There are few cities that have the energy of Tokyo. It’s one place where you can feel the past and future collide, with traditional teahouses and 1950s-throwback salarymen mixing with girls in cutting-edge fashion and boys with the latest technology. The intensity is dialed up to the maximum at Shibuya Crossing, where Flickr user m24instudio shot today’s Photo Of The Day. There you can have a seat at a cafe or grab some kind of odd beverage from a vending machine and sit on a bench (Japanese manners dictate that you should never drink and walk), and watch the world go by.
As a rule, people generally prefer to live above ground. Whether it’s claustrophobia, prohibitive construction costs, or just enjoyment of the sun, people have generally stuck with above-ground structures across the globe. In instances where above-ground cities have subterranean components, they are often public transit systems, municipal works, or just plain old sewers.
Yet every once in a while, some far-fetched city planner or wealthy tycoon will decide that the cheapest real estate is just one floor down. This gallery collects some of the most eye-popping examples of underground zoning – whether it’s ancient catacombs repurposed for modern use, a billionaire’s dream, or just an organic growth of cities with imposing population density, these underground creations make the Morlocks look downright shabby.
John William Burgon’s “rose-red city half as old as time” is one of Jordan’s great treasures. While it gained a small amount of fame through association with the popular 1962 film “Lawrence of Arabia, the city’s stunning architecture and unique water management methods made it a marvel far before the film. The city was carvedinto the slope of Mount Hor sometime in 6th century BCE, and was fought over by the Romans, King Herod, and even Cleopatra. With a grand theater, their own coinage, and a nearly unassailable fortress, the capitol city of the Nabatean empire was a feat well before it’s time. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and listed by the BBC as one of “40 places to see before you die”.
Just a stone’s throw from the Hagia Sofia (and a couple stories down) lies one of the most impressive wonders of Istanbul.Built sometime around 6th century CE, the structure was a large basilica involved in commerce and the arts. It was later converted to a cistern during Emperor Justinian’s reign to store water for the palace – capable of holding almost 21 million gallons of water. Scholars still haven’t figured out all of the repurposed temple’s secrets: a pair of odd Medusa heads (one upside down, the other on it’s side) grace the bottom of two pillars. Is their positioning to ward against evil spirits, or just to allow the pillars to fit correctly? James Bond also made a brief rowboat trip through the cistern in From Russia With Love.
The Australian Outback has some brutal living conditions, and much of the country is uninhabitable by humans. In Coober Pedy, the scorching heat would scare off almost any settler – except for the presence of a huge lode of opal in the area. Residents avoid the over-100F temperatures by living in “dugouts” carved into the hillsides, which allow for more reasonable temperatures. Above ground, the near-wasteland has been used in such films as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Pitch Black. The residents have a good sense of humor about their situation – artist Claus Wirris created the town’s only “tree” out of scrap metal atop a hill in the town.
The Moscow Metro is not the highest-volume underground tranportation system – that honor goes to Tokyo. However, the pre-WWII system is one of the most stunning underground structures of any kind. Stalin himself pushed for a “radiant” style, including high ceilings, marble walls, gold anodized lamps, and iconic chandeliers of copper, blue ceramic, and milk glass. 2.3 billion passengers take the Metro each year, and while many other countries are used to exposed cement and grimy ceilings, the Muscovites are still riding in style.
The most famous of four major underground cities, Derinkuyu is one of the wonders of ancient Cappadocia. One of the oldest and largest underground structures, Derinkuyu’s massive depths (reaching eleven seperate levels) could hold some 40,000 people with their livestock and belongings included. Likely created as a means for Christians to hide from persecution, the city included a chapel among its many amenities, as well as massive stone doors to secure each level. The cave-dwellers even went so far as to establish travel options – a tunnel connects the massive underground complex to Kaymaklli, another underground city.
Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel
There is little glamorous about the function of this Kasukabe overflow control channel – it simply functions to prevent floods in Tokyo. But given the presence of tsunamis and other hazardous water possibilities, this structure is one of the largest in the world, and can pump out 200 tons of water per second. The main attraction for visitors is the “Underground Temple” – the main water tank’s stunning pillars easily dwarf the viewer. A Range Rover commercial featured the car driving inside the massive structure.
The Salt Cathedral of Wieliczka, Poland is fairly literal in its etymology. A former rock salt mine, the cathedral carved out by the miners for daily prayers was ultimately expanded and turned into a tourist attraction, continuing on after salt production ceased in 1996. Counting Goerthe, Chopin, Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton among its visitors, the site has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978. In addition to a stunning underground lake, the cathedral prominently showcases its namesake material – several of its statues and even the chandeliers are made of raw or reconstituted rock salt.
Another ancient aquaduct, the underground city on the island of Kish showcases their Kariz – underground water storage facilities essentially similar to the cisterns of Europe. The small waterways of the Kariz can be traversed by boat tour, and the masonry is supplanted by stunning coral in several areas. The island is also a free trade zone, and several investors have planned future renovations and commercial expansions to the 1,000-year-old site.
Think of sustainability, and San Francisco is probably the first city to come to mind. But a new crop of green urban centers is emerging, and they’re not where you might think.
Leon Kaye, editor of GreenGoPost.com, recently published a list of his picks for emerging sustainable cities to watch in 2012. Some spots were to be expected, like Detroit, with its preponderance of urban renewal projects, and Accra, which recently topped Siemens’ and Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of Africa’s greenest cities.
But there were also a few wild cards. Mexico City made the list for its 10-point Climate Action Program, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 million metric tones between 2008 and 2012. The plan included massive improvements to the public transportation system, including the construction of Latin America’s largest rail system and investments in green roofing, water conservation, and waste management.
Also on the list was Naples, Italy, whose trash crisis has made headlines since 2008. Once city residents started realizing that the government wasn’t going to take action, they started taking matters into their own hands. Through grassroots activist movements, like guerrilla gardening and flash mobs, Neapolitans are slowly beautifying their city, and this year will host the UN’s World Urban Forum.
[Flickr image of Mexico City via Alfredo Gayou]
In a part of the public imagination, Detroit is an urban frontier, ripe for the conquering and reimagining, poised for a renaissance, driven by Chrysler ads and noble hipsters volunteering on urban farms. It’s also true that Detroit is an abandoned city, dark and desolate, the kind of place where you can drive down Mack Avenue late one night and only see one pedestrian, a woman scratching her arms in a black dress, looking lost and sitting on a curb at an intersection in front of a boarded up building on a Saturday night.
So let’s dispense with the romance of the place, the idea that Detroit just needs one good idea to be brought back from the brink of total annihilation. It’s a city of systemic problems, even if Eastern Market remains a focal point for the community and suburban kids are moving into downtown and Slows Bar BQ, a barbecue joint that features in pretty much every story written about Detroit these days, is doing brisk business.
My expert source on the region, Micki Maynard, an editor with Changing Gears in Chicago, put it this way: “You have people who are trying to lead this region out of this terrible situation and people who’s lives have been changed completely because of what’s happened here over the last couple of years”
“It’s a city that if you drive around it, it looks half-empty, and that’s because it never actually filled up,” Maynard continues, pointing to plans for three separate business centers that were never fully realized in the wake of World War II. “When people talk about how empty Detroit looks, a little bit is because of the way the city was designed.” And of course, she adds, “Recent events have really taken a toll on Detroit.”
One afternoon, I went to have lunch at Slows. The pulled pork and ribs and mac and cheese are excellent but I wonder if there isn’t another reason so many people stop in: It’s just around the corner from Detroit’s abandoned train station, the ne plus ultra of the city’s ample supply of ruin porn.
