London Smog

From Cities, by John Reader – p.3

[…] The entire country – not just the railways – ran on coal (though it was delivered to our houses by horse and cart). Smoke wafted from the chimneys of more than a million households. Every day, thousands of tons of coal were burned in London’s fireplaces, boilers, and furnaces. Clouds of steam, smoke and soot spewed continuously from locomotives, gas works, power stations and industrial smokestacks […].

Throughout the city, buildings were coated with a patina of soot which in some instances gave the impression that burnished black basalt, not white Portland stone, had been used in their construction. During most winters there would be occasions when a layer of cold air hung for days over London, trapping the smoke rising from the chimneys below. Soon a sulphurous mixture of smoke, soot and moisture would envelope the city – tinged green, and thick enough to become known as a pea-souper. […]

The pea-soupers killed hundreds of people every winter […]. The word smog entered the vocabulary as a definition of this very serious threat to public health in Britain’s cities (London was not the only city affected. The problem was as bad in all industrial cities.) Widespread public demands for action over the number of deaths forced the government to act and a succession of Clean Air Acts were introduced during the 1950s and ’60s. […]

[I began reading this book in August 2010, during the awful smog in Moscow, caused by peat fires outside the city. It was somewhat reassuring to be reminded that other cities had been through similar hell as well – and had successfully emerged from it, eventually.]

An intro to this blog, sort of

My interest in Cities began with a book about Bombay/Mumbai, which I started reading in the summer of 2006, but never finished. Now, almost six years later, I’ve got quite a library on the subject (see Library and Wish List sections), but I’m yet to read at least one of these books to the end.

On this blog, I’ll try to pretend I’m taking a college class in urban studies – but since this is just one of my hobbies, I’ll be very flexible in my approach and won’t demand too much of myself as a student. I’ve been taking some notes on paper for the past few years, and now I’ll try to post quotes from my readings here, and some of my thoughts. We’ll see how it goes, we’ll see where it takes me.

Another source of my interest in Cities is my paternal grandfather, who was involved in some serious post-war urban planning in Kyiv and Ukraine, from the late 1940s until his death in 1969. I know very little about his work, I wasn’t yet born when he died, and I just hope that it would have pleased him to know I’m so interested in what he was interested in, too. He was quite upset when his son, my father, chose a completely different profession, and, by making a few steps in his preferred direction, I hope to make it up for my dear father as well, kind of.

From my father, I’ve inherited an ability to be extremely faithful to just a few select cities: he was in love with Krakow and Paris all his life – and I’m in love with Istanbul and New York City. He loved to travel – but he also loved to keep coming back to his favorite cities whenever he could (which wasn’t too often) – and this is something that I love, too.

And my mother, of course, has been a huge influence on me as well: she worked as a Kyiv tour guide for a few years when I was a kid, and the memories of her reading and studying for her tours are very special to me. I’ll try to write more about it later.

Kyiv is a very special place for me. If I were asked to list my “ethnicity” in some sort of an official document, I’d most likely write that I am a Kyivite. And part of my interest in the subject of the cities in general comes from my attempts to “reclaim Kyiv” after my father’s death four and a half years ago. Kyiv broke my heart then, when it allowed my father to get lost and die – and then, very slowly, I found a way to get back in touch with the city, on rather friendly terms. It was a tough process. To walk with my head up – literally – is what I learned back then: because to reclaim Kyiv, I had to learn to look past some of the bad things that are closer to the ground.