Viridian Note 00189: Urban Heritage and Weather

Bruce Sterling []


Key concepts: Venice, London, air pollution, rising seas

Attention Conservation Notice: A pair of anecdotes about old and honored cities responding to environmental wear and tear.

Entries in the Viridian Magazine Cover Contest:

This contest is now closed. A winner will be announced shortly.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^********? (Alex Steffen)
Subject: cultural heritage and weather violence


While this first story from London is good news, the melting away of many cultural landmarks is something we can look forward to (?) over the next couple of decades, and is an unmitigated cultural disaster.

Perhaps we ought to be recording/ reconstructing what these places looked like at their moments of glory, if only so that future generations can have a sense of what

is no longer there (e.g., an inch of stone). It'd be a
nice way of making visible the invisible == compiling a
collection of cultural monuments lost or defaced by
pollution and/or weather violence.

Source: l?in_review_id=312223&in_review_text_id=256424

"London can breathe again

by Peter Gruner

"Wear and tear on the walls of St Paul's Cathedral has halved in 10 years, proving conclusively, say experts, that air pollution in the capital is steadily decreasing.

"While emphasising that there is no room for complacency, scientists who have been monitoring erosion for more than 20 years believe the capital's air is cleaner now than at any time since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

"About an inch of stone from the cathedral's balcony has dissolved since 1720, says the report, but this is the first time there has been a marked decrease in acidification since measurements began in the Seventies." (...)

Source: venice-flooding.html

"That Sinking Feeling, Again, as Venice's Past Haunts City's Future


"VENICE == Science often rests on chance discoveries.
So it is that an American archaeologist studying the
origins of Venice has stumbled on clues suggesting that a
multibillion-dollar plan to build floodgates to save the
city from rising waters is doomed. (...)

"Discoveries show that, over the ages, people living here have had to haul in countless tons of dirt, silt, wood and stone to fortify their swampy isles and keep

their homes and cities from disappearing into the sea. And
the findings suggest that the floodgates plan ==
one of the biggest public works projects of all time ==
could produce as many problems as it solves, causing wide
ecological damage.

"'You have to see this to understand how the ground builds up,' said Dr. Ammerman, a Colgate University archaeologist who has studied the origins of Venice for more than a decade. That the city rests on millions of wooden stilts pounded into marshy ground is well known. But the surprising age and abundance of other kinds of supporting materials is only now coming to light, with large implications for public policy.

"The lost world of artifacts and structures is letting Dr. Ammerman and his colleagues in Italy and the United States estimate both past and future rates of subsidence. The news is bad for a city whose famous piazzas and streets already flood with alarming regularity.

"For complex reasons, the scientists say, Venice is sinking faster than ever and in the coming century the encroaching waters of the Adriatic Sea could devastate this celebrated city of art and architecture. The situation will only get worse if global warming causes seas to rise.

"In fact, they say, surging waters will overwhelm
the main way Italy is planning to fight the danger == 79
mobile floodgates meant to cut off the Venetian lagoon and
its islands from the highest of the high tide. (...)"

(((bruces remarks: Architecture writer Martin Pawley points out that massive urban destruction from the Second World War led to the high point of Modernism. In terms of ambitious construction and visionary urban planning, it's all been downhill since those carpet-bombings. Pawley thinks that architecture has been strangled by today's museum-economy in Britain, and that de-registration of many sites is in order. Then, much tiresome Tudor dreck could be scraped off with dozers, to be replaced with fine, clean, gleaming, energy-efficient structures!

(((Since Venice has clearly always been radically unsustainable, a strange and crazy place to build a city, one wonders what's with the sudden sense of despair here. Why not just heap up more Gothic trash and pound in more medieval wooden stakes? You didn't see the Lombards moaning and whining.

(((On a note much closer to the bone, my own much younger city of Austin is currently suffering a historically unprecedented heat wave. Labor Day 02000 was the hottest day ever recorded in this city. Streets are deserted as holiday-makers, unable to go outside, huddle in their air conditioning, consuming huge amounts of fossil-fuels in a Venice-like effort to keep that ever- rising heat at bay. Even the nights are suffocatingly hot, as if swathed in thick fiberglass blankets, while an occasional dusty, strangely fetid breeze stirs the leaves

of the wilting trees. This is uncanny weather which is
genuinely frightening == it's as if the Greenhouse Effect,
also so easy to dismiss when it wreaks its havoc on
distant strangers, is once again at my very doorstep, with
a hood and scythe.)))

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