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Community / Public space

Empty cities, sewer balls and the industrial revolution theme park that never was

Our round-up of other city stories we enjoyed this week.

  • This collection of timelapse videos at io9 shows cities from Barcelona to Washington, D.C. as you’ve never seen them before: completely devoid of people. (Could be a useful tool to make yourself feel calmer thenext time your face is crushed into a stranger’s armpit in a metro carriage.)

Here’s Washington, D.C.:

See also: the opening scene of the otherwise iffy film Vanilla Sky, in which Tom Cruise runs through an eerily empty New York City.

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  • We at CityMetric love a sewer story, and this one is particularly mindblowing. While London and New York employ workers known as “sewer flushers”, tasked with clearing blockages, Parisian sewers are cleaned by giant metal balls that roll through pipes, pushing away gunk. 

Even more amazingly, in much of the sewer network, the same balls have been in use since the 19th century. This piece on Atlas Obscura has more details, and some lovely shots of the Paris sewer museum (which, incidentally, sounds like a must-visit).


  • Londoners have by now got used to the fact that Battersea Power Station is to be converted into luxury flats. But Us vs Them has uncovered abandoned proposals from 1983 to turn the area into an ­industrial revolution-themed amusement park.  There would have been an ice rink; a “Charles Dickens’ Street”; and “Dark Ride”, an “endless belt of 3 seater cabins passing through changing animated scenes” from Britain’s history.

Image: Us vs Them.

Sure, the plan to surround the power station with shiny glass apartment buildings sounds a little more cost-effective, but this is infinitely cooler. Is it too late to change the plans?

  • And finally, in heart-warming news, CityLab reports that taxi app Lyft (the one with the pink moustachioed cars, obviously) is actively training and hiring lots of deaf drivers. Hearing-impaired drivers communicate with passengers using either a smartphone app which sends spoken words as a message to the driver’s watch, or old-fashioned pen and paper.         

Chelsea Wilson, the company’s communications manager, says the “flexibility and economic opportunity” of app-based taxi companies attracts the hearing-impaired to the profession. Aww.
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