Daily Archives: June 12, 2008

A Coordinated City—2C

A Coordinate(d) City—2C

6/12/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

For someone to understand any map or overview of Albeit, they must first be familiar with two things. The first is the Canton system; it has been covered in a previous article. The second, perhaps just as important, is the structuring of the city around geographic coordinates.

Albeit was planned and designed in the midst of a navigation renaissance; new Global Positioning Systems, if not handheld, made it much easier to locate one’s place on the world. The preliminary Albeitian government chose to capitalize on this trend by making their city “Navigationally Inclined;” their hopes were to construct a city that was GPS-friendly in all aspects.

It was a strange goal, but they certainly achieved it.

The innards of Albeit might have been designed at the whim of landscape architects, but the city’s skeleton was inspired by geography. Each of the eleven Cantons, or partitioned neighborhoods, takes up one square minute in area. Stranger yet, the borders of each Canton fall exactly on the start point of latitudinal and longitudinal minutes, meaning the roads running in between them (Canstras) simply overlap the lines one might find on a globe. (The central point of Albeit, for example, is located exactly at 44 11′ N, 111 44′ W. The palindrome these coordinates create is a common sight on T-shirts and restaurant windows.) Things remain oriented underground; each and every Inter-Canton subway system lies on the intersection of a longitudinal and latitudinal minute. Never mind that barely any GPS works in the tunnels.

It’s difficult to say whether the geographic touch paid off. Albeit did become a prized destination for the navigationally inclined, but most residents reflect on the perfectly oriented streets and fine-tuned layout with a shrug. Most people are happy enough that the roads are smooth and the trains punctual; the alignment is just icing on the cake.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that some of Albeit’s residents would take the coordinate system to a new level. As the years progress, more and more neighborhoods are exchanging their traditional house numbers for a geographic alternative: the exact location of their home, in seconds. With just as many roads showing the latitude or longitude line on which they run, finding a destination can be as easy as whipping out the GPS and punching in the coordinates. One popular mapmaking company in Albeit, “Inside the Box,” has used the unique layout to its advantage: instead of listing properties by address, it provides geographic coordinates for unnamed buildings and encourages readers to discover their identity.

Many would claim that the geographic quirks to the city are anachronisms from a positioning satellite-obsessed era. Then again, the system doesn’t have to be practical to be appreciated. Albeit has always been a place that loves to distance itself from the mainstream; if it takes a layout based on coordinates to make the city unique, so be it.

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The Canton System—2B

The Canton system

6/12/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

    For one to understand Albeit, it is absolutely imperative that they understand the Canton system that lays at the root of its uniqueness.

    In just about all cities, “neighborhoods” are mere shades of the city as a whole; minor deviations in culture and architecture from one region to the next. Boundaries between one section and another are blurry and dynamic, with some zones changing completely within the span of a year.

    This is the status quo that Albeit contrasts with. Its eleven “Cantons” are as clear-cut, unique and rooted in tradition as they come. These individual zones are both the founding element of the city and a force of change in the present.

    On September 24, 1978, the official date of Albeit’s foundation as a city, the “Canton System” was introduced to the local public and the viewing world alike. The concept was simple: instead of starting construction at one point and branching outward, contributing to sprawl and a lack of metropolitan identity, Albeit planners portioned off 11 sections of land to 11 world-famous landscape designers. Measuring about 0.718 nautical miles (longitude) by 1.00 nautical miles (latitude,) these giant portions of Albeit were all designed, mapped out and constructed individually; as a result, each and every one had an appearance to call its own. Each Canton reflected the individual ideas of its designer.

    By the mid eighties, each section of Albeit had a unique flavor of architecture, dining and culture. Residents of each Canton took pride in their status as, say, an “Unterwaldie” or a “Paccie,” and did their best to distinguish themselves from one another. By choice, each of the eleven districts was markedly different from one another by the beginning of the nineties. Some went so far as to identify themselves by their Canton instead of their city, writing “Graupel” or “Phoebe” on envelopes instead of Albeit.

    For some, it is a wonder that the city did not merely disintegrate into eleven pieces. Credit for the city’s relative unity goes primarily to the extensive transportation grid that links every Canton with one another.

    Although the eleven designers had free reign over the inner contents of their eleven neighborhoods, the border of each lay firmly in the government’s hands. “Canstras” (A play on Canton and Strasse, the German word for street) run in between each region and make up the city’s main road network. Underground, things get even more complex. Albeit’s massive subway line includes both inner-Canton rail and inter-Canton rail, the latter of which comprises 20 subway interchanges. Incentives like these ensure that the city stays physically unified, even if each Canton’s culture seeks to be distinctive.

