Monday, February 18, 2008
Here is a fascinating website about world cities: Urban Tours by Rental Car. The authors have posted shrewd and very realistic essays about cities around the world, with lots of photos that capture the look and feel of each city.
Urban Tours by Rental Car offers perspectives on urban development obtained by automobile tours through urban areas. Rental cars are not the favored method for visiting cities, especially those outside one's own country. Instead, tourists and urban planners favor packaged tours or local public transport systems. Both are splendid ways for seeing the city as it used to be --- the very reason for most tourist visits. The historical core areas contain monuments, prime government and religious edifices and quaint neighborhoods that are often centuries old. This is particularly important to tourists from the newer urban areas of the American, Canadian or Australian West, where history extends not far before World War II.
For the urban planner interested in understanding the whole urban area, it is not enough to study the core alone. Both public transport and packaged tours miss the larger part --- the expanse of sprawling residential and business development that rings virtually all major urban areas. They may be of little interest to many urban planners, but they should be.
It is no wonder that tourists return to the United States thinking that all Paris looks like the second arrondissement (less than one percent does)... For any seeking to study the urban area in its entirety - not just the favored haunts of core-dwelling elites - there is no alternative to "getting behind the wheel." Thus, "urban tours by rental car."
The authors are scathing about "smart growth" and other restrictive land use schemes, which they rightly see as usually amounting to bureaucratic NIMBY plans that protect the fashionable and well connected, and marginalise or impoverish everyone else. But each essay and photo album is also wonderfully evocative and specific about the city it portrays. I found the website when I searched for information about Delhi, where I travelled recently. The Delhi posting is spectacular and revealing. But there are posts about many other cities around the world.
Have a look at your hometown. Or journey virtually to cities far away.