My previous post about the city’s motorway system highlighted an interesting question for me to consider: whether I had “over-provided” the city with infrastructure generally. Obviously, when drawing “fantasy cities” it’s easy to be idealistic about how that place should be – what the best subway system would look like, what the best motorway system would look like, how the best urban design would occur and so forth. While that’s probably fine to an extent (after all, it seems a bit pointless to design a horrific city, they exist too common in real life), it’s also unrealistic and perhaps a bit boring. No city is a finished product, every city evolves, every city has plans for infrastructure projects that they can’t afford yet or simply aren’t necessary yet. There are always gaps in networks, pinch-points, incomplete roads and so forth – in fact it’s arguably these flaws which make a city so obviously real, so obviously evolving.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, I have drawn and redrawn some sections of the city on many many occasions. Not only are there the originals, scanned out of the exercise book I put together 15 or so years ago when I first drew this city, but also over the past few years there have been the areas that I have updated almost obsessively. The goal has often been to make these places better and better, often for completely justifiable reasons such as fixing stupidly obvious flaws that would never happen in real life. A good example is shown in the map below, where my carelessness at joining maps together across separated pages of an exercise book led to a pile of pointless dead-end roads:My next crack at this area, when I redrew it in more recent times, changed things around a fair bit while trying to still keep some of the “essence” of what I had originally drawn. This is how it was until just the other day, when after writing my motorways post I questioned whether the motorway which passes through this area is really necessary after all:
The whole impact of the motorway, and even the train line, on this area seems quite stupidly horrific, and if the motorway isn’t actually necessary then perhaps we can improve things quite a lot – so I had quite a mess with the area:
There are probably a few more final details to add, but generally the suburb of Kandallah (name influenced by my first trip to Wellington back in May 1993, which gives me a good hint of when I first drew the city) seems a much nicer place without the giant overhead motorway barrelling through it.
What’s perhaps more interesting though is the philosophical question that arises in my mind as I significantly change areas in ways that simply wouldn’t happen in real life. Did the previous version of this area just not ever exist? What about some changes where I’m obviously putting in a thing that’s a clear addition – is it reasonable to think that my process of drawing the city is somewhat akin to a reality of the place growing over time? But in some cases it certainly isn’t, because I’m changing the coastline, ripping out huge pieces of infrastructure, changing an entire street network or whatever. It always feels a bit uncomfortable to make these changes, like I’m rewriting history: no, actually that didn’t happen, this is what happened.
Maybe in an ideal world I will one day clearly “finish” the city, and then the changes I make to it from then on will somewhat approximate reality of how that city would grow and change over time. But I think in reality that’s unlikely to happen – especially now as I share the city with the world I will get more and more ideas about how it should be different: not necessarily better, but more realistic and perhaps more interesting. While that somewhat disturbs my idea of the city being a place, and is perhaps not my ideal way of figuring out how cities evolve over time, it is still an evolution of the place.
That said, I think that I do want to do a better job of making the city a bit more real. As painful as the process will be, I figure that some of the Metro Lines should perhaps be “proposed” lines, maybe some extensions should be “under construction”. Some of the motorway network should be incomplete, with plans for an upgrade but not yet affordable, or perhaps not necessary due to good alternatives existing. Some areas highlighted for redevelopment might need to be shown, in one way or another. In a sense, these issues remind us of the unfinished nature of a city, that it’s a process as well as a product, that it’s evolving. And this is great, because it’s what makes cities interesting.