    It is this large-scale division problem, this equal portioning of the city boundaries that sets Albeit apart from all other cities. Washington, DC has one large road diagram; Albeit, ID has eleven. Rome and Munich each have their respective architectural styles, but the city of Cantons has nearly a dozen. In most states and countries, it takes a good hour of driving to see any change in the local culture. Not so with Albeit. One trip through the city is all it takes to go from utilitarian to whimsical, bread-and-butter to architecturally exotic. Other cities can have their singular baseball and basketball teams; here in Albeit, the competitive spirit runs deep through each neighborhood. It’s not uncommon for an Inter-Canton baseball game to garner a higher audience than a professional match against New York.

    The greatest consequence of this alternative to city planning, of course, is that Albeit cannot be studied in the singular. Treating all the Cantons as one would be as gross a generalization as grouping the residents of Dallas and Moscow together. A study of Albeitian construction, for example, would have to include the individual architecture styles of all eleven districts, lest one or two neighborhoods speak on behalf of all the rest.

    Is this to say that no unifying themes exist? Of course not. For example, the A-frame house is a mainstay in every single Canton in Albeit, as is the game of Alball. What makes each neighborhood special is its unique approach to these overhanging standards. For example, A-frame houses in Noluevac have gables on all four sides, flat rooftops in Elam and raised bases in Phoebe.

Divisive as they might appear to be, Albeit’s 11 Cantons are a source of camaraderie for almost every resident of the city. Unified as they are by road and rail, the neighborhoods are best studied apart—not together. Only then does the sheer diversity and splendor of greater Albeit begin to show.

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One Boring Secret

One Boring Secret

6/12/08

What I am about to reveal to you is the key to becoming a better writer. It has been passed along quietly through millennia, from person to person, and now—for the first time—will be exposed to the world.

Are you ready?

The secret to writing better is:

Write more, and read more.

What? No shock? No skipped heartbeat? Perhaps you were expecting something more climatic. Unfortunately, those five syllables have nothing to hide.

Humankind treats writing as if it were some hallowed passion, a secretive practice whose adherents know something exclusive about the fabric of the universe. What magic did Dickens have inside his head when he introduced the world to David Copperfield, or Dawkins when he exposed the realm of phenotypes? Perhaps the apparent mystery in writing stems from its introverted nature; if it weren’t for the fact that the best writers don’t really seem to talk much, there wouldn’t be this haze of grandeur around the process.

Though I might be a poor candidate to speak about good writing, I would suggest that the development of a successful novelist or poet is nothing more complex than the development of a track star—or a milkman. Nobody comes out of the womb with a Nobel prize in hand, let alone the faintest sense of the English language. The craft demands hours of practice and reading from anyone who seeks to master it. There is no door to hidden success, no password to a Pulitzer.

It might be that, at 17, I just haven’t yet reached the age of Enlightenment. Perhaps a bearded man will greet me upon my 21st birthday, hand me a magic pill and say: “Here, Kenneth. This is the secret to good writing. Ingest it.” When that day comes, I will be sure to expose it to the world; until then, I stick with my current hypothesis.

On one level, this is sobering news. We like to treat writers as separate beings, superhuman creatures empowered with the Gift Of The Keyboard. It isn’t so. Below their skin-deep fame lies an uncanny habit of excessive reading and scribbling, repeated over the years (or decades) (or century) until others feel inclined to read them. The main reason why nobody has exposed this is that “the secret” to writing is far too dull for the mainstream media, let alone Hollywood.

The silver lining to this all but outweighs the negatives, however. When we take away the secrecy, we also remove the exclusivity. Anyone can write. Perhaps I’m waking up a tired cliché, but is it not true? Take out a pen and draw a word—any word—on your arm. See? Composition!

When one laments that they cannot write, more often than not, they claim that their writing is nothing to look at. It’s a self-fulfilling statement. By denying themselves the very ability to structure sentences and lay out a story, they end up spending less and less time at the keyboard. This cuts them off from the very thing that would improve their composition. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the arrogant brats who declare their writing to be an American classic in the making might just get enough writing in to justify their statement.

I take solace in the fact that my dream job is not exclusive—except to those who assume it is. Much of what I write wouldn’t even pass for kindling; much of what I read is distressingly good. Nevertheless, should a chasm exist between my writing and a professional’s, at least I know the mundane way to bridge it.

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