Archive for August, 2010

Occasionally Build the City will showcase songs that showcase cities or reflect that energy and creativity that great cities possess.  And since I’m a fan, hip hop will be well represented.

Our first selection is by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys.  “These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you.”

Empire State of Mind

FYI the track does include a factual error about Jesus.


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Which American cities have the longest history?  Which cities feel the most historic, or simply the most old?   

I tabulated the times when the 30 largest American cities were initially founded, incorporated and when they first reached half of their peak population.  The point of half-population correlates best to a general feeling of how old a city is, as most of the city’s neighborhoods, infrastructure and landmarks were in place by then.  The second half of the population fills out the framework developed to house the first half.   

As seen in the chart below, the two oldest American cities, Boston and Philadelphia, reached half of their peak population in the 1890 census.  New York and San Francisco reached that point in 1910, twenty years later.  Los Angeles reached half its current (peak) population in 1950, hence the proliferation of art deco and freeways, while Las Vegas did so in the 2000 census, which is why everything there appears new.  Note that among the nine oldest cities shown on the chart, all but New York and San Fransisco have lost population since 1960 and not yet gained it back.  New York and San Fransisco also lost population in that time frame, but their enduring urban vibe and economies have caused them to bounce back and achieve new peak populations.  

Histories of the 30 Largest U.S. Cities

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The 2010 update to my Urban Rail Matrix (available here) includes ridership data from the APTA’s 2010 quarter 1 report.  This is the first report since the initial Seattle Sound Transit Link light rail segment and the Airport Link extension were both in service.  So how does Link stack up against the established rail systems?

Link had an average weekday ridership of 20,000 people during that quarter.  Ridership has been trending upwards since then, but let’s go with the nationally available data.  On the metric of ridership per mile, Link comes in at 1,282.  Out of the 46 rail systems in North America, 8 of them have lower ridership per mile, which means Link’s ridership density is pretty low at this point.  But we can find established systems with even sparser patronage:  Cleveland’s light and heavy rail lines, Dallas DART and the Staten Island Railway.  The median ridership density of all 46 systems is 2,717 people/mile, which is a reasonable benchmark for Link.  That equates to weekday ridership of 42,000 for our current system, or 51,000 after University Link opens in 2016.  My projection is that Link won’t hit the median ridership until it expands to Northgate or until significant new housing or office development occurs along the existing line. 

For comparison, Portland’s MAX has an average ridership density of 2,262 people/mile, and Vancouver’s SkyTrain has a density of 10,023 riders/mile.  Vancouver’s high ridership 1Q2010 included the Winter Olympic’s spike, but they consistent produce high ridership because the metro area has grown up with the SkyTrain lines as the spine.  A disproportionate amount of the region’s businesses, shops and homes are alongside SkyTrain stops.  Seattle metro needs to follow the same path to have success with rail transit.

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Urban Rail Matrix

Late last year I guest posted on the Seattle Transit Blog about a data matrix for North American urban rail systems.   The post is here.   I have now posted the entire MS Excel spreadsheet on Scribd.  Click here and then press the green download button.

The spreadsheet has been updated to reference 2010 quarter 1 ridership data from APTA, and to include the rail lines that opened in 2009 such as the Dallas Green Line, the Portland Green Line and Vancouver’s Canada Line.  For the first time actual Seattle Link ridership data is included.  I will blog about that next.

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I developed a ranking system for the greatest cities of the world.  This is not a most-livable cities list, not a best-cities-to-do-business list, but a list of the largest and most influential cities on earth.  These are “great cities” in the sense of the definition in the Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary:

GREAT, a. [L. crassus.] 1. Large in bulk or dimensions; a term of comparison, denoting more magnitude or extension than something else, or beyond what is usual; as a great body; a great house; a great farm.  …  6. Important; weighty; as a great argument; a great truth; a great event; a thing of no great consequence; it is no great matter.

The rankings consider population, economy, cultural impact and connectedness.   Tokyo, New York and London land in the top three.  Despite the rapid rise in population and wealth among many emerging economy cities, particularly in Asia, U.S. cities are still very well represented in the rankings.  The strength of the U.S. economy, high internet use and the large domestic air travel market lead to higher ranking than I would have expected.  The data sources are generally from 2002; I will post updated rankings when available. 

From top to bottom, here are the 60 greatest cities:

Overall Ranking City
1 Tokyo
2 New York
3 London
4 Chicago
5 Los Angeles
6 Paris
7 Washington
8 Dallas
9 Seoul
10 Osaka
11 Atlanta
12 San Francisco
13 Mexico City
14 Houston
15 Beijing
16 Madrid
17 Hong Kong
18 São Paulo
19 Boston
20 Moscow
21 Detroit
22 Amsterdam
23 Philadelphia
24 Frankfurt
25 Toronto
26 Delhi
27 Mumbai
28 Jakarta
29 Cairo
30 Seattle
31 Kolkata
32 Buenos Aires
33 Rio de Janeiro
34 Manila
35 Essen
36 Karachi
37 Shanghai
38 Phoenix
39 Denver
40 Bangkok
41 Tehran
42 Istanbul
43 Miami
44 Dhaka
45 Minneapolis
46 Singapore
47 Lagos
48 Lima
49 Charlotte
50 Berlin
51 Las Vegas
52 Bogotá
53 Hamburg
54 Nagoya
55 St. Louis
56 Johannesburg
57 Taipei
58 Chongqing
59 Sydney
60 Columbus

 Data sources used in the ranking:

1. Metropolitan area population – Per “Th. Brinkhoff: Principal Agglomerations and Cities of the World, http://www.citypopulation.de, 12.11.2002″

2. Web citations: Google search engine

3. Number of Fortune Global 500 company headquarters – Fortune Magazine, July 21, 2003

4. Metropolitan airport passengers – ACI 2002 Passenger Counts

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Cities concentrate everything good and bad about human nature.  Cities are the most interesting places to observe, learn and create.  How does a city flourish?  What happens when one dies?  What does it mean to build the city?  How can a city be sustainable?  I will be writing about these issues and more at Build the City. 

I will be posting some comparative studies and data on cities around the world.  I will be commenting on urban issues in Seattle, USA.  Transporation, transit, land use, architecture, economics, environment and especially carbon neutrality will be disscussed. 

I hope you will find something of interest, some useful data or a new perspective in these pages.  Enjoy!

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