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Community / Public space

Faux cities, traffic light games and Detroit from the air

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

  • This fascinating piece at CityLab gives a history of faux cities: urban areas created to be bombed, either as decoys during conflicts or as part of army training. Most impressively, a second Paris, complete with a many of the city’s landmarks, was built towards the end of the First World War to fool German bombers:

Fake Paris was to be situated 15 miles northwest of Paris, around the town of Maisons-Laffitte. Only one of the three “zones” planned were actually constructed there, but it had real trains and Paris landmarks like the Champs-Elysees, Gare Du Nord, and Arc De Triomphe. It even had lights (designed by the same guy who lit up the Eiffel Tower) just dim enough to seem like its fake residents had drawn their curtains to avoid attracting attention.

Sadly, the Germans weren’t fooled, and attacked the real Paris before the fake version was completed. The second Paris was deconstructed after the war. 

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Plans for the fake Paris from the Illustrated London News. Image: Ptak Science Books.

  • Over at the New York Times, photographer Alex S. MacLean has been surveying Detroit from above to get a new perspective on the city’s poverty, inequality, and famed swathes of abandoned buildings.

From the piece (which includes MacLean’s striking aerial photographs of the city): 

Outside the city center, I flew over new homes built alongside lakes and country clubs. Five-car garages, swimming pools and pool houses decorated elaborately landscaped yards.

However, once I crossed into the city limits, the urban fabric of Detroit looked like a moth-eaten blanket. Vast depopulated areas were filled with vacant lots and blocks of boarded-up and burned-out homes. This type of blight is visible in other American cities but few compare to the emptiness that surrounds Detroit’s downtown.

  • For once, a hilarious city innovation proposal has actually come to fruition. An invention which allows you to play the retro video game Pong (it’s basially Ping Pong) while you wait for the lights to change has been installed at a junction in Hildesheim, Germany. While the lights are red, you can play the game with someone waiting across the street.

Here’s a video of the game in action:

  • Not everyone’s happy with the idea of pimped-up traffic lights, though. The game’s installation prompted this piece at Next City, which argues against the “cutesification” of urban design:

City-dwellers don’t need garbage cans with sound effects, they need more garbage cans, and more frequent trash pickup. Regular bus commuters don’t need swings, they need shelter from the elements and reliable information about bus arrival time. Pedestrians don’t need to play games at the crosswalk, they need shorter crossing distances, longer walk signals, and better separation from cars.

Which, while a little party pooper-ish, is quite a good point: most cities have long, boring to-do lists that deserve more attention than ideas for whimsical urban games. 


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