Viridian Note 00189: Urban Heritage and WeatherBruce Sterling [email@example.com]
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:
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This contest is now closed. A winner will be announced shortly.
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
"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
"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
"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: http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/082900sci- venice-flooding.html
"That Sinking Feeling, Again, as Venice's Past Haunts
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
"VENICE == Science often rests on chance discoveries.
"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
"'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
"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
(((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
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