Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombings. My friends and I partied in a Soho pub called the Sussex Arms on a Saturday night. The next Saturday night, the IRA set off a nail bomb, killing one person, in the men’s room of the same pub. My aunt and uncle visited me in London. I eagerly showed them around the city on a beautiful spring day. The personal tour included visiting historical sites in the City of London. During this tour, we passed the Baltic Exchange on a couple of occasions. The next day, the IRA set off the bomb that destroyed the Baltic Exchange. The IRA set off three bombs on a Thursday along the same stretch of road my ex-wife and I walked every Saturday on the way to and from the grocery store. Of course, I was aware of new learned behaviors on my part while living in a city under siege by the IRA. This included being naturally suspicious of unattended bags and packages on the London Underground and elsewhere. After I returned home, I became aware of other learned behaviors. To this day, if I am walking along a street and see an unmarked parked van, I have to restrain myself from crossing the street to distance myself from a possible threat. The first time I realized I was doing this was in Palm Coast, Florida. I laughed at myself for subconsciously thinking the IRA might want to bomb Palm Coast. More importantly, it represented learned behavior from living in London for nearly a decade.

There were others. I once had the unfortunate experience of watching a young woman throw herself under a London Underground train in a suicide attempt. It happened right in front of me. The young woman was standing a couple of feet to my right before she ran pass me and threw herself from the platform under the train. Fortunately, she survived with minor injuries. Afterwards, I realized she had been alone on the platform, coatless, and not carrying a bag. In the 1990s, almost everybody on the London Underground seemed to be carrying some sort of bag (briefcase, computer bag, backpack, shopping bag, and so on). They probably still do. From that point forward, when I was on the London Underground and I saw someone alone without a bag, I would casually stand near and in front of them, putting myself between them and the tracks, in an attempt to avoid repeating the experience. The probability this act made a difference was infinitely small. However, there was always the off-chance it might make a difference. It did not cost me anything to do and I seriously doubt anyone noticed a reason for my strategic positioning on the platform. I had developed a new learned behavior.

In the weeks after September 11, 2001, I visited English friends living in Atlanta, Georgia. Naturally, we discussed the events of September 11th within the context of our shared experience living in London with the constant threat of IRA terrorism. Make no mistake: the IRA were terrorists. They engaged in indiscriminate bombings designed to murder innocent civilians. This is the very definition of terrorism. In any case, my friends and I looked out the window of their downtown apartment in Atlanta, marveled about the neat row of trash cans spaced every 20 feet along the street, and wondered why they had not been removed. We talked about our travel experiences in the aftermath of September 11th. I admitted the presence of the National Guard armed with machine guns in American airports was comforting; not so much because of fear in the aftermath of September 11th but because it was more consistent with my European experience over the previous decade. My friends and I agreed that the United States was not ready if Al Qaeda decided to adopt IRA tactics. In the subsequent 12 years, this has been a source of occasional worry for me. I wondered, when is Al Qaeda (or any other terrorist group, foreign or domestic, organized or the proverbial ‘lone wolf’ fruitcake) going to realize how much damage they could really do by following the lead of the IRA? In 12 years, I have seen precious little to indicate we the people are ready for a sustained assault on thousands of the ‘soft targets’ across this country, designed to truly terrorize the general population on an everyday basis. Luckily, Al Qaeda and everyone else remained fixated of ‘spectacle terrorism’, designed to drive international news coverage into a feeding frenzy (terrorism by media proxy)… until Monday.

We have constructed a mammoth security bureaucracy to learn about and intercept terrorism threats before they cross our border and/or implement their plans. For the most part, it has been successful. However, I wonder how much of that success is due to terrorists’ unchanging focus on the uniquely spectacular instead of the ordinarily possible. It is true. We are an open society; in ideal, if not always in practice. And it is a good thing to aspire to this ideal, however imperfectly. But it does not mean we have to forgo common sense. Foolishness is not an inherent attribute of openness. At the same time, we do not want our home to become an armed military camp. Our approach to terrorism requires balance between freedom and caution, openness and common sense. After 12 years, we still do not seem to be striking the right balance. It is too top-heavy. Our government bureaucracies are well prepared, perhaps overly so, and (seemingly) paranoid. Our citizens are under-prepared and (seemingly) nonchalant. It is puzzling how two unattended bags can escape the notice of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people in Boston. All it took to avert this event was one or two people, ordinary citizens, flagging down a police officer or event organizer after noticing a suspicious package along the marathon route. Why did this not happen? It is time ordinary citizens became more vigilant, to develop learned behaviors that, in themselves, might prove equally effective in guarding against acts of terrorism. After all, as big as the government is, there are still more of us citizens than government bureaucrats. The most effective act against terrorism on September 11, 2001 was not a presidential decision, government policy, or military action. It was an act of vigilance and bravery by ordinary citizens on United Flight 93. Ordinary citizens appear to have learned this lesson in the air. Isn’t about time we learned the same lesson on the ground?

In asking who did this and why, I think we are missing an equally important question, which is: why didn’t anyone notice? I am worried that we are still not ready for this kind of terrorism… and, by now, we really should be.

A World Without Trash Cans? | Amanda Erickson | The Atlantic Cities.

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