Woonerf

On October 1, 2014 · 0 Comments

In some places they’re called complete streets, home zones or shared spaces, however I preferred the original Dutch term "woonerf" (pronounced VONE-erf). It described a concept as old as urban civilization itself although applied within a new context, the very simple idea of streets shared by everyone. That notion had taken a beating for most of the 20th Century after the rise and supremacy of motorized vehicles. A few cities attempted to ratchet-back some of that automobile favoritism in recent years through creative street designs.


Residential, woonerf
Residential, woonerf by La Citta Vita, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This image of a woonerf located somewhere in Sweden demonstrated several typical design characteristics. Nothing designated distinct walkways, roadways or cycle tracks. Every traveler regardless of method received the same consideration. In theory this forced everyone to pay closer attention to everything happening around them, especially those driving automobiles who would also have to slow to walking speed to avoid pedestrians, bicyclists, children at play, babies in carriages, dogs on leashes, parked cars, landscaping and myriad other obstacles. It seemed to work in the Netherlands and spread to other areas of Europe, then to select urban locations in Japan, Israel and increasingly to North America.

Niek de Boer, a professor of urban planning, coined the wonderful phrase, woonerf. It translated in this context to something akin to "living yard" according to several sources. The Oxford Dictionary provided an etymology, "from wonen ‘reside’ + erf ‘premises, ground’." It sprang from a philosophy that all land between two row of shops or homes should be everyone’s yard, a single public space.

Dutch Wikipedia placed the first modern woonerf in the Emmerhout neighborhood of Emmen (map). An article in the Journal of the American Planning Association "Changing the Residential Street Scene" (1995) traced the initial implementation to Delft. I think there might be confusion because Niek de Boer was a professor in both cities, or perhaps because I don’t read Dutch and translation software wasn’t all that great. Either way, woonerfs began somewhere in the Netherlands circa 1969.

The concept began to creep into North America only recently. I found a few examples.


Chicago, Illinois, USA


Chicago's only woonerf
Chicago's only woonerf by Steven Vance, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

While the photo caption proclaimed "Chicago’s Only Woonerf" for a two-block segment of Sunnyside Avenue (map), that won’t be the case for long. Others were already in the works. A much more ambitious effort, the Argyle Streetscape Project (map) was slated for construction in the Spring of 2015, for example. Another instance was completed recently in the suburb of Batavia. It was so new that a Google Street View photo from 2012 showed it still under construction (image).


Montréal, Québec, Canada



Woonerf Saint-Pierre became Montréal first woonerf in September 2013: "Today, the woonerf Saint-Pierre is 7000 square meters of greenery, a hundred trees, shrubs and 1,800 square meters of stabilized stone dust!"

Prior to that it was mostly an eyesore.

The alleyway in Saint-Henri between Saint-Ambroise and Sainte-Marie streets, and between Côte Saint-Paul and de Courcelle, is somwhat of an anomaly: nearly 4-lanes wide, it is one of the only clues that the Saint-Pierre river once wound it’s way through south-west Montreal… this alley has become an informal parking lot for local residents and businesses.

Street View also showed this woonerf still under construction (image) although the silomontreal.com had several photos of the completed project.


Seattle, Washington, USA


Bell Street Woonerf
Bell Street Woonerf by Oran Viriyincy, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Seattle had several woonerfs and more on the way. Some even described the famous Pike Place Market as a woonerf albeit a holdover from an earlier era. An instance of the modern incarnation could be found on Bell Street in the Belltown neighborhood (map) where several blocks were converted.

Me and What Army

On September 28, 2014 · 2 Comments

The format today will be similar to the "Odds and Ends" series, a veritable pu pu platter of tasty tidbits. The primary difference will be that inspiration came almost entirely from the far corners of the 12MC army. I still have several other reader contributions waiting in the wings too. Please be patient if you mailed something to 12MC in the last couple of months. I’ll get to everything eventually.

Killer Explanation



Kilkenny Castle. My Own Photo.

I encountered placenames in Ireland with the prefix "Kil-" nearly everywhere during my recent overseas adventure. These included the towns of Kilkenny and Killarney plus the County of Kildare. The prefix occurred too frequently to happen by random chance, I figured.

