Category Archives: geography

The World’s Most Stubborn Real Estate Holdouts

Everyone loves an underdog story—and real estate holdouts, such as Edith Macefield’s house in Seattle, are revered examples. Macefield was an elderly resident who refused to sell to developers who wanted to build a shopping mall where her home stood; they ended up constructing the mall around three sides of the house.

Meanwhile, China’s construction boom has given rise to “nail houses,” homes that remain in the middle of construction sites, roads, and new housing developments after their owners rebuff government efforts to remove them.  

Macefield died in 2008, and it’s unclear what will become of her home. In China, nail house owners often ultimately vacate, particularly because authorities have the power to cut off their electricity and water.

But some holdouts seem to … Read the rest

The Spies Who Mapped Great Swathes of South Asia by Foot


For more than a century, the British were able to boast that the sun never set on their enormous empire.

But in the mid-19th century, colonists ruling over the Indian subcontinent became painfully aware they had little  idea what their portion of the empire actually entailed, from the number of people to the number of rivers. More pressingly, they knew even less of what lay beyond their border—beyond the Himalayas.

They likely never would have discovered the secrets of South Asia, if not for the help of Nain Singh.

Singh took detailed records of his trips, taken on foot through forbidden lands, often under cover of darkness. At the end of each years-long adventure, he returned his hard-won intel to his employer, the British Crown. He … Read the rest

The Rituals of Coney Island’s Opening Day

This post is part of a CityLab series on open secrets—stories about what’s hiding in plain sight.

Above Nathan’s, a Jumbotron-style billboard counted down to the July 4th hot-dog eating contest at the height of the summer: 86 days, 1 hour, 11 minutes. It was Palm Sunday, and the Coney Island boardwalk was speckled with families, tromping along in hats and coats. The beach was fairly threadbare; a single kite twirled and dipped over the sand. In the shade, the air was cold enough to prickle your skin with goosebumps.

For many revelers, the district is synonymous with summer, when the miles of shoreline are wavy with heat and buzzing with visitors sporting sun-pinked noses. But locals … Read the rest

On the Trail of New York’s Greatest Trees

“My Secret City” is a collaboration between CityLab and Narratively, a digital publication featuring extraordinary stories of ordinary people, told through video, text, photo essays, comics journalism and more.

In 1967, an aging Marianne Moore wrote a poem to help save a Brooklyn tree. With a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award to her name, the septuagenarian had attained an improbable height for a modernist poet: public popularity. Newspapers regularly pictured her in an anachronistic black cape and velvet tricorn hat; the following year she was even invited to throw out the opening pitch for the Yankees. So it was perhaps no surprise that when the recently-formed Friends of Prospect Park in Brooklyn noticed a rare camperdown elm near the Boathouse that was “a mere … Read the rest

Found: A 1950s-Era Wallet Belonging to a Women’s Army Corps Veteran

While renovating a landmark Macy’s department store in downtown Spokane, Washington, an old wallet recently dropped out of a disassembled drainpipe. There was no money inside, but what workers found, and shared with reporters and editors at The Spokesman-Review, was valuable in its own right: impressively preserved receipts and identification documents belonging to one Isolde Zitzewitz.

Zitzewitz’s wallet revealed that she had served in the Women’s Army Corps, and a nephew confirmed to The Spokesman-Review that she had a long military career. She graduated high school in Oregon in 1941 before moving to Spokane and then San Diego, where she died in 2009. 

Her … Read the rest

Have You Seen This Bird?

In 1822, a resident of Bothmer Estate near Mecklenburg, Germany shot a stork out of the sky. When he ran to gather up the body, he was shocked to find that the stork had already been shot, with a long spear somewhere in or above Central Africa. Not only did this “pfeilstorch,” or “arrow-stork,” prove itself to be extremely badass—it also let scientists know once and for all that birds migrate over Africa.

Okay, now fast forward to 2017. Our new pfeilstorch is a Canada goose with a massive arrow stuck in her neck, waddling around Amherst, New York and throwing people into a frenzy.

“Everyone’s been looking for [her],” local resident Christine Hausrath told WKBW. While everyone wants to help the goose, no … Read the rest

Why Stamp Collectors Hated a 1972 Stamp Designed Just for Them


The early 1970s were a boom time for postage stamps. The U.S. Postal Service, which had reorganized itself at the beginning of the decade, cranked up production and was releasing ever more—and ever more interesting—designs. “Larger stamps, with more color, and many varieties of novelty, seem to be the order of the day,” wrote Boys Life in 1972. Where collectors once had to choose largely between different versions of the same great men, they could now get women, animals, buildings, and more. 

Despite all these riches, there was still one topic you couldn’t collect a stamp about: stamp collecting. To a certain segment of enthusiasts, this was a disappointment. According to R.R. Higgins—author of the column “The Stamp Man,” which ran in the The Republic newspaper … Read the rest

Lab Report: Betting on a Future With Less Parking

Forward thinking: With the rise of ride-sharing, and with self-driving cars on the way, some developers are designing parking structures that can be converted to other uses, including shops, gyms, and theaters. Some even expect this not-too-distant future to take hold in one of America’s most car-oriented cities, the Los Angeles Times reports:

“Our world is going to change radically and we are going to be alive to see it. It’s not a generation away, it’s 10 years away,” said Los Angeles architect Andy Cohen…

The strategy reflects a consensus among some developers and planners that California’s vaunted car culture is inevitably going to run out of gas — as inconceivable as that might be for many adults who have spent decades controlling their own

Read the rest

Equihen Plage: The Village of Inverted Boat Houses

Equihen Plage, on the coast of northern France by the English Channel, is a small seaside village with a population of about 3,000. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, Equihen Plage was a fishing village with a dry harbor—the kind where fishing boats were launched into the sea by sliding them on logs. Today, the village is famous for its many inverted boat houses—locally known as “quilles en l'air”—that serve as unique holiday accommodation for travellers.

In the old days, it wasn’t uncommon to find old boats— both upright and inverted—along the coast where they were dragged high and dry upon the shore to be used for habitation. In Charles Dickens' classic novel David Copperfield, Peggotty’s brother lived in such an old boathouse … Read the rest

The Handmade Globes of Peter Bellerby

When Peter Bellerby couldn’t find the perfect handmade globe for his father’s 80th birthday, he took matters into his own hands. He decided he would create two globes from scratch—one for his father and one for himself.

After all how difficult can it be to make a ball and put a map on it?”, he wondered.

But making a globe is extremely difficult, as Bellerby found out. Correctly applying the little strips of the map, called gores, onto the spheres itself took eighteen months to perfect. Some of the poorly constructed models Bellerby found had overlapping gores that wiped out entire countries, or had latitude lines that were drawn straight across the map with a ruler. Bellerby wasn’t prepared to settle on such poor … Read the rest