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Cities, and people who think about cities, are usually all about place and space.  I’d like to make the case instead that cities and the way we think about them – by which I mean, the everyday activities and movement within cities, more than the physical landscape itself – are really all about time.

First, time defines the urban in contrast to the rural.  This is not to say that rural areas exist outside of time, but that they experience it differently.  Time, in agricultural terms, is cyclical, relying on the predictable recurrence of sunrise and sunset, of spring and summer; action is dictated by the length of day and the growing season.  Unpopulated rural areas, forests and wetlands, adhere even more closely to the natural cycle.  Extraction operations like mining may rely less on that cycle, but only through the benefit of technologies like electricity and industrial machinery.  In popular perception, at least, rural life is slow, unhurried, and “close to nature,” relying on the sun rather than the digital clock to tell the time; urban life, in contrast, is fast-paced, frenetic, and full of impatient crowds, rushing so as not to be late.

Suburbs seem to exist in the middle space between these two ideas – slower and calmer than a bustling downtown, but still tied to time-sensitive activities like the morning commute, the after-school program, and the evening news.  Time is still measured, but much of it by the car’s dashboard clock.

It has been observed that we have built our cities with increments of time:  the “forty-five minute rule” claims that city size has historically been determined by the length that can reasonably be travelled in forty-five minutes.  If on foot, about two to three miles; if in a horse-drawn cart, somewhat longer; if by train or car or motorized bus, longer still.  While this may not hold true in all cases, it seems to make sense:  a person can only spend so much of their waking hours travelling, or else nothing would get done.  City height and density may have been determined in part by construction technology and infrastructure limitations, but its breadth may be most practically determined using travel times, not physical distance.

The importance of time in urban movement – and it seems that urban life is all about moving from one place to another – is most evident in public transit.  We often choose one mode over another based on travel times, even if it puts us a couple blocks out of the way; we may even spend more money on a cab just to save time.  Using NextBus and similar tracking services, we determine our schedule by the number of minutes to arrival, not the length or even number of stops the bus or train has to travel.  Our estimated travel time may make one place seem more accessible than the other, even if they are both exactly one mile away.  We measure our reasonable walking radius by minutes as much as by miles; and even in easily-understood grid cities like (midtown) Manhattan or Chicago, we orient ourselves at least as much to the time spent in transit than to the miles we travel every day.  In more chaotic cities like Boston or Paris, the zig-zag distances we travel are hard to measure, and it’s not really worth doing so anyway.

A good rule of thumb:  most places in Chicago seem to take forty-five minutes to reach; most places in Columbus take ten to twenty.  If the destinations are close, we may take a leisurely walk and allow ourselves extra “cushion” time to leave.  If they are further away, driving time must include a traffic jam and some time to search for parking; if taking public transit, we build in extra time to wait for the bus or train, and even more if a transfer is required.  Unless it’s just up the street, we expect to take some extra time getting there.

Trains are most closely linked to time, and are often disconnected from space.  Consider the origin of standard time itself:  the development of cross-country train networks in the United States created the need for a common understanding of when noon or eight or five actually occurred, rather than each town measuring for itself by solar position alone.  (A plaque near the Chicago Board of Trade building commemorates that city’s part in the “invention” of time.)  Because the train’s route and schedule are already circumscribed, we think little of the actual distance we travel, but conceive of the trip more or less as a straight line from A to B, within a given time frame.

Train schedules and maps exist even further out of real, physical space:  the stylized, rectilinear diagram of the London or New York subways alter the form of the city itself to be more legible as a network of colorful lines; stations that appear relatively far apart may indeed be only a block or two away, as is the case with the Regent’s Park and Great Portland Street Tube stations in London. [walking] [by train].

Furthermore, particularly for commuter rail with few or no connecting stations, the schedule is all we really need.  When will it depart?  When will I arrive?  The intermediate locations, not to mention the actual path of the track, is irrelevant.

Inter-city travel may be more or less time-dependent than intra-city.  While we pay attention to miles on the highway, relying on the odometer and the gas tank to remind us when to stop, when we travel by air, we worry primarily about whether or not we’ll miss our flight.  The actual experience of travel is disconnected from the physical distance:  we arrive in one airport, wait a bit, board the plane, perhaps watch landing and takeoff and catch glimpses of farm fields before ascending above the clouds, then touch down again at an eerily similar airport elsewhere.  Frequent flyer miles remain somewhat arbitrary numbers, points we accumulate over time.

Because movement is such an integral part of urban life, we must inevitably rely on time to determine the rest of our actions.  We generally work for a given number of hours, whether or not we are salaried; we take our children to and from school; we must pay attention to opening and closing times of our stores and restaurants and offices; we make appointments and plans and attend events according to the time we have left.  And, of course, somewhere in the midst of everything we find time to sleep.  We find time, lost time, make time, waste time, need more time or time off.  A city itself may be a place, a location, a location in physical space, but in our everyday conception of the city in which we live, it is really a series of time.