Some quick research solved the mystery. In Irish Gaelic the prefix meant "Church." The same was true apparently for Scottish Gaelic and originally spelled Cill. For example a surname like Kilpatrick might translate as something like the Church of St. Patrick.

It reminded me of the suffix -kill one sees sporadically in eastern areas of the United States originally settled by the Dutch, including parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Examples would include the Schuylkill River that flows through Philadelphia as well as everyone’s favorite, the seemingly redundant (although actually not) Murderkill River of Delaware. Kill in this context meant a creek or a riverbed.

Funny how the same basic word could have such drastically different meanings in English, Irish and Dutch.


A Long Way to Go


Sunset over Mooselookmeguntic Lake
Sunset over Mooselookmeguntic Lake by Rob Albright, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Reader Joe wondered about the longest town name in the United States. He came across an article that suggested Bellefontaine Neighbors (map), a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. It claimed to have "the longest name of any incorporated place in the United States" at 22 letters.

The situation became much more complicated as I explored it. Essentially the title came down to what set of qualifiers one wanted to use. Bellefontaine Neighbors settled on "incorporated place" to stake its claim. I referred to the US Board on Geographic Names, which offered Winchester-on-the-Severn, Maryland as the longest name with a hyphen (24 characters) and a tie between Mooselookmeguntic, Maine and Kleinfeltersville, Pennsylvania for continuous uninterrupted letters (17 characters) as the longest names for populated places in the United States.

Those of course paled in comparison to Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukakapiki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu, New Zealand (85 characters) and Llanfair­pwllgwyn­gyllgo­gery­chwyrn­drobwll­llanty­silio­gogo­goch, Wales (58 characters).

Bellefontaine was pronounced Bell-fount-in, by the way.


Simpson County Offset



Simpson County Offset

Some readers provided both an observation and an explanation. Such was the case with reader Mike. I’d noticed the "Simpson County Offset" before although I had no idea how it could have originated and never pursued it. The roots went all the way back to colonial times and the border between Virginia and North Carolina, a line that extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean, theoretically. Later that line formed the basis of the border between Tennessee and Kentucky, and it wasn’t completely straight because of various surveying errors.

A series of corrections had to be made including within a section separating Simpson County, Kentucky from Sumner County, Tennessee. One particularly cantankerous farmer refused to believe his land could ever be in Kentucky.

By 1830 it became obvious that the line was in the wrong place, which is why surveyors were sent to the area to redraw the line. Those surveyors determined about where the boundary line was supposed to be but wisely recommended in their report that the official border be left where it was… However, this didn’t settle the matter. A generation after this survey, … a settler named Middleton continued to claim that 101 acres of his property that protruded into Kentucky was rightfully in Tennessee. Two surveyors sent to the area to settle the dispute in 1859 agreed with him.

Now we know.


Water for Water


view towards downtown Denver from Cherry Creek Dam road
view towards downtown Denver from Cherry Creek Dam road by Scorpions and Centaurs, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Reader Ken lives near Denver, Colorado and it dawned on him that Cherry Creek Reservoir (map) was an example of a body of water named for a smaller body of water. He wondered if this was unique, or at least unusual.

I discovered a number of similar instances in the Geographic Names Information System. It might be interesting to determine the largest water feature named for a smaller water feature. Nothing came to mind off the top of my head. Maybe the 12MC audience has some suggestions.


Parting of the Waters


Two Ocean Pass USGS Topo
By United States Geological Survey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard, who described himself as a "long time reader/lurker" mentioned the Parting of the Waters (map). This was very interesting. Deep in the Bridger-Teton National Forest of Wyoming, "North Two Ocean Creek flows down from a plateau, slams into the Continental Divide in the form of the summit ridge of Two Ocean Pass and then splits into two: the aptly named Atlantic Creek and Pacific Creek." At that spot, water flowing down from Two Ocean Creek stood about an equal chance of ending up either in the Atlantic watershed or Pacific watershed.

It got me to ponder how a seemingly innocuous twist of fate could produce vastly different outcomes.

