One thing that can be quite difficult to get across in map form is topography, where high points in the land are like hills and mountains, and where low points like valleys, are located. Topography shapes our cities like perhaps nothing else, yet it can be fairly difficult to see in a map, depending on the street network. Looking at a map of central San Francisco, you’d swear that “Russian Hill” and “Telegraph Hill” wouldn’t amount to much.Well, perhaps if you looked really closely you’d see the squiggles along part of Lombard Street – and when you actually look at the area it’s pretty damn hilly after all. Elsewhere, it can be a bit more obvious what the topography is like. Take a look at the street network in the hills above West Vancouver: All the horizontal streets suggest a pretty steep slope rising from the south to the north. Of course this is very much the case in this part of Vancouver, with Black Mountain and Hollyburn Mountain further to the north rising to a height of over 1200 m. In the relatively small are shown in the map above, the topography rises from 150 m above sea level at Highway 1 in the south to almost 400 m above sea level at the point where urban development has obviously been prevented from going any further.
I found this type of “showing the topography through the street network” quite fascinating, and incorporated parts of it into the city. You get a feeling for it below, with the similarities to the hills above West Vancouver being quite obvious: There’s quite a lot of similar urban environments both in this part of the city (directly to the east and west) and in another completely different area that I wanted to be dominated by a range of hills.
After spending quite a while doing this a strange thought then struck me: these slopes are south-facing. In fact my whole city seems to be south facing with the sea to the south and the land rising, quite steeply in areas, as we move further north. Thus, I had discovered that my city would have to be located in the Northern Hemisphere – as quite simply unless it was extremely close to the equator, you just wouldn’t build a city in a miserable south-facing location in the Southern Hemisphere that never got any sun. I had never set out for the city to be located in the Northern Hemisphere, and had actually probably assumed the opposite. But, as I had found, the decision had been made for me – so in the Northern Hemisphere it is!