Tuesday 26 February 2013

Using Population Data & Google Street View to Illustrate how many of North America's Beautiful Buildings were Destroyed & What we can do Now

What Historical Populations can Show us

I'm in love with pre-1900 architecture. Today, we tend to look to Europe for old buildings but we often forget the amount of old (pre-1900) buildings we had in North America. What happened to the buildings? What can we do to help our cities? I get to that a bit further down, but first I want to show that the United States and Canada had quite the number of people by 1900 that they needed infrastructure for. I've been working on collecting the populations of every single incorporated place in the world from the year 1900 and a couple of months ago I published one of my lists showing the 895 most populated incorporated communities in Canada & the United States in 1900. This information shines light onto the amount of infrastructure different communities would have had at the time for the number of people living there. Also, looking at the populations of countries around 1900 can shine light on the possible amount of infrastructure at a national level. Let's first look at things from a national perspective.

Rochester Savings Bank, 1884, Rochester, New York. Now demolished

Most Populated Countries in 1900: 

Including their current population, rank, change in rank relative to today.

1. China: 415,000,000 | Current population: 1,354,040,000 & Rank: #1, 0                                                
2. India (British Empire): 271,306,000  | Current population: 1,210,193,422 & Rank: #2, 0                              
3. Russia: 132,000,000 | Current population: 143,369,806 & Rank: #9, -7                                                     
4. United States: 76,212,168 | Current population: 315,568,000 & Rank: #3+1                                 
5. Germany: 56,000,000 | Current population: 81,946,000 & Rank: #16, -11                                          
6. Austria-Hungary: 51,356,465 | Current population: doesn't exist & Rank: N/A
7. Dutch East Indies (Dutch Empire, Indonesia): 45,500,000 | Current population: 237,641,326 & Rank: #4+3
8. Japan: 42,000,000 | Current population: 127,400,000 & Rank: #10, -2
9. United Kingdom (included Ireland): 38,000,000 | Current population: 63,181,775 & Rank: #22, -13
10. France: 38,000,000 | Current population: 65,635,000 & Rank: #21, -11
11. Italy: 32,000,000 | Current population: 60,870,745 & Rank: #23-12
12. Ottoman Empire: 30,860,000 | Current population: doesn't exist & Rank: N/A
13. Spain: 20,750,000 | Current population: 46,815,916 & Rank: #28, -15
14. Brazil: 17,000,000 | Current population: 193,946,886 & Rank: #5+9
15. Mexico: 12,050,000 | Current population: 116,901,761 & Rank: #11+4
16. Korea: 12,000,000 | Current population: doesn't exist & Rank: N/A
17. Burma (British Empire, Myanmar): 9,606,000 | Current population: 48,724,000 & Rank: #26, -9
18. Northern Nigeria (British Empire): 8,500,000 | Current population: doesn't exist & Rank: N/A
19. Egypt (British Empire): 8,000,000 | Current population: 83,964,000 & Rank: #15+4
20. Philippines (United States): 8,000,000 | Current population: 92,337,852 & Rank: #12, +8

Looking at the information above you can get a sense that the United States by 1900 was already a substantially large country in population. It was already the fourth most populated country in the world and in 113 years has only moved up one spot. An interesting comparison to note is that the United States had about the same number of people in 1900 as the United Kingdom and France combined. Now let's look at things from a city perspective.

St. James Street, Montreal, Quebec. At one point the financial heart of Canada. This building is now demolished.

Most Populated Cities in Canada & the USA in 1900

Including their current population, rank, and change in rank relative to today. These are actual municipal populations and don't reflect the suburban area.

1. New York City, New York, USA: 3,437,202 | Current population: 8,244,910 & Rank: #1, 0
2. Chicago, Illinois, USA: 1,698,575 | Current population: 2,707,120 & Rank: #3-1
3. Philadelphia, PA, USA: 1,293,697 | Current population: 1,536,471 & Rank: #7-4
4. St. Louis, Missouri, USA: 575,238 | Current population: 318,069 & Rank: #73-69
5. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: 560,892 | Current population: 625,087 & Rank: #28-23
6. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: 508,957 | Current population: 619,493 & Rank: #31-25
7. Cleveland, Ohio, USA: 381,768 | Current population: 393,806 & Rank: #60-53
8. Buffalo, New York, USA: 352,387 | Current population: 261,025 & Rank: #90-82
9. San Francisco, California, USA: 342,782 | Current population: 812,826 & Rank: #18-9
10. Cincinnati, Ohio, USA: 325,902 | Current population: 296,223 & Rank: #80-70
11. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA: 321,616 | Current population: 307,484 & Rank: #76-65
12. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA: 287,104 | Current population: 360,740 & Rank: #66-54
13. Detroit, Michigan, USA: 285,704 | Current population: 706,585 & Rank: #24-11
14. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: 285,315 | Current population: 597,867 & Rank: #36-22
15. Washington, DC, USA: 278,718 | Current population: 617,996 & Rank: #32-17
16. Montreal, Quebec, CA: 267,730 | Current population: 1,649,519 & Rank: #5+11
17. Newark, New Jersey, USA: 246,070 | Current population: 277,540 & Rank: #85-68
18. Toronto, Ontario, CA: 208,040 | Current population: 2,615,060 & Rank: #3+15
19. Jersey City, New Jersey, USA: 206,433 | Current population: 250,323 & Rank: #93-74
20. Louisville, Kentucky, USA: 204,731 | Current population: 602,011 & Rank: #35-15