After wiping the sauce from my fingers, I went over to see it, fenced in with NO TRESPASSING signs. A couple was taking pictures of the shattered windows as a Salvation Army truck handed water to destitute men dressed in little more than rags who were gathered in the shade nearby. A man with a ponytail carried a spray can, walking the sidewalk, squirting herbicide on weeds, seemingly oblivious to the monument to despair towering behind him.
Other signs of the Detorit diaspora are more subtle. Micki Maynard again: “My dad worked for American Airlines. The airlines back then were important because Detroit was important, so American Airlines had hourly flights to New York. Now they’re down to those little regional jets and basically a few frequencies a day.”
Crime, too, remains an inescapable part of life here. In 2010, there were 307 murders in Detroit, a city that had roughly 700,000 residents that year. In 2009, more than 50,000 property crimes were reported to police. My hosts at the home in Woodbridge where I stayed talked about using the buddy system when biking in the city to avoid being targeted. One of them had his car stolen recently.
The fact that the Woodbridge Pub, a relatively new addition to the neighborhood, had plate glass windows without steel bars protecting them struck me as either monumentally encouraging or monumentally stupid. I didn’t ask the bartender how many times they’d been shattered.
A glance at a map of the United States makes my theme park-addicted mind flag the states and cities with theme parks. To me, the states without theme parks look like big holes in the map. I figured I’d list the cities that I feel could use a major theme park. I’m going to preface this list by admitting that I have a completely outsider’s view of these cities. I’m going mainly on the population, so feel free to inform me of any local issues or reasons why theme parks aren’t there. And by theme park, I mean a 100-acre or more amusement park with roller coasters, thrill rides, and the typical attractions people associate with these parks.
A theme park developer once told me during an interview that the U.S. market is already pretty saturated and that it was unlikely that we would see new large theme parks. I’m no theme park businessman, but I find that a little hard to believe. Here are the cities that I feel need a theme park.
4 – Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville was recently the center of what looks to be at worst a hoax, and at best a well-meaning, but unlikely new project. Last month a developer unveiled plans for a $750 million theme park in nearby Spring Hill, TN. Since the announcement a number of questions have arisen around the developers background. There are about 1.2 million people in the Nashville metro area and around 600,000 in the city itself. There are two great smaller parks, Holiday World and Dollywood, that are about 3 hours away, but I’d still like to see Nashville with its own major theme park.3 – Phoenix, Arizona
AZ Central recently recounted the proposed Phoenix area theme parks and attractions that for one reason or another haven’t made it off the ground. They included an indoor ski park, Decades Theme Park, and the Mesa Waveyard. Aside from the climate, AZ Central goes on to point out the competition area attractions would have. A theme park would have to compete with a little attraction known as the Grand Canyon and the area’s other natural points of interest. The latest proposed project is an indoor theme park that would include a ski area and a water park. With 1.4 million in the city and 4 million in the metro area, the city definitely has the population to support a major theme park.
2 – New Orleans, Louisianna
After Hurricane Katrina flooded Six Flags New Orleans in 2005, the park remained abandoned for years. There were a few plans to re-open the park, but they fell through. Even as recent as last summer, the park looked like it was left in such dissaray (see video) that you’d think an apocalyptic event had happened. Something that removed the patrons and workers, but left the rides to rot and merchandise to lay out in the streets. New Orleans has over a million people and no competing major parks that are relatively close. The new park should probably be placed further away from the coastline or lake, but New Orleans seems like a city where a theme park could thrive.
1 – Houston, Texas
With a population of 2.1 million people and a warm climate, I can’t imagine why there isn’t a major theme park in Houston. Since the city lost Six Flags AstroWorld back in 2005, theme park fans have had to trek to San Antonio or Dallas to visit a large theme park. An eco theme park, called EarthQuest Adventures has been planned for the Houston area for a few years now. According to news from last summer, the new park is slated to open in 2013 in New Caney, Texas about 25 miles north of Houston. However, I couldn’t find an official opening date on the park’s website.
What city would you say needs a theme park? Do you know a reason why one of these cities shouldn’t get a theme park?
Photo Credit: Intamin10