Another Town Roundup

On October 29, 2017 · 1 Comments

I’ve collected unusual town names for awhile. They often came up as I researched Twelve Mile Circle articles or when I checked the daily log files. Generally they didn’t make those "weird names" lists found elsewhere on the Intertubes. I find them endlessly fascinating for some unknown reason. Then I make a note of them and promise to return. Occasionally I’ll post an article after I collect enough of them and I want to cut down my pile of unwritten topics.

Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington


Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill
Downtown Seattle from Capitol Hill. Photo by Matthew Rutledge on Flickr (cc)

Already on the very first entry I broke my rules for this article. Seattle’s Capitol Hill was a neighborhood not a town (map). Nonetheless, I wondered why Capitol Hill even existed as a name there. The Capitol Hill in another Washington came to mind, however, that one had an actual capitol on its hill. Nobody could claim the same for the Seattle version. Rather, the state capitol sat about sixty miles (100 kilometres) farther south in Olympia.

According to History Link, "the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History," the name probably came from one of two (or both) alternatives. It happened in 1901, courtesy of a local land developer, James Moore. That was certain. By one theory he hoped to persuade the state government "to move its business from Olympia onto Prospect Street." By another, his wife came from Colorado and the name referenced Capitol Hill in Denver. The one in Denver, by the way, actually contained the state capitol. Sadly, Seattle’s Capitol Hill remained capitol-less.


Future City, Illinois


Future City Illinois
Future City Illinois. Photo by Joe on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to make a crack about Future City (map) not looking like it had much of a future. It looked completely desolate. Irony seemed cruel after I researched its history. Future City sat near the southern tip of Illinois, just north of Cairo and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. African Americans founded it around the turn of the last century as a refuge from racism and lynchings in nearby Cairo. They created their own self-contained settlement and named it optimistically. It promised a better future. Several hundred people lived there a century ago. Now, only a handful remained.

I visited that river confluence a few years ago. It floods, a lot. Naturally, Future City flooded regularly even as early as the disastrous floods of 1912 and 1913. Three times the town needed to be rebuilt from scratch. Meanwhile, nearby Cairo went into a long, slow economic decline. River traffic decreased as rails and roads rose, and its geographic placement became increasingly irrelevant. People in Future City depended on jobs in Cairo so their dream declined with it.


Layman, Ohio



Layman, Ohio

Little Layman, Ohio barely qualified as a settlement, much less a town. Even so I liked the name so it made the list. The dictionary definition explained why. A layman is a "a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field." What a lousy name, I thought. It implied nobody in town could do much of anything. There sat Layman at Tick Ridge Road with nothing but laymen living there. Actually, it appeared to be named for a 19th Century local newspaper editor, Amos Layman. That wasn’t nearly as much fun.


Bowbells, North Dakota


St Mary le Bow
St Mary le Bow. Photo on Flickr in the Public Domain

Doesn’t Bowbells sound a lot like Cowbells? I thought it did. Some random visitor from Bowbells (map) landed on the pages of 12MC. That in itself might be remarkable. Barely 300 people lived there at the last census. Nonetheless, it served as the seat of local government in Burke County. I saw small towns just like Bowbells with important government functions in many North Dakota counties during my Center of the Nation tour. So many settlements throughout the Great Plains suffered population declines in recent decades. Burke County itself dropped from about ten thousand residents to maybe two thousand since 1930.

That didn’t explain the name, though. A common source for names in these open spaces, the railroad companies, took care of that. As the city explained,

The city of Bowbells was founded in 1898 along the main line of the Soo Line Railroad and incorporated in 1906. The city was named by railroad officials after the famed Bow bells at St Mary-le-Bow in London, England.

Naturally I needed to tug that thread a little harder. So the town got its name from the bells of the church, St. Mary-le-Bow (map). I didn’t know about the "fame" of the famed church bells so I dug deeper. As the Daily Mail noted, "tradition dictates that only those born within earshot of the ‘Bow Bells’ can claim to be Cockneys." That still seemed like an odd name for a town in the middle of North Dakota. I couldn’t imagine waves of Cockneys rolling over the endless prairie.

World’s Fair Towers

On January 14, 2015 · 6 Comments

I suppose this is something of a Part 3 addendum to the recent Southern Swing articles although maybe it’s not truly the case. Perhaps it would be better to call it "inspired" by those earlier articles. We broke the return trip into a two-day event with an overnight stay in Knoxville, Tennessee. The hotel happened to be located near the Sunsphere, a tower designed for the 1982 World’s Fair. That was a happy coincidence although unintentional. We never saw the tower during daylight because there’s a lot of darkness near the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. That’s why I couldn’t get a decent photograph although I still gave it a shot. The sight also made me wonder about towers that have been built for World Fairs in general. Some of them became iconic structures while others fell into relative obscurity.

