Thumbs up for The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars.
I’m not sure “field guide” is the right term for this. It’s a compilation of short (usually a page or less) essays about the historical and engineering reasons for unusual – and often unnoticed – quirks of city design. I have read some about this topic before, and I was pleased to know that I didn’t know the majority of the information presented. I kept wanting the authorial voice to have a bit more character, but the essays themselves were interesting enough that I would recommend this to any nerdy reader.
Some street canyons also have more surprising secondary impacts. Arrays of tall buildings can produce entrancing effects like the so-called Manhattan Solstice. This seasonal convergence aligns sunrises and sunsets with the narrow spaces framed by tall buildings on either side of city streets. While this phenomenon is not unique to New York, the picturesque impact can be particularly potent in flatter places like the Big Apple, which has largely unobstructed views out to the horizon (give or take a bit of New Jersey). Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has dubbed the phenomenon Manhattanhenge. Tyson has wondered whether future archeologists might think Manhattan’s gridded streets and avenues were built to honor seasonal solar alignments. Since this “rare and beautiful sight…happens to correspond with Memorial Day and Baseball’s All Star break,” he mused, “future anthropologists might conclude that… the people who called themeselves Americans worshiped War and Baseball,” which wouldn’t be wildly inaccurate except the dates of these events move around from year to year.
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