7:03am

Thu September 13, 2012
Krulwich Wonders...

Odd Things Happen When You Chop Up Cities and Stack Them Sideways

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 9:50 am

I don't know if it's fair to do this to a city, but let's start with Berlin. Here's Berlin as you'd see it from above.

Here it is again, after an autopsy. The city has been dismembered, dissected block by block, the blocks then categorized, sorted and stacked by shape. Berlin, of course, contains mainly rectangles. It also has trapezoids, triangles and, down in that last row, weirdly shaped squiggles that represent actual city spaces. So, if you are walking through Berlin, the cityscape isn't going to repeat endlessly. There will be surprises. There are some totally irregular nooks and crannies there.

New York, on the other hand ... hey, I live there, I love it, it amazes me. Here's what it looks like from above ...

... but anatomically ... I donno. Take away the bums, the fashionistas, the food carts, the cabs, the colors, the smells, the sounds, cut it up and stack it on a table, New York's grid system seems more than a little monotonous.

Same with Paris. (This shocked me. Especially because the person who designed this project, Armelle Caron, is French, so she had to be rooting for a Paris that's sexy and surprising down deep) but, instead, here's what she found ...

So which city looks craziest when it's all cut up? This won't surprise you, because it has been around so long, having been a world capital for over a thousand years. It's lived through the donkey/cart phase, the chariot period, the wagons with axles time, the bicycle, the automobile. It's been rejiggered, re-adapted, redesigned, realigned so many times, it couldn't come out normal. It's Istanbul (or, if you're an old-fashioned romantic, Constantinople) ...

Check out the top few rows — these are blocks, remember — and then imagine wandering around these curves, angles, sudden narrowings. Walking that city has to be amazing. ...

It's not that I'm disappointed in New York, not at all. I love walking Manhattan's grid system, but now that I've seen Armelle Caron's bottom-up version of Istanbul, all those crooked, lopsided, curvaceous streets, going off in so many directions, I can't help wondering, what would it be like to wander there? Would I be constantly lost? Would every turn be an adventure?

Suddenly I can't help it. I want to go.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Related Program