A Prisoner to Geo-Oddities

On September 17, 2014 · 3 Comments

I noticed a reference to a prison in Alaska that turned out to be located not too distant from where I roamed around the Kenai Peninsula during my journeys a few summers ago. It was a prison with a view, in fact it was located somewhere (map) in the background of this photo I took from Seward’s Waterfront Park.



View from Seward, Alaska. My own photo.

This was the Spring Creek Correctional Center, the state’s maximum security prison for its most hardened criminals. One would never want to spend time there except perhaps as an employee, and none of us will likely ever find ourselves there as permanent guests unless county counting, state highpointing or extended road tripping suddenly become illegal. Nonetheless, from a purely geographical placement, the inmates have something pleasant to ponder through the slots of their tiny cell block windows during their lengthy incarcerations.

That got me to wonder what other prisons might be advantageous should, you know, one suddenly fall into an alternate universe where the laws are completely different. What correctional institutions would a criminal geo-geek mastermind appreciate?


Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, Louisiana, USA


Offenders Artwork at Angola Prison Rodeo
Offenders Artwork at Angola Prison Rodeo by crawford orthodontics, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

One the surface, the Louisiana State Penitentiary might seem to have a lot to offer with its annual Angola Rodeo and art show. Seriously, the prison started a rodeo in 1965 and spectators flocked to the site in droves each year ever since.

That would be a nice diversion from toiling in the fields although a true geo-geek would crave more. Knowing that Turnbull Island (map) — a disconnected piece of West Feliciana Parish separated from the rest of the parish by Concordia Parish — was visible on the other side of the Mississippi River, well that would be priceless.


Alexander Maconochie Centre, Australian Capital Territory, Australia



Alexander Maconochie Centre

Geographically savvy Australian prisoners might appreciate being being locked-up at the Alexander Maconochie Centre assuming anyone could truly appreciate such a loss of freedom (map). It was constructed within the borders of the diminutive Australian Capital Territory.

Why would this tiny dot upon the Australian continent require its own prison? Primarily for a single reason: "prisoners were transferred into the New South Wales prison system and the ACT reimbursed NSW for the cost of holding those prisoners." ACT believed it would be cheaper to handle its own prison population instead of paying NSW. Also prisoners would be closer to their families for visitation purposes.

I couldn’t find any photos of the Alexander Maconochie Centre with the proper licenses to share. The centre was new, accepting prisoners only since 2009, so there wasn’t much available. The Canberra Times offered a a representative slideshow though.


San Marino


San Marino
San Marino by fdecomite, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

On the subject of small, I imagined geo-criminals might commit felonies in various microscopic nations simply for the novelty. San Marino appeared to be a decent possibility (map). The European press seemed enamored of San Marino’s prison population, too. The Telegraph featured The ‘world’s most pampered – and bored – prisoner’ in 2011.

The 30-year-old man has his meals brought to him from a local restaurant because it is not economical to lay on a canteen service for him alone. He enjoys the exclusive use of a gym, library and television room and occupies one of six cells which make up San Marino’s only jail, which is tucked into a wing of a former Capuchin monastery… But his lonely penance is about to come to an end – a second inmate is expected to be incarcerated in the next few days.

Der Spiegel followed up in 2014 with "San Marino: Tiny State, Big Baggage." It focused on inmate Piero Berti, a former national head of state who’s holiday meal "consisted of risotto with parmesan, followed by roasted turkey with seasonal vegetables, and fruit for dessert. It was accompanied by wine."


Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York, USA



Sing Sing Correctional Facility

On the other hand, Sing Sing was a much more notorious place in spite of it’s charming Hudson River views and its 4-star rating on Yelp. This was a dismal place designed for hardened criminals since the 1820’s, with several hundred people executed onsite using the legendary electric chair Old Sparky.

Sing Sing didn’t make the list because of its accommodations. I added it because the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line commuter train ran directly through the facility! Walkways crossed above the tracks connecting both sides of the prison (for guards I’d suppose, not prisoners). Imagine hanging out in the prison yard and watching the trains pass through all day long. Better yet, imagine commuters riding through a prison, hearing a thunk and wondering if an inmate had jumped onto the roof of the car in an escape attempt like in the movies.

Surely there must be better geo-oddity prisons. How about the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland? It’s surrounded by West Virginia on three side. Are there other candidates?

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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