Sunsphere (1982) – Knoxville, Tennessee, USA


Sunsphere
Sunsphere (my own photo)

The Sunsphere that we saw in Knoxville seemed to fall amongst those that didn’t quite capture public imagination (map); "It represents the sun, source of energy, and reflected the energy theme of the fair." I guess that wasn’t inspirational enough. It looked like a giant Van der Graaf generator. I guarantee it would have become iconic if it actually shot giant bolts of lightning. Sadly, it did not.

During the fair the Sunsphere featured five primary levels, an observation deck, a kitchen, two dining levels, and a cocktail lounge. It had a hard life once the fair ended, standing either vacant or underused for three decades and counting. However, it’s available for rent should someone want to use it for a wedding reception, a corporate event, or a 12MC reader happy hour.

As an aside, I wasn’t aware that the World’s Fair was still a thing. Apparently those events still exist and one will be held in Milan in 2015. None have occurred in the United States since 1984 and that’s probably why I though EPCOT or something must have replaced them by now.


La Tour Eiffel (1889) – Paris, France


La Tour Eiffel
La Tour Eiffel by Christopher Chan, on Flickr (cc)

I had no idea that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was a remnant of a World’s Fair (map). It served as the centerpiece of the Exposition Universelle of 1889 which also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The tower that Gustave Eiffel erected brought strong negative reactions from critics at the time and became a beloved symbol despite their pronouncements. Twelve Mile Circle doesn’t need to mention anything else about the Eiffel Tower, right?

It would be many years before another World’s Fair would attempt to feature a tower. How could any other city top such an iconic structure?


Atomium (1958) – Brussels, Belgium


Atomium landscape
Atomium landscape by Vase Petrovski, on Flickr (cc)

Neighboring Belgium made an honest attempt in 1958 with its Atomium for the Brussels World’s Fair (Brusselse Wereldtentoonstelling / Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles) (map). This was the height of the atomic age. An oddly shiny building with 9 interconnected spheres climbing 102 metres and fashioned in the form of an iron atom enlarged 165 billion times seemed to be an optimal choice for the times. The Atomium can still be visited today and its website describes it as,

A seminal totem in the Brussels skyline; neither tower, nor pyramid, a little bit cubic, a little bit spherical, half-way between sculpture and architecture, a relic of the past with a determinedly futuristic look, museum and exhibition centre; the Atomium is, at once, an object, a place, a space, a Utopia and the only symbol of its kind in the world, which eludes any kind of classification.

I agree.

Readers can also use Google Street View to go inside of the Atomium. It’s quite a structure.


Space Needle (1962) – Seattle, Washington, USA


Space Needle and Pacific Science Center
Space Needle and Pacific Science Center by Terence T.S. Tam, on Flickr (cc)

Seattle’s Space Needle (map) didn’t quite hit the same iconic status as the Eiffel Tower although it probably came closer than any of the other examples. Certainly, it would be recognized instantly by many people far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Fashions had begun to transition from the atomic age into the space age and the Seattle World’s Fair reflected those changing times.


Tower of the Americas (1968) – San Antonio, Texas, USA


Tower of the Americas
Tower of the Americas (my own photo)

I’ve been to the top of the Tower of the Americas. San Antonio’s convention center is located next to HemisFair Park where the tower was built (map). I went to San Antonio a few years ago for a conference and I had a little extra time so I rode to the top.

This World’s Fair featured "The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas" as its theme. I’m not sure how the tower reflected that concept although it’s still impressive. The fair commemorated the 250th anniversary of San Antonio and supposedly the theme also referenced several nations that held sway of Texas territory. Some might say 6 Flags Over Texas, other might claim 7 Flags, or whatever.


The Skyneedle (1988) – Brisbane, Australia


Entire Skyneedle
Entire Skyneedle by Mervin, on Flickr (cc)

The weirdest World’s Fair tower might have been the Skyneedle in Brisbane (map). It reached 88 metres and appropriately matched World Expo 88. However the tower did not accommodate visitors. It was too small. Instead it shot a beam of light around the city. The Skyneedle was supposed to be relocated to Tokyo Disneyland once the fair closed. Instead, it became the possession of a local hairdresser entrepreneur, Stefan, who moved it to his headquarters nearby. Yelp had a number of amusing reviews:

Standing tall, proud and pointless Brisbane’s Skyneedle is capable of the occasional light show and little else. Even its powerful beam is only allowed to be used on special occasions as it is a potential risk to plane’s coming in to land at Brisbane airport. But despite its inherent absurdity, or more correctly, because of its inherent absurdity Stefan’s Needle has become a much loved part of the city skyline.

Pity the Skyneedle.

Woonerf

On October 1, 2014 · Comments Off on Woonerf

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.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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