A major thing to note in the data above is just how much many of these cities have declined in rank relative to today, I'll be getting to that in the next section. Another interesting thing to note is just how populated the cities in the United States were in 1900 relative to the world. Within the ten largest cities in the world New York City was the second most populated, Chicago the fifth, and Philadelphia the tenth. The only city in the world at the time being more populated than NYC was London, England at 4,536,541. In 1900 Singapore then part of the British Empire only had 193,089 people and wouldn't have even made our top 20 list above. Prague had 200,000, Venice 171,000, Bangalore, India just 161,000. Z├╝rich, Switzerland had 150,700, Baghdad, Iraq had 150,000, Athens, Greece around 123,000, Helsinki, Finland 93,600, Seville, Spain 148,000, Jerusalem 55,000, Cordoba, Spain 52,000, Casablanca 11,000. Putting this into perspective you can see just how big many cities were in the United States. 

Above is Lower Manhattan's Newspaper Row before 1903. Already at this time there were skyscrapers. I have compiled a Pinterest board of 120 of them so far that were built before 1900. The buildings in this picture: city hall in front (still standing), and from left to right "New York World Building" built 1890 (demolished), "New York Tribune Building" built 1875 (demolished), "American Tract Society Building" built 1894-95 (still standing), and the "New York Times Building" built 1889 (still standing) Source: Wikipedia

Why aren't Cities getting Larger and Where are all of the Beautiful Buildings?

One very interesting trend you might notice in the population data above is how nearly every single city in our top 20 aside from the Canadian cities and NYC has declined in ranking. Some have even declined in population. This trend is related to current culture in English speaking North American society (also in Britain) that's tied to the decline in the perception and the amount of older architecture. Our population data clearly shows us that the United States and at least 2 Canadian cities (Montreal & Toronto) were quite large by 1900. This does indicate that there were probably many beautiful cities and buildings in 1900 and through historical research you can easily find loads of beautiful architecture in the United States, Canada, and also Australia (Melbourne & Sydney would have fit into our top 20 above at 496,079 & 487,932 people respectively). So what happened to much of this beautiful architecture? The answer is simple, we purposefully and also carelessly destroyed it. This answer is illustrated in pictures below:

Many downtown areas in the United States were bulldozed for simple parking lots. Detroit, Michigan. View on Google Maps 

Some people wanted to live in the suburbs so they left the inner city neighbourhoods (leading to lower inner city populations). Black people moved up from the southern United States to work in factories and escape the harsher racial climate of the south (Great Migration). During the 1960's and 1970's there were racial tensions in larger cities like Detroit (1967 Riot destroyed a lot of infrastructure) & Cleveland that lead to even more white people moving to the suburbs (white flight). Above is a black inner city neighbourhood in Baltimore, Maryland. View on Google Maps

In many large cities, there were areas occupied by lower income families that became labelled as "slums" and demolished to make way for social housing towers in the 1950's & 1960's that didn't turn out to be helpful in eliminating poverty. You're poor whether you live in a tower or a Victorian worker's cottage. Many of these social towers themselves failed and have been demolished. Above is Toronto's Regent Park development, Canada's oldest and largest social housing project. View on Google Maps

People also wanted freeways so they could drive their cars from all the way out in the suburbs. To do this they ploughed new freeways right through the hearts of many neighbourhoods, often poorer inner city neighbourhoods with large black demographics. Cincinnati, Ohio above is illustrated above. The freeway to the left went right through a poorer West End neighbourhood that was completely demolished after WWII and replaced with social housing that also was impoverished and itself was demolished and today we're left with a lot of empty space.

New construction in urban centres followed a new modern ideal to aesthetically separate new structures from the "silly" ornate past that had nothing to do with the structure of the building. In modern thought some academics went as far as to call all ornamentation a crime. Brutalism came to the forefront between 1950-1970. One of its greatest examples is from the Montreal Expo 67 as Habitat 67 shown above. Postmodern Architecture of today has begun a slow return to ornament and context, although still quite recognizably "modern".

Eventually factories closed down unable to compete with cheaper products from China. This lead to unemployment and migration from formerly industrial cities (Rust Belt) to different cities. Above is an abandoned automobile factory in Detroit, Michigan. View on Google Maps

Eventually no one wanted to live in the old inner cities so they were left vacant to deteriorate until the municipal government steps in and orders them to be demolished before causing safety hazards (or crack houses). People began to associate old buildings with decay and the need to demolish and build something new (we could restore them). Just take a close look at your community's politics and you'll see this kind of thinking (primarily if you live in English speaking North America). Above is an abandoned Baltimore, Maryland row house, there were most likely houses on either side that have been demolished. Notice the tacky fake stone that's was all the rage 50 or so years ago.

