Cities and the way of water
The long shadow of old rivers (and harbors and canals and lakes)
Water was, for much of human history, a formidable barrier to transportation, and the development of boats fundamentally altered humans’ relationship to geography. They’re an extremely old technology that predates cities, writing, or “civilization” — it was only relatively recently that we invented railroads that allowed people to travel faster on land than over water. And as much as trains and later automobiles have impacted human geography, the dead hand of the past continues to weigh heavily on our cities.
London, one of the world’s largest and most important cities, is where it is because the Roman Empire wanted a town/army camp near a good place to ford the River Thames. Rivers, in general, played a crucial role at a time when humans didn’t have easy access to huge oceangoing vessels. Paris, Rome, and Madrid are all built on the banks of rivers because rivers were the highways of their time. Eventually, deep water ports became very economically significant, but history matters a …
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