City planners often draft proposals which are never implemented. It’s the nature of the job, as officials look to compromise between governments, private industry and individuals. Maps, sketches and drawings included in those plans reveal the city as it could have been, a version of the place seemingly out of science fiction.

Wired examines unrealized city plans with a look at a project by Andrew Lynch, creator of Hyperreal Cartography & The Unrealized City, including diagrams and maps depicting a San Francisco criss-crossed by freeways, and a New York City with a radically reshaped Lower Manhattan.

Joe Hanson at Wired writes:

In postmodernist philosophy, “hyperreality” is the point where fiction and reality become indistinguishable. In Lynch’s collection we see familiar cities like New York and Los Angeles, but it’s as if we are viewing them along a different timeline. What if a web of highways criss-crossed downtown San Francisco? What if the orderly grid of Manhattan were organized like the wheel spokes of Washington D.C.? The maps in this gallery illustrate these alternate realities.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned a vastly reshaped Los Angeles, complete with a grand boulevard.

Civic Center Plan, 1925
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned a vastly reshaped Los Angeles, complete with a grand boulevard.

Acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright even penned a plan for Los Angeles, dreaming of a vast city center with a broad boulevard and towering buildings. Though the city’s growth turned out much differently, Never Built: Los Angeles looks to explore plans for a greenbelt system, massive public transit system and even the fanciful “Tower of Civilization” when it opens this spring.

From io9:

Curators Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell drew on plans preserved in the city’s archives for the exhibit at the Architecture and Design Museum. The exhibit is organized geographically, according to the real layout of the city, so if you stand “downtown,” you’ll see Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for an “acropolis of the city,” in place of the Civic Center that actually sits there.

Buildings in the Midwest metropolis of Chicago.

AndrewH234 / flickr
Buildings in the Midwest metropolis of Chicago.

Cities take shape because of the decisions of numerous people on a daily basis. In the case of New York City and Chicago, according to urban economist Jason Barr of Rutgers University, a decades-long rivalry has helped drive into the clouds the skylines of those two cities.

Barr sought to lend credence to a long-held belief that the Windy City and the Big Apple were vying for tall, imposing skylines filled with towering skyscrapers by analyzing the history of tall buildings in the two cities. The result, according to Barr, shows the two towns have been battling for bigger and better structures since shortly after Chicago’s Great Fire of 1871.

“The data just supports this idea that New York, for example, will positively add to its skyline when Chicago does,” Barr told Eric Jaffe, writing for the Atlantic Cities.

While Barr lends more credence to his argument in the rest of the story, the underlying message of this contest of city-building reveals something easily forgotten when examining cities in any country. Skylines are built not only because (and in spite of) zoning regulations and economics, but for sport, for competition—and for a friendly cross-country rivalry.

The New York City skyline. The Big Apple and the Windy City have competed for decades.

Wikimedia Commons Barvinok
The New York City skyline. The Big Apple and the Windy City have competed for decades.

A century ago, rivers winding through urban areas were little more than dumping grounds, a seemingly limitless resource and easy place to drop off trash and sewage. Once upon a time, city leaders built over these open sewers, leaving a polluted water source flowing freely beneath their feet.

Today, cities are uncovering their long-lost waterways. From Yonkers to Kalamazoo to Seoul, South Korea, Rachel Kaufman at National Geographic writes, so-called “daylighting” projects have crews restoring long-buried rivers, bringing them to the surface, and transforming them into green oases in the middle of bustling urban areas.

Urban planners are beginning to catch on to the trend. A new report issued by the nonprofit American Rivers notes that these restored waterways aren’t just a great place for citizens to relax, but when coupled with a resurrected watershed, cities cut down on the potential for massive flash flooding.

“When it rains in a ‘natural’ watershed, soil and plants absorb the water. When it rains onto a parking lot that drains into an underground pipe, the potential for flooding is much larger,” writes Kaufman.

Since 2005, Caldwell, Idaho has undertaken its own “daylighting” restoration project, unearthing Indian Creek from beneath a number of aging developments in the city center. Pedestrian areas, green space, walking and bike paths and public plazas were installed to bring people to the waterway, an effort to help revitalize downtown.

Millions was spent removing existing structures from atop the channel, and millions more on restoring the stream itself. The result is a half-mile of greenway where buildings once sat. Officials hope the $13 million investment will help spur $90 million worth of public investment in the city center in the next seven years.

Read more at National Geographic News.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.