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The final installment of my NYC photos.  It was especially hard to choose for this set, as it includes shots of Williamsburg/Brooklyn, the High Line, AND Central Park.  I’ve chosen a mix of detail shots and, in the case of Central Park, some interesting pictures of actual people (rare for me, I know!) I encountered.

Back to writing soon.  As well as a brief discussion of how to do easy and successful LEGO photography.

Elevated Train to Williamsburg

Williamsburg, Bicycle

Williamsburg, Art Studio

Williamsburg, Glass Mosaic

High Line Park

High Line Park

High Line Park

High Line Park

Central Park

Central Park, Dog Walker

Central Park, Fountain

Central Park

Central Park, Boats

Central Park

Central Park, Boat

Central Park, Ties for Sale

Central Park, Parenting

Park Avenue, French Defenses

Parade Woman

Just returned from my first official professional planning conference, the APA Upstate New York Regional Conference!  I probably wasn’t as “professional” as I should have been, but it was a good time and the department comped most of it.

Most notable here:  I didn’t realize how much I missed delapidated city streets until our drives and walks through the area immediately around downtown.  I’ve included a couple photos (pre-processing) of my usual super abstract brick-wall-and-a-weed style.

Also, out of idle curiosity I checked out this and the other blogs’ reading stats lately… Stan&Ergo is doing better than I thought!  I should post some new ones soon.  Also, I found it amusing that almost exclusively, the key words listed to find the other blog were variations of “epic fail.”  Good times.

I’ll post the rest on Facebook, until I finally get around to a photoblog format.

Under Construction, Albany

Under Construction, Albany

Brick Wall, Albany

Brick Wall, Albany

I technically live in a suburb of Ithaca, just north of Cornell’s campus.  On my walk home last night, I met one of the new neighbors:

New neighbor

A female deer and her two fawns apparently live on or near the church land across the street.  I was able to walk up to about 10 feet away to get these photos.  These deer are pretty tame … or at least, not the brightest.

Mother and baby deer

A lot on my mind recently, and I’ve been delinquent in putting these thoughts down in digital form.

For the time being, here are some photos from today’s walk to downtown (I would say “to and from” but the rain made me wuss out and take the bus home).  I headed from Wicker Park to Grand Avenue, saw a movie, and spent a bit of time in Millennium Park until I got somewhat rained out.

A show of color on Grand Avenue

I walked underneath Michigan Avenue for the first time (or at least, first time in that direction) – here’s the stairs to and from the lower level.

Egress to and from Lower Wacker

The “American Gothic” statues at the NBC Plaza, against a backdrop of the Tribune building.  Still working on how to hold the camera vertically.

American Gothic Statues and Tribune Tower

The rain at Millennium Park wasn’t heavy, just enough to make the park-goers huddle together under umbrellas.

Umbrellas in Millennium Park

My favorite photo – I love the floral umbrella.  This might have been the usual number of people at the Bean, but they seemed to be seeking shelter underneath it.

Rainy Day at the Bean

Five sparrows sitting by the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.  They flew away about five seconds later.

Sparrows in Millennium Park

The rainy bus ride home (and messing around with the focus function)

Rain on Bus Window

Three weeks, more or less, until I leave Chicago.  More thoughts on this to come.

Reflection on a Sunday night’s walk home…

Relationship Status:  It's Complicated with The City of Chicago

Relationship Status: It's Complicated with The City of Chicago

While I’ve already violated my rule to not spend any money today (not to excess, at least!), I successfully spent the afternoon transit-free.  After a couple errands, I headed down Milwaukee Ave. to the Loop (according to Google Maps, at least 2.2 miles from Wicker Park).  On my to-do list were the Rookery Building, the Monadnock Building, picking up a couple books from the library, and another jaunt up the Nichols Bridge at the Art Institute.

My camera was gracious enough to keep the battery alive for the whole afternoon, and I came across some interesting stuff.  After a lovely mini-tour of Oak Park earlier this week, I’m starting to think about another one of downtown… judiciously avoiding most of the touristy stuff in favor of more interesting sites.

Interesting shadows of an old fire escape

Interesting shadows of an old fire escape

I finally saw the Rookery Building – definitely worth a visit!

Lobby of the Rookery Building

Lobby of the Rookery Building

The Nichols Bridge, the spatial liaison between Millennium Park and the AI’s Modern Wing, might be one of my new favorite things.  I really wish they would leave it open at night, I’m sure it’s a beautiful view of the city.

A visual reminder that Chicago was built on the railroads...

A visual reminder that Chicago was built on the railroads...

… And a bonus:  I found an old rail bridge.  Very cool.

Looking up at the old rail bridge

Looking up at the old rail bridge

All in all, a lovely afternoon.  I’ll miss this city.