Street, invented; mind, blown; cowpaths, traced

So I’m sprawled across my bed last night, reading Spiro Kostof’s The City Shaped, alternately being irritated by its unwieldy size and reveling in the huge, detailed illustrations that size affords, when I trip over this passage:

Khirokitia in Cyprus had a street, the first I know of, and the unwalled settlement stretched along its length in a pattern of growth that was potentially open-ended.

Had a street. The implication here won’t have escaped you, any more than it did me: As if any such thing was a novelty. As if all the human settlements that came before lacked linear path elements. As if the very idea had had to be invented. By someone.

How grateful am I that at the age of forty-one, I can still have my mind well and truly blown, by a sentence thirty pages into a book I could have picked up at any point in the last nineteen years? And because that is what one does these days when one’s mind is blown, I tweeted it.

Obligatory GMTA: a few hours after I hit post, David Smith mailed to remind me of this Matt Webb gem from 2006. (Rereading Matt’s comments, it’s just remotely conceivable that if my copy of The City Shaped sported heat maps of frequently highlighted passages, I wouldn’t have found the coincidence so startling.)

But back on topic: If something so fundamental to our conception of the world as a street had to be proposed by some specific human or group of humans, what measures that our posterity will regard as equally staggeringly obvious and self-evident remain to be invented?

6 responses to “Street, invented; mind, blown; cowpaths, traced”

  1. Nonny says :

    Interesting. Not to miss the point, but I’d have thought that the first street accreted along a road or path. Unproposed. Guy puts up a sandal repair shop. Next guy thinks maybe people want sandwiches while their sandals get fixed? They both decide it would be convenient to live near work, etc. I suppose someone had to propose the idea of gaps in the accretion, so you didn’t have to walk all the way around the corridor. But maybe just as likely that clever sandal-fixer put up his shop at a junction.

  2. AG says :

    As I recall it, anyway, this is more or less what Jane Jacobs proposes in The Economy of Cities. I’ll have to dig out my copy and see how badly I’ve conflated your notion and hers.

  3. Liz Buckley says :

    As soon as what ever it is becomes permanent and someone discovers there is more than one and that they need to be named, we’ll know.

  4. Liz Buckley says :

    I have been thinking about this quest for a new noun that you are on, how about this?

    Map making is thinking in 2 dimensions and it helps you get places, but now we have GPS and don’t need maps.

    Thinking about time, or in 3 dimensions, helps us get to church simultaneously but we need a time keeper to do that, a tool. To me the big thing is that GPS is the new clock. How clocks changed civilization is how GPS, a creation that freezes points on a plane, is going to change us as well. Mostly because a some of the earth is manmade and doesn’t grow or change. If the landscape is unchanging and we have a tool that gives us all a substitute for a mental spatial orientation then it is just like a clock for people who are indoors with artificial light.

  5. Liz Buckley says :

    ooops time — 4 dimensions

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