Settlement Shapes


The arrangment of the soft buildings has inevitably led to discussions about the settlement’s outline shape. In the recent group photo it was arranged into a sort of rectangle grid; but as the Model Village grows I wonder if it should evolve into a looser, more organic shape.  
In search of examples of irregular settlement shapes I look at those of UK cities1. Like all cities, their shapes and structures have evolved from, and are constrained by, their physical environment; and generally follow one or more basic patterns: geomorphic, radial, concentric, rectilinear and curvilinear.

UK city shapes and sizes: 1 London, 2 Leeds, 3 Sheffield, 4 Birmingham, 5 Edinburgh, 6 Glasgow, 7 Cardiff, 8 Manchester, 9 Liverpool, 10 Belfast, 11 Newcastle, 12 Bristol, 13 Nottingham.
However, as soon as I start to interrogate the shapes and sizes of UK cities I come up against the issue of which surrounding metropolitan areas to include in each city.
   In response to this (and for the purposes of staying on track in this process blog) I use the shape of the cities defined by their core city authority areas. This means that the whole shape of greater London and Leeds appear here, but not so the other cities, which are generally ‘underbounded’. This refers to the fact that their core local authority areas with the name of the city do not reflect the true extent of their larger metropolitan areas1.  

From Land Ground Earth Soil: the placing of walls in Islanders, the game about building island cities with limited space and resources2.
I am reminded here of the themes of boundaries and community edges that I explored in my film Land Ground Earth Soil (2019). Examples included gameplay clips from city-building games as well as conducting my own ‘Beating the Bounds’ of the London borough of Camden.
Beating the Bounds’ in Land Ground Earth Soil.
The beating of the bounds still takes place in some parishes today. Giles Fraser3 wonders if 'there is something Brexit-like about this ancient tradition', that globalisation has washed away so many of our familiar boundaries, many of us feel exposed and vulnerable without them. It is 'almost as if we needed to reassert a sense of place, to mark our connection to the land on which we live.'
   He in turn quotes the evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar who famously argued that the human brain is capable of maintaining only around 150 stable relationships at any one time. This correlated with parish records showing that 150 was the average village size in the Domesday Bookuntil later in the 18th century, before industrialisation.
   The parish functioned then as a moral community. It looked after its own, raising local taxes to support and house the poor. The beating of the bounds was, as much  as anything, a practical exercise in clarifying boundaries and determining who was responsible for whom.
   In the spirit of beating the bounds, and in looking at my own connection to the land, my landscape, I  embarked on my own perambulation for my MA project. I chose the bounds of the London borough of Camden as a secular equivalent, in which it exists to administrate and raise local taxes. Also because it is the area that I've had most engagement with.
   Camden’s boundary is 28 km long, so the walk was divided into four sections that could comfortably be achieved over a series of Sunday mornings, with various walking companions joining along different sections of the route.
   I wanted to observe this area I knew well with fresh eyes, to get a sense of its wholeness and to interrogate its seemingly arbitrary boundary lines. Walking through a landscape is, as Rebecca Solnit states, like the passage through a series of thoughts, 'A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making.'5

1Rae, A. (2011) How Big is London? in
Further reading: Burdett, R. (2015) ‘A Tale or four World Cities - London, Delhi, Tokyo and Bógota compared’ in Cities/Cities in Numbers
2Islanders (2019) Grizzly Games.
3Fraser, F. (2017) 'The parish is the perfect scale for moral community' in Loose Cannon/Brexit.
4The Domesday book was the 'great survey' of peoples' holdings and their values in England and (parts of) Wales in 1086.
5Solnit, R. (2001) Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Penguin Books.