Once many structures have been demolished urban centres look uch like this satellite image of an inner city Detroit neighbourhood. Notice the freeway at the bottom.

Once enough buildings have been demolished "urban prairie" occurs making inner cities look more like a place to farm rather than to live. St. Louis, Missouri is in the images above and below. The top image is a satellite image, the bottom is street view, both in the same area. 

Urban prairie in St. Louis, Missouri. View on Google Maps

So today many cities are basically a ring around a former core and we build more and more infrastructure in the suburban areas (strip malls, hospitals, offices, industrial parks). Many people have suggested (and have tried) that they might as well start farming in decayed urban centres where urban prairie is present. The top 20 cities in North America in 1900 haven't really declined as much as our list showed if you take into consideration the suburban populations of the metropolitan areas. Some of the urban destruction has been unavoidable. Much has been consumed in fire, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. Some needed to go to make way for newer structures due to design flaws or the changing needs of society. It would be nice if new structures took more of their aesthetic appeal and environment into consideration (the technology to do so is there). Overall, it's more costly in time, infrastructure, and resources to sustain a city that is shaped like a donut and this is something we should try to address. So how do we address this situation? What have other areas in the world been doing?

Comparison to other Cities in the World

In continental Europe the most expensive real estate is typically near the urban core, trying to get an apartment near the centre of Paris would be extremely expensive. The poorest people tend to live at the very edge of the cities. In many other places in the world like in Latin America the edges of the city are where slums are built especially when people are migrating from rural areas for work.

Where in this Google Earth satellite image of Paris, France do you see a freeway? The large straight roads were implemented by Napoleon III in the 1800's and give much of the character of the Paris we know of today. The idea of this project "Haussmann's renovation of Paris" was to make a more navigable city that ploughed through the old compact medieval infrastructure and made straight large boulevards, public squares, and better infrastructure. One thing to keep in mind is that already by 1900 NYC had nearly a million more people than Paris. 

a view of Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. Haussmann directed the reconstruction of Paris under Napoleon III. 

A slum built into the side of a mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With many other cities in the world the poorest people live at the periphery. Here's a panorama I found taken from the slum, they have a beautiful view of the ocean. You can get a sense of how dense and poorly constructed these structures are. The image below is a street view image of the area taken from the only drivable road in this dense slum.

Rio de Janeiro slum. View on Google Maps

Many parts of Europe heavily use public transportation. Above is Prague in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately most places in North America eliminated street cars (trams/trollies) that used to be ubiquitous in nearly every community. Prague also has the most used metro system in the world on a per capita basis.  View on Google Maps

Have a say in Your Urban Landscape

What we have left of historical buildings is endangered and if we don't speak up against current trends, advocate gentrification of old neighbourhoods (Cabbagetown in Toronto is still here because of gentrification), and show the cultural and aesthetic importance of old buildings and the benefits of higher density living opposed to living in a "donut" city things will just continue as they are. Back in 2010 an immense portion of Brantford, Ontario's downtown was demolished and currently all that has replaced it is grass. The buildings demolished included Georgian, Victorian, and Beaux-Arts buildings that were important in the history of Canada's early economic past.

Highlighted in red, absolutely all of these buildings were demolished in 2010. 80 buildings in total. The following was said by Lloyd Alter of the Architectural Conservatory of Ontario "These buildings were part of the birth of commerce and industry in Ontario.... They should be preserved." With the demolition of these buildings also goes a lot of independent businesses that are constantly losing all opportunity to succeed and their role will likely be replaced by larger big box stores at the edge of the city. When investigating the reasons surrounding the demolition of these buildings I came across an explanation that said a landlord had purchased all of these buildings a few decades ago. They rented them out, made money, but never maintained them. Eventually when they were worn out they sold the land to the government for millions of dollars and let them demolish it. The city government had the idea of replacing some of the land with a recreational centre. People who practice these methods are referred to as "slumlords".

Now because of these pressures facing architecture and in my opinion poor urban planning and style choices I want to stand up for conserving the wonderful buildings we have, better planning in new and existing neighbourhoods, and more focus on style for the sake of my sanity (hopefully your's too). My surroundings are important to me. I'd rather feel proud about the world I live in than feel like it's disposable like a suburban Walmart warehouse & store. It honestly does something to me mentally. In order to be more of an advocate for this I'm going to start posting a new series of images from Google Street View. I'm also looking at starting a new show where I broadcast virtual tours of significant/interesting/unknown marvels of architecture and urban planning around not only North America but the world on Google Street View. All the while I'll be animating these stories and tours with historical population data.

For links to all of my related writings you can visit my Population Data and Architecture Articles page.


No comments:

